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Summary Article: West Bengal from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State of northeast India; area 87,853 sq km/33,920 sq mi; population (2001 est) 80,221,200. The capital is Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). In spite of its relatively small size, the state is economically very productive. Often with the help of extensive irrigation and through intensive cultivation there are high yields of agricultural products, including rice, jute, tea (in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri), oilseed, sugar, pulses, and tobacco, and there is a substantial fishing industry. Manufacturing industries include jute (particularly at Hooghly industrial complex), iron and steel (at Durgapur, Asansol, based on the Raniganj coalfield), cars, locomotives, aluminium, fertilizers, chemicals, cotton textiles, oil-refining, shipbuilding, and printing.

Geography The state occupies the west part of the vast alluvial plain created by the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra, with the Hooghly River; the Damodar and Bhagirathi rivers flow into the Hooghly delta. The western part of Sunderbunds mangrove swamps is in the estuary area. Annual rainfall is more than 250 cm/100 in. The Himalayan uplands are to the north. Towns and cities include Asansol, Durgarpur, Burdwan, and Burnpur.

Language The principal language is Bengali (85%); Hindi, Urdu, and tribal languages are also spoken.

Early history From the 5th century BC, Bengal prospered as a centre of trade. The Guptas ruled from the 4th century AD, and trade continued to flourish, particularly with Rome; the fall of the Roman Empire led to a decline in Bengal's importance until the founding of the Pala dynasty n 750 AD. Bengal became a centre of Buddhism, art and learning. Later the region was controled by the Delhi sultanate and the Mogul dynasty. In the 17th century, the British gained ground over rival Portuguese and Dutch traders, founding Kolkata as a centre of commerce and political power. In 1757 Robert Clive retook the city from the Nawab of Bengal, marking a turning point in British influence in India: in the succeeding century, West Bengal became the economic and political focus of British India.

Partition In 1905 Lord Curzon divided Bengal in two, increasing tension between the Muslim and Hindu populations. The state was created in 1947 from the former British province of Bengal. The eastern part of the state became East Pakistan; the partition resulted in large-scale violence and migration. Later territories were added: Cooch Behar in 1950, Chandernagore in 1954, and part of Bihar in 1956. In 1971 West Bengal received up to 10 million refugees from the civil war in Pakistan before the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.

Separatist movement A campaign by Gurkha separatists for a Gurkha state in the hills led to the establishment of the Darjiling Gurkha Hill Council in 1988, with limited autonomy.

Culture In the 19th century, Bengali literature and art flourished under a combination of traditional Hindu and British-imported Christian influences. The poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) founded the Vishva Bharati University in 1921, which specializes in humanities and performing arts. There are five other universities.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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