A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is ranked sixth in terms of contributions to India's net domestic product. The state's cultural heritage, besides varied folk traditions, includes notable authors in literature, including Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata is known as the "cultural capital of India". West Bengal is also distinct from most other Indian states in its enthusiasm for the sport of association football, as well as cricket, the national sport.
The origin of the name Bengal (Bangla and Bongo in Bengali) is unknown. One theory suggests that the word derives from "Bang", a Dravidian tribe that settled the region around 1000 BCE. The Bengali word Bongo might have been derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga (or Banga). Although some early Sanskrit literature mentions the name Vanga, the region's early history is obscure.
At the end of British rule over the Indian subcontinent, the Bengal region was partitioned in 1947 along religious lines into east and west. The eastern part came to be known as East Bengal, and the western part came to known as West Bengal, which continued as an Indian state. In 2011 the Government of West Bengal proposed a change in the official name of the state to Poschimbongo (Bengali: পশ্চিমবঙ্গ Pôshchimbônggô). This is the native name of the state, literally meaning western Bengal in the native Bengali language. In August 2016 the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed another resolution to change the name of West Bengal to "Bangal" in Hindi, "Bengal" in English, and "Bangla" in Bengali. Despite the Trinamool Congress government's strong efforts to forge a consensus on the name change resolution, the Indian National Congress, the Left Front, and the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed the resolution. However, it now awaits approval by the Indian Parliament.
Stone Age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state, showing human occupation 8,000 years earlier than scholars had earlier thought. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, according to the Indian epic Mahabharata. Several Vedic realms were present in the Bengal region, including Vanga, Rarh, Pundravardhana, and the Suhma Kingdom. One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is a mention by the Ancient Greeks around 100 BCE of a land named Gangaridai, which was located at the mouths of the Ganges. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Suvarnabhumi (Burma, Lower Thailand, the Lower Malay Peninsula, and Sumatra). According to the Sri Lankan chronicle Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya (c. 543 – c. 505 BCE), a Vanga Kingdom prince, conquered Lanka (modern-day Sri Lanka) and gave the name Sinhala Kingdom to the country.
The kingdom of Magadha was formed in the 7th century BCE, consisting of the regions now comprising Bihar and Bengal. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of the lives of Mahavira, founder of Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism. It consisted of several janapadas, or kingdoms. Under Ashoka, the Maurya Empire of Magadha in the 3rd century BCE extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Balochistan. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.
Two kingdoms – Vanga or Samatata, and Gauda – are mentioned in some texts to have appeared after the end of the Gupta Empire although details of their ascendancy are uncertain. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, who reigned in the early 7th century. Shashanka is often recorded in Buddhist annals as an intolerant Hindu ruler who is noted for his persecution of the Buddhists. Shashanka murdered Rajyavardhana, the Buddhist king of Thanesar, and is noted for destroying the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, and replacing Buddha statues with Shiva lingams. After a period of anarchy, the Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years starting in the 8th century. It was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty.
Some areas of Bengal were invaded by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty between 1021 and 1023. Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived. Later, occasional Muslim raiders reinforced the process of conversion by building mosques, madrasas, and khanqahs. Between 1202 and 1206 Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, overran Bihar and Bengal as far east as Rangpur, Bogra, and the Brahmaputra River. Although he failed to bring Bengal under his control, the expedition defeated Lakshman Sen, whose two sons moved to a place then called Vikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), where their diminished dominion lasted until the late 13th century.
Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. The region was ruled by dynasties of the Bengal Sultanate and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. The Bengal Sultanate was interrupted for a period of twenty years by a Hindu uprising under Raja Ganesha. In the 16th century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered Bengal. Administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi. Several independent Hindu states were established in Bengal during the Mughal period, including those of Pratapaditya of Jessore District and Raja Sitaram Ray of Bardhaman. The Koch dynasty in northern Bengal flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries; it weathered the Mughals and survived until the advent of the British colonial era.
Several European traders reached this area late in the 15th century. The British East India Company defeated Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The company gained the right to collect revenue in Bengal subah (province) in 1765 with the signing of the treaty between the East India company and the Mughal emperor following the Battle of Buxar in 1764.The Bengal Presidency was established in 1765; it later incorporated all British-controlled territory north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives due to tax policies enacted by the British company. Calcutta, the headquarters of the East India company, was named in 1772 as the capital of British-held territories in India. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in a transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India.
The Bengal Renaissance and the Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements significantly influenced the cultural and economic life of Bengal. Between 1905 and 1911 an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943, which claimed 3 million lives during World War II. Bengalis played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhas Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British.
When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to the Dominion of India (and was named West Bengal), while the eastern part went to the Dominion of Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan in 1956). The latter became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1950 the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal. In 1955 the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were also subsequently merged with West Bengal. Both West and East Bengal experienced large influxes of refugees during and after partition in 1947. Refugee resettlement and related issues continued to play a significant role in the politics and socio-economic condition of the state.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe power shortages, strikes, and a violent Naxalite movement damaged much of the state's infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. The 1974 smallpox epidemic killed thousands. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), governed the state for the next three decades.
The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic liberalisations were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government. This was aided by the advent of information technology and IT-enabled services. Starting in the mid-2000s, armed activists conducted minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state while clashes with the administration took place at several controversial locations over the issue of industrial land acquisition, which became a decisive reason behind the defeat of the ruling Left Front government in the 2011 assembly election. Although the economy was severely damaged during the unrest in the 70's, the state has managed to revive it's economy, steadily throughout the years. The state has shown improvement regarding bandhs (strikes) and educational infrastructure. Significant strides have been made in reducing unemployment. Though the state suffers from substandard healthcare services, a lack of socio-economic development, poor infrastructure, political corruption, unemployment, and civil violence.
West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The state has a total area of 88,752 square kilometres (34,267 sq mi). The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state is a part of the eastern Himalayas mountain range. In this region is Sandakfu, which, at 3,636 m (11,929 ft), is the highest peak in the state. The narrow Terai region separates the hills from the North Bengal plains, which in turn transitions into the Ganges delta towards the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. A small coastal region is in the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
The main river in West Bengal is the Ganges, which divides into two branches. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma, or Pôdda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. The Farakka barrage over the Ganges feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a source of lingering dispute between India and Bangladesh. The Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka, and Mahananda rivers are in the northern hilly region. The western plateau region has rivers such as the Damodar, Ajay, and Kangsabati. The Ganges delta and the Sundarbans area have numerous rivers and creeks. Pollution of the Ganges from indiscriminate waste dumped into the river is a major problem. Damodar, another tributary of the Ganges and once known as the "Sorrow of Bengal" (due to its frequent floods), has several dams under the Damodar Valley Project. At least nine districts in the state suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater, and, as of 2006, an estimated 8.7 million people drink water containing arsenic above the World Health Organisation recommended limit of 10 µg/L.
West Bengal's climate varies from tropical savanna in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, the rainy season, a short autumn, and winter. While the summer in the delta region is noted for excessive humidity, the western highlands experience a dry summer like northern India, with the highest daytime temperature ranging from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). At night, a cool southerly breeze carries moisture from the Bay of Bengal. In early summer, brief squalls and thunderstorms known as Kalbaisakhi, or Nor'westers, often occur. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian Ocean monsoon that moves in a southeast to northwest direction. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. Heavy rainfall of above 250 centimetres (98 in) is observed in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, and Cooch Behar district. During the arrival of the monsoons, low pressure in the Bay of Bengal region often leads to the formation of storms in the coastal areas. Winter (December–January) is mild over the plains with average minimum temperatures of 15 °C (59 °F). A cold and dry northern wind blows in the winter, substantially lowering the humidity level. The Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences a harsh winter, with occasional snowfall.
As of 2013, recorded forest area in the state is 16,805 km2 (6,488 sq mi), which is 18.93% of the state's geographical area, compared to the national average of 21.23%. Reserves and protected and unclassed forests constitute 59.4%, 31.8%, and 8.9%, respectively, of forested areas, as of 2009. Part of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans is located in southern West Bengal.
From a phytogeographic viewpoint, the southern part of West Bengal can be divided into two regions: the Gangetic plain and the littoral mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. The alluvial soil of the Gangetic plain, combined with favourable rainfall, makes this region especially fertile. Much of the vegetation of the western part of the state has similar species composition with the plants of the Chota Nagpur plateau in the adjoining state of Jharkhand. The predominant commercial tree species is Shorea robusta, commonly known as the sal tree. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation; the predominant tree is the Casuarina. A notable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundari (Heritiera fomes), from which the forest gets its name.
The distribution of vegetation in northern West Bengal is dictated by elevation and precipitation. For example, the foothills of the Himalayas, the Dooars, are densely wooded with sal and other tropical evergreen trees. Above an elevation of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the forest becomes predominantly subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), temperate forest trees such as oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons predominate.
3.26% of the geographical area of West Bengal is protected land, comprising fifteen wildlife sanctuaries and five national parks – Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park, and Singalila National Park. Extant wildlife include Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephant, deer, leopard, gaur, tiger, and crocodiles, as well as many bird species. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high-altitude forests of Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet, and kalij pheasants. The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project devoted to conserving the endangered Bengal tiger although the forest hosts many other endangered species such as the Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin, and estuarine crocodile. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal. Recognising its special conservation value, the Sundarbans area has been declared a Biosphere Reserve.
West Bengal is governed through a parliamentary system of representative democracy, a feature the state shares with other Indian states. Universal suffrage is granted to residents. There are two branches of government. The legislature, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, consists of elected members and special office bearers such as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, who are elected by the members. Assembly meetings are presided over by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker in the Speaker's absence. The judiciary is composed of the Calcutta High Court and a system of lower courts. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister although the titular head of government is the Governor. The Governor is the head of state appointed by the President of India. The leader of the party or coalition with a majority in the Legislative Assembly is appointed as the Chief Minister by the Governor, and the Council of Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. The Council of Ministers reports to the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly is unicameral with 295 Members of the Legislative Assembly, or MLAs, including one nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Terms of office run for five years, unless the Assembly is dissolved prior to the completion of the term. Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats, for which local body elections are regularly held, govern local affairs. The state contributes 42 seats to the Lok Sabha and 16 seats to the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament.
The main players in the politics of the state are the All India Trinamool Congress, the Indian National Congress, and the Left Front alliance (led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)). Following the West Bengal State Assembly Election in 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress and Indian National Congress coalition under Mamata Banerjee of the All India Trinamool Congress was elected to power (getting 225 seats in the legislature). Prior to this, West Bengal was ruled by the Left Front for 34 years (1977–2011), making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government. Banerjee was re-elected as Chief Minister in the 2016 election in which Trinamool Congress won an absolute majority.
The state has one autonomous region, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
At present, West Bengal is divided into 23 districts.
Each district is governed by a district collector or district magistrate, appointed by either the Indian Administrative Service or the West Bengal Civil Service. Each district is subdivided into sub-divisions, governed by a sub-divisional magistrate, and again into blocks. Blocks consists of panchayats (village councils) and town municipalities.
The capital and largest city of the state is Kolkata – the third-largest urban agglomeration and the seventh-largest city in India. Asansol is the second-largest city and urban agglomeration in West Bengal after Kolkata. Siliguri is an economically important city, strategically located in the northeastern Siliguri Corridor (Chicken's Neck) of India. Other cities and towns in West Bengal with 2011 populations over 250,000 are Durgapur, Bardhaman, English Bazar, Baharampur, Habra, Kharagpur, and Shantipur.
As of 2015, West Bengal has the fifth-highest GSDP in India. GSDP at current prices (base 2004–2005) has increased from 208,656 crores in 2004–05 to 800,868 crores in 2014–2015. GSDP percent growth at current prices has varied from a low of 10.3% in 2010–2011 to a high of 17.11% in 2013–2014. The growth rate was 13.35% in 2014–2015. The state's per capita income has lagged the all India average for over two decades. As of 2014–2015, per capita NSDP at current prices was Rs 78,903. Per capita NSDP growth rate at current prices has varied from 9.4% in 2010–2011 to a high of 16.15% in 2013–2014. The growth rate was 12.62% in 2014–2015
In 2015–2016, percentage share of Gross Value Added (GVA) at factor cost by Economic Activity at constant price (base year 2011–2012) was Agriculture-Forestry and Fishery – 14.84%, Industry 18.51% and Services 66.65%. It has been observed that there has been a slow but steady decline in the percentage share of industry and agriculture over the years. Agriculture is the leading economic sector in West Bengal. Rice is the state's principal food crop. Rice, potato, jute, sugarcane, and wheat are the top five crops of the state. Tea is produced commercially in northern districts; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. State industries are localised in the Kolkata region, the mineral-rich western highlands, and the Haldia port region. The Durgapur–Asansol colliery belt is home to a number of major steel plants. Important manufacturing industries are engineering products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches, and wagons. The Durgapur centre has established a number of industries in the areas of tea, sugar, chemicals, and fertilisers. Natural resources like tea and jute in and nearby parts has made West Bengal a major centre for the jute and tea industries.
Years after independence, West Bengal was still dependent on the central government for help in meeting its demands for food; food production remained stagnant, and the Indian green revolution bypassed the state. However, there has been a significant increase in food production since the 1980s, and the state now has a surplus of grains. The state's share of total industrial output in India was 9.8% in 1980–1981, declining to 5% by 1997–1998. In contrast, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate.
In the period 2004 to 2010, the average gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth rate was 13.9% (calculated in Indian rupee terms) lower than 15.5%, the average for all states of the country. The state's total financial debt stood at ₹1,918,350 million (US$30 billion) as of 2011.
The state has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly come in the software and electronics fields; Kolkata is becoming a major hub for the information technology (IT) industry. Rapid industrialisation has given rise to debates over land acquisition by industry in this agrarian state. NASSCOM–Gartner ranks the West Bengal energy infrastructure the best in the country. Notably, many corporate companies are now headquartered in Kolkata, including ITC Limited, India Government Mint, Kolkata, Haldia Petrochemicals, Exide Industries, Hindustan Motors, Bata India, Birla Corporation, CESC Limited, Coal India Limited, Damodar Valley Corporation, PwC India, Peerless Group, Berger Paints, Emami, ABP Group, Bandhan Bank, United Bank of India, UCO Bank, and Allahabad Bank. In the 2010s, events such as adoption of the "Look East" policy by the government of India, the opening of the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim as a border trade-route with China, and the immense interest among the South East Asian countries in entering the Indian market and investing have put Kolkata in an advantageous position for future development, particularly with countries such as Myanmar, which produces oil that India needs.
As of 2011, the total length of surface road in West Bengal is over 92,023 km (57,180 mi); national highways comprise 2,578 km (1,602 mi) and state highways 2,393 km (1,487 mi). As of 2006, the road density of the state is 103.69 km per 100 km2 (166.92 mi per 100 sq mi), higher than the national average of 74.7 km per 100 km2 (120 mi per 100 sq mi).
As of 2011, the total railway route length is around 4,481 km (2,784 mi). Kolkata is the headquarters of three zones of the Indian Railways – Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway, and the Kolkata Metro, which is the newly formed 17th zone of the Indian Railways. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) serves the northern parts of the state. The Kolkata metro is the country's first underground railway. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, part of NFR, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Dum Dum, Kolkata, is the state's biggest airport. Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri is a customs airport that offers international service to Bhutan and Thailand, besides regular domestic service. Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport, India's first private sector airport, serves the twin cities of Asansol-Durgapur at Andal, Bardhaman.
Kolkata is a major river port in eastern India. The Kolkata Port Trust manages the Kolkata and the Haldia docks. There is passenger service to Port Blair on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and cargo ship service to ports in India and abroad, operated by the Shipping Corporation of India. Ferries are a principal mode of transport in the southern part of the state, especially in the Sundarbans area. Kolkata is the only city in India to have trams as a mode of transport, and these are operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company.
Several government-owned organisations operate bus services in the state, including the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation, the South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation, and the Calcutta Tramways Company. There are also private bus companies. The railway system is a nationalised service without any private investment. Hired forms of transport include metered taxis and auto rickshaws, which often ply specific routes in cities. In most of the state, cycle rickshaws, and in Kolkata, hand-pulled rickshaws and electric rickshaws, are used for short-distance travel.
According to the provisional results of the 2011 national census, West Bengal is the fourth-most-populous state in India with a population of 91,347,736 (7.55% of India's population). Bengalis, consisting of Bengali Hindus, Bengali Muslims, Bengali Christians and a few Bengali Buddhists, comprise the majority of the population. The Marwari and Bihari non-Bengali minorities are scattered throughout the state; various indigenous ethnic Buddhist communities such as the Sherpas, Bhutias, Lepchas, Tamangs, Yolmos, and ethnic Tibetans can be found in the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region. The Darjeeling district also has a large Nepali immigrant population, making Nepali a widely spoken language in this region. West Bengal is also home to indigenous tribal Adivasis such as Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Bhumij, Lodha, Kol, and Toto tribe. There are a small number of ethnic minorities primarily in the state capital, including Chinese, Tamils, Maharashtrians, Odias, Assamese, Malayalis, Gujaratis, Anglo-Indians, Armenians, Jews, Punjabis, and Parsis. India's sole Chinatown is in eastern Kolkata.
The official language is Bengali. Nepali also has an official status in the three subdivisions of Darjeeling district. As of 2001, in decreasing order of number of speakers, the languages of the state are: Bengali, Hindi, Santali, Urdu, and Nepali.
West Bengal is religiously diverse, with regional cultural and religious specificities. Although Hindus are the predominant community, the state has a large minority Muslim population. Christians, Buddhists, and others form a minuscule part of the population. As of 2011, Hinduism is the largest religion, with adherents representing 70.54% of the total population, while Muslims comprise 27.01% of the total population, being the second-largest community as well as the largest minority group. Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions make up the remainder. Buddhism remains a prominent religion in the Himalayan region of the Darjeeling hills, and almost the entirety of West Bengal's Buddhist population are from this region.
The state contributes 7.8% of India's population. The Hindu population of West Bengal is 64,385,546 while the Muslim population is 24,654,825, as per the 2011 census. The state's 2001–2011 decennial population growth rate was 13.93%, lower than the 1991–2001 growth rate of 17.8%, and also lower than the national rate of 17.64%. The gender ratio is 947 females per 1000 males. As of 2011, West Bengal had a population density of 1,029 inhabitants per square kilometre (2,670/sq mi) making it the second-most densely populated state in India, after Bihar.
The literacy rate is 77.08%, higher than the national rate of 74.04%. Data of 1995–1999 showed the life expectancy in the state was 63.4 years, higher than the national value of 61.7 years. About 72% of people live in rural areas. The proportion of people living below the poverty line in 1999–2000 was 31.9%. Scheduled castes and tribes form 28.6% and 5.8% of the population, respectively, in rural areas, and 19.9% and 1.5%, respectively, in urban areas. A study conducted in three districts of West Bengal found that accessing private health services to treat illness had a catastrophic impact on households. This indicates the importance of public provision of health services to mitigate against poverty and the impact of illness on poor households.
The latest Sample Registration System (SRS) statistical report shows that West Bengal has the lowest fertility rate amongst all the other Indian states. West Bengal's total fertility rate was 1.6, way below Bihar's 3.4, which is the highest in the entire country. Bengal's TFR of 1.6 roughly equals that of Canada.
The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage that it shares with neighbouring Bangladesh. West Bengal has a long tradition of folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Bengali literature was modernised in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibanananda Das, and Manik Bandyopadhyay. In modern times, Jibanananda Das, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Saradindu Bandopadhyay, Buddhadeb Guha, Mahashweta Devi, Samaresh Majumdar, Mohit Chattopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Buddhadeb Basu, Joy Goswami, and Sunil Gangopadhyay, among others, are well known.
The Baul tradition, a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, has been influenced by regional music traditions. Other folk music forms include Gombhira and Bhawaiya. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has a heritage in North Indian classical music. "Rabindrasangeet", songs composed and set into tune by Rabindranath Tagore and "Nazrul geeti" (by Kazi Nazrul Islam) are popular. Also prominent are other musical forms like Dwijendralal, Atulprasad and Rajanikanta's songs, and "adhunik" or modern music from films and other composers. Shyama Sangeet, or songs in praise of the Hindu goddess Kali, are popular, especially during Kali Puja, a major festival of Bengal.
Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chhau dance of Purulia is a rare form of masked dance.
Mainstream Hindi films are popular in Bengal, and the state is home to a Tollywood. Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of numerous Bengali movie studios, and the name "Tollywood" (similar to Hollywood and Bollywood) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is well known for its art films, and has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, and Ritwik Ghatak. Some contemporary directors include veterans such as Buddhadev Dasgupta, Tarun Majumdar, Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen, and Rituparno Ghosh, and a newer pool of directors such as Kaushik Ganguly and Srijit Mukherji.
There are significant examples of fine arts in Bengal from earlier times, including the terracotta art of Hindu temples and the Kalighat paintings. Bengal has been in the vanguard of modernism in fine arts. Abanindranath Tagore, called the father of modern Indian art, started the Bengal School of Art, one of whose goals was to promote the development of styles of art outside the European realist tradition that had been taught in art colleges under the British colonial administration. The movement had many adherents, including Gaganendranath Tagore, Ramkinkar Baij, Jamini Roy, and Rabindranath Tagore. After Indian Independence, important groups such as the Calcutta Group and the Society of Contemporary Artists were formed in Bengal and came to dominate the art scene in India.
The capital, Kolkata, was the workplace of several social reformers, including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Swami Vivekananda. Their social reforms eventually led to a cultural atmosphere that made it possible for practices like sati, dowry, and caste-based discrimination, or untouchability, to be abolished. The region was also home to several religious teachers, such as Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Prabhupada, and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Rice and fish are traditional favourite foods, leading to a saying in Bengali, machhe bhate bangali, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali". Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes hilsa preparations, a favourite among Bengalis. There are numerous ways of cooking fish depending on the fish's texture, size, fat content, and bones. Most of the people also consume eggs, chicken, mutton, and shrimp. Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengalis and at their social ceremonies. It is an ancient custom among both Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims to distribute sweets during festivities. The confectionery industry has flourished because of its close association with social and religious ceremonies. Competition and changing tastes have helped to create many new sweets. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam, and several kinds of sondesh. Pitha, a kind of sweet cake, bread, or dimsum, are specialties of the winter season. Sweets such as narkol-naru, til-naru, moa, and payesh are prepared during the festival of Lakshmi puja. Popular street foods includeAloor Chop, Beguni, Kati roll, biryani, and phuchka.
The variety of fruits and vegetables that Bengal has to offer is incredible. A host of gourds, roots and tubers, leafy greens, succulent stalks, lemons and limes, green and purple eggplants, red onions, plantain, broad beans, okra, banana tree stems and flowers, green jackfruit, and red pumpkins are to be found in the markets popularly known as anaj bazaar. Panta bhat (rice soaked overnight in water) with onion and green chili is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas. Common spices found in a Bengali kitchen are cumin, ajmoda (radhuni), bay leaf, mustard, ginger, green chillies, and turmeric. People of erstwhile East Bengal use a lot of ajmoda, coriander leaves, tamarind, coconut, and mustard in their cooking while those aboriginally from West Bengal use a lot of sugar, garam masala, and red chilli powder. Vegetarian dishes are mostly prepared without onion and garlic.
Bengali women commonly wear the sari, often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear western attire. Among men, western dress has greater acceptance. Particularly on cultural occasions, men also wear traditional costumes such as the panjabi with dhuti while women wear salwar kameez.
West Bengal has a rich heritage of handloom weaving, and produces some of the finest varieties of cotton and silk saris in the country. From an economic standpoint, handlooms come second only to agriculture in providing a livelihood to the rural population of the state. Every district has weaving "clusters", which are home to artisan communities, each specialising in specific varieties of handloom weaving. Famous handloom saris woven in the state include tant, jamdani, garad, korial, baluchari, tussar, and muslin.
Durga Puja in September-October is the most popular and widely celebrated festival in West Bengal. This five-day-long colourful Hindu festival witnesses intense celebration across the state. Pandals are erected in various cities, towns and villages throughout West Bengal. The whole city of Kolkata undergoes a transformation during Durga Puja, as it is decked up in lighting decorations and thousands of colourful pandals are set up where effigies of goddess Durga and her four children are worshipped and displayed. The idols of the goddess as brought in from Kumortuli, where idol-makers work round the year fashioning the clay-models of the goddess. Since independence in 1947, Durga Puja has slowly changed into more of a glamorous carnival than a religious festival, where people across diverse religious and ethnic spectrum partake in the festivity. On Vijayadashami, the last day of the festival, the effigies are paraded through the streets with riotous pageantry before being dumped into the rivers.
Rath Yatra is a Hindu festival which celebrates Jagannath, a form of Krishna. It is celebrated with much fanfare in Kolkata as well as in rural Bengal. Images of Jagannath are set upon a chariot and pulled through the streets.
Other major festivals of Bengal include Poila Baishakh, Dolyatra or Holi, Poush Parbon, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Diwali, Lakshmi Puja, Janmashtami, Jagaddhatri Puja, Vishwakarma Puja, Bhai Phonta, Rakhi Bandhan, Kalpataru Day, Shivratri, Ganesh Chathurthi, Maghotsav, Kartik Puja, Akshay Tritiya, Raas Yatra, Guru Purnima, Annapurna Puja, Charak Puja, Gajan, Buddha Purnima, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, and Muharram. Rabindra Jayanti, Kolkata Book Fair, Kolkata Film Festival, and Nazrul Jayanti are important cultural events.
Eid al-Fitr is the most important festival of Muslims in Bengal. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with prayers, alms-giving, shopping, gift-giving, and feasting.
Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) is perhaps the next major festival celebrated in Kolkata, after Durga Puja. Just like Durga Puja, Christmas in Kolkata is an occasion in which all communities and people across religions take part. The state tourism department organises the gala Christmas Festival every year in Park Street. The whole of Park Street is decked out in colourful lights, and food stalls sell cakes, chocolates, Chinese cuisines, momo, and various other items. Musical groups from Darjeeling and other states of North East India are invited by the state to perform choir recitals, carols, and jazz numbers. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Hindu/Buddhist festivals and is celebrated with much gusto in the Darjeeling hills. On this day, processions begin at each of the various Buddhist monasteries, or gumpas, and congregate at the Mall, Chowrasta. The Lamas chant mantras and sound their bugles, and students as well as people from all communities carry the holy books or pustaks on their heads. Besides Buddha Purnima, Dashain, or Dusshera, Holi, Diwali, Losar, Namsoong or the Lepcha New Year, and Losoong are the other major festivals of the Darjeeling Himalayan region.
Poush mela is a popular winter festival of Shantiniketan, with performances of folk music, Baul songs, dance, and theatre taking place throughout the town.
Ganga Sagar mela coincides with the Makar Sankranti, and hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims converge where the river Ganges meets the sea to bathe en masse during this fervent festival.
West Bengal schools are run by the state government or by private organisations, including religious institutions. Instruction is mainly in English or Bengali, though Urdu is also used, especially in Central Kolkata. The secondary schools are affiliated with the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), the National Institute of Open School (NIOS), or the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
Under the 10+2+3 plan, after completing secondary school students typically enroll for two years in a junior college, also known as pre-university, or in schools with a higher secondary facility affiliated with the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education or any central board. Students choose from one of three streams: liberal arts, commerce, or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students may enroll in general or professional degree programs.
Some of the best-known schools in the city are La Martiniere Calcutta, Calcutta Boys' School, St. James' School (Kolkata), St. Xavier's Collegiate School, and Loreto House, all of which consistently rank amongst the best schools in the country. Many of the schools in Kolkata and Darjeeling are renowned colonial-era establishments housed in buildings that are exemplars of neo-classical architecture. The famous schools of Darjeeling include St. Paul's, St. Joseph's North Point, Goethals Memorial School, and Dow Hill in Kurseong.
West Bengal has eighteen universities. Kolkata has played a pioneering role in the development of the modern education system in India. It is the gateway to the revolution of European education. Sir William Jones established the Asiatic Society in 1794 for promoting oriental studies. People such as Ram Mohan Roy, David Hare, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Alexander Duff and William Carey played leading roles in the setting up of modern schools and colleges in the city.
The University of Calcutta, the oldest public university in India, has 136 affiliated colleges. Fort William College was established in 1810. The Hindu College was established in 1817. The Scottish Church College, which is the oldest Christian liberal arts college in South Asia, started its journey in 1830. In 1855 the Hindu College was renamed the Presidency College. In 2010 it was granted university status by the state government and was renamed Presidency University. Kazi Nazrul University was established in 2012. The University of Calcutta and Jadavpur University are prestigious technical universities. Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan is a central university and an institution of national importance.
Other higher education institutes of national importance in West Bengal include St. Xavier's College, Kolkata, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (the first IIM), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (the first IIT), Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur (the first IIEST), National Institute of Technology, Durgapur, and West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. In 2003 the state government supported the creation of West Bengal University of Technology, West Bengal State University, and Gour Banga University.
Jadavpur University (Focus area – Mobile Computing and Communication and Nano-science), and the University of Calcutta (Modern Biology) are among two of the fifteen universities selected under the scheme "University with Potential for Excellence". University of Calcutta (Focus Area – Electro-Physiological and Neuro-imaging studies including mathematical modeling) has also been selected under the scheme Centre with Potential for Excellence in a Particular Area.
Besides these, the state is home to Kalyani University, The University of Burdwan, Vidyasagar University, and North Bengal University – all well-established and nationally renowned – to cover education needs at the district level and an Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. Apart from this there is a private university run by the Ramakrishna mission named Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University at Belur Math.
There are a number of research institutes in Kolkata. The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science is the first research institute in Asia. C. V. Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery (Raman Effect) done in IACS. The Bose Institute, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani, and the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre are the most prominent.
Notable scholars who were born, worked, or studied in the geographic area of the state include physicists Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha, and Jagadish Chandra Bose; chemist Prafulla Chandra Roy; statisticians Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and Anil Kumar Gain; physician Upendranath Brahmachari; educator Ashutosh Mukherjee; and Nobel laureates Rabindranath Tagore, C. V. Raman, and Amartya Sen.
In 2005 West Bengal had 505 published newspapers, of which 389 were in Bengali. Ananda Bazar Patrika, published from Kolkata with 1,277,801 daily copies, has the largest circulation for a single-edition, regional language newspaper in India. Other major Bengali newspapers are Bartaman, Sangbad Pratidin, Aajkaal, Jago Bangla, Uttarbanga Sambad, and Ganashakti. Major English language newspapers include The Telegraph, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, The Indian Express, and Asian Age. Some prominent financial dailies such as The Economic Times, Financial Express, Business Line, and Business Standard are widely circulated. Vernacular newspapers such as those in Hindi, Nepali, Gujarati, Odia, Urdu, and Punjabi are also read by a select readership.
Doordarshan is the state-owned television broadcaster. Multi system operators provide a mix of Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, English, and international channels via cable. Bengali 24-hour television news channels include ABP Ananda, Tara Newz, Kolkata TV, News Time, 24 Ghanta, Mahuaa Khobor, CTVN Plus, Channel 10, and R Plus. All India Radio is a public radio station. Private FM stations are available only in cities like Kolkata, Siliguri, and Asansol. Vodafone, Airtel, BSNL, Reliance Communications, Uninor, Aircel, MTS India, Idea Cellular, and Tata DoCoMo are available cellular phone providers. Broadband internet is available in select towns and cities and is provided by the state-run BSNL and by other private companies. Dial-up access is provided throughout the state by BSNL and other providers.
Cricket and association football are popular sports in the state. West Bengal, unlike most other states of India, is noted for its passion and patronage of football. Kolkata is one of the major centres for football in India and houses top national clubs such as East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Mohammedan Sporting Club.
West Bengal has several large stadiums. Eden Gardens was one of only two 100,000-seat cricket stadiums in the world; renovation before 2011 Cricket World Cup reduced the capacity to 66,000. The stadium is the home to various cricket teams such as the Kolkata Knight Riders, the Bengal cricket team, and the East Zone. The 1987 Cricket World Cup final was hosted in Eden Gardens. Calcutta Cricket and Football Club is the second-oldest cricket club in the world. Notable sports persons from West Bengal include former Indian national cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, Pankaj Roy, Olympic tennis bronze medallist Leander Paes, and chess grand master Dibyendu Barua.