The History of West Bengal

West Bengal was formerly known as Vanga and was spread over a vast area. Ruled by several dynasties from ancient times, the actual history of this region is, however, available from the Gupta period. The prosperity and the importance of the state increased largely when the British East India Company took over the place. It was a widespread Bengal province until under the terms of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the province of Bengal ceased to exist. The Muslim-dominated districts, namely, Chittagong, Dacca and part of Presidency and Rajshahi division went to the present-day Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal came into existence in 1947. The district of Cooch Behar was merged with the state on January 1, 1950. The former Chandernogor came within the state on October 2, 1954 and the state got its present political boundary when, according to the States Reorganization Act, part of the state of Bihar was transferred to West Bengal.

The name of Bengal, or Bangla, is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga, or Banga. References to it occur in early Sanskrit literature, but its early history is obscure until the 3rd century BC, when it formed part of the extensive Mauryan empire inherited by Asoka. With the decline of Mauryan power, anarchy once more supervened The history of Bengal (including Bangladesh and West Bengal) dates back four millennia.[1] To some extent, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra rivers separated it from the mainland of India, though at times, Bengal has played an important role in Indian history.

Remnants of Copper Age settlements in the Bengal region date back 4,000 years,[1][2] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga and Magadha were formed by the 10th century BC, located in and around the Bengal region. The Anga, Vanga and Magadha kingdoms are first described in the Atharvaveda around 1000 BC.

From the 6th century BC, most of Bengal was a part of the powerful kingdom of Magadha, which was an ancient Indo-Aryan kingdom of ancient India, mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It was also one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha, having risen to power during the reigns of Bimbisara (c. 544-491 BC) and his son Ajatashatru (c. 491-460 BC). Magadha spanned to include most of Bihar and Bengal. Magadha formed one of the sixteen Maha Janapadas (Sanskrit, "great country"). The Magadha empire included republican communities such as Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions. Bimbisara was friendly to both Jainism and Buddhism and suspended tolls at the river ferries for all ascetics after the Buddha was once stopped at the Ganges River for lack of money.

In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of the Nanda Empire of Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing a larger Indian army at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return. Magadha was the seat of the Maurya Empire, founded by Chandragupta Maurya, which extended over nearly all of South Asia and parts of Persia and Afghanistan under Ashoka the Great; and, later, of the powerful Gupta Empire, which extended over the northern Indian subcontinent and parts of Persia and Afghanistan.

One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) and believed to be referring to an area in Bengal. For example, Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-30 BC) states that, "...Gandaridai, a nation which possesses the greatest number of elephants and the largest in size." This is presently known as 'Gangaridi' civilization and encompasses a period presumably from 400 BC to 100 AD. Some recent excavations in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal reveal small pearls of garnet, opal, quartz etc, which helped to detect the time and life-style of the people of this ancient civilization. There are engravings such as couple, snake, swastika, plough, trident, betel-leaf etc. found on these pearls