This article is about ethnic Bengalis from various countries. For the people of Bangladesh, see Bangladeshis.
Total population
c.300 million[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
 Bangladesh 168,957,745[3]
 India 83,369,769[4]
 Pakistan 2,000,000[5][6][7][8]
 Saudi Arabia 1,300,000[9]
 United Arab Emirates 1,089,917[10]
 United States 800,000[11][12][13]
 United Kingdom 451,000[14]
 Canada 59,370[15]
Bengali and Bengali dialects
Islam – Bangladesh 89.8%, West Bengal 27.01%[16]
Hinduism – West Bengal 70.53%, Bangladesh 8.3%
Buddhism, Bahá'í Faith, Christianity, Atheism and others – 1%[17][18]
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Aryan peoples

The Bengalis (বাঙালি Bangali), also spelled as the Bangalees,[19] are a major Indo-Aryan ethnic group. They are native to the region of Bengal in South Asia, which is presently-divided between Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. They speak the Bengali language, the most easterly branch of the Indo-European language family. Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world after the Han Chinese and the Arabs.[20]

Apart from Bangladesh and West Bengal, Bengali-majority populations also reside in India's Tripura state, the Barak Valley in Assam state and the union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The global Bengali diaspora has well-established communities in Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Middle East, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Italy.

They have four major religious subgroups, including Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Bengali Christians and Bengali Buddhists.


Ancient history

Further information: Anga, Gangaridai, Magadha, Pundra Kingdom, Suhma Kingdom, Ruhma Kingdom and Vanga Kingdom
Gangaridai in 323 BCE

Archaeologists have discovered remnants of a 4,000 years old Chalcolithic civilisation in the greater Bengal region and believe the finds are one of the earliest signs of settlement in the region. [21] However evidence of much older Palaeolithic human habitations are found in the form of a Stone Implement and a Hand Axe in Rangamati and Feni districts of Bangladesh. [22] The origin of the word Bangla ~ Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from a tribe called Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BCE.[23]

Kingdoms of Anga, Vanga and Magadha were formed in and around Bengal and were first described in the Atharvaveda around 1000 BCE as well as in Hindu epic Mahabharata. From the 6th century BCE, Magadha expanded to include most of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha and was one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Under the Maurya Empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya, Magadha extended over nearly all of South Asia, including parts of Balochistan and Afghanistan, reaching its greatest extent under the Buddhist emperor Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE.[24] One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land ruled by the king Xandrammes named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BCE. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) in reference to an area in Bengal.[25] Later from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.

Middle Ages

The Pala Empire circa 800
Art of the Sena Empire, 11th century
Gateway of Lakhnauti
Realm of Mughal Bengal

One of the first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around the early 7th century.[26] After a period of anarchy, Gopala came to power in 750. He founded the Bengali Buddhist Pala Empire which ruled the region for four hundred years, and expanded across much of Southern Asia, from Assam in the northeast, to Kabul in the west, to Andhra Pradesh in the south. Atisha was a renowned Bengali Buddhist teacher who was instrumental in revival of Buddhism in Tibet and also held the position of Abbot at the Vikramshila university. Tilopa was also from Bengal region.

The Pala dynasty was later followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena Empire. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region.[27] Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of sultans and feudal lords under the Bengal Sultanate for the next few hundred years. Islam was introduced to the Sylhet region by the Muslim saint Shah Jalal in the early 14th century. Mughal general Man Singh conquered parts of Bengal including Dhaka during the time of Emperor Akbar. Few Rajput tribes from his army permanently settled around Dhaka and surrounding lands. Later on, in the early 17th century, Islam Khan conquered all of Bengal. However, administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence of the area under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi. After the weakening of the Mughal Empire with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, Bengal was ruled independently by the Nawabs until 1757, when the region was annexed by the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey.

Bengal Renaissance

Bengal Renaissance refers to a socio-religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the city of Kolkata by caste Hindus under the patronage of the British Raj and it created a reformed religion, which is called, Brahmo dharma. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with reformer and humanitarian Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833), considered the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance", and ended with Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output.[28] Nineteenth century Bengal was a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'modern'.[29]

Other figures have been considered to be part of the Renaissance. Swami Vivekananda is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America[30] and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the 1800s.[31] Jagadish Chandra Bose was a Bengali polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction[32] who pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent.[33] He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[34] and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. Satyendra Nath Bose was a Bengali physicist, specializing in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of the boson.

Independence movement

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Bengalis also played a notable role in the Indian independence movement. Many of the early proponents of the independence struggle, and subsequent leaders in movement were Bengalis such as Chittaranjan Das, Khwaja Salimullah, Surendranath Banerjea, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Titumir (Sayyid Mir Nisar Ali), Prafulla Chaki, A. K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh, Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose, Sachindranath Sanyal.

Some of these leaders, such as Netaji, who was born, brought up and educated at Cuttack in Odisha did not subscribe to the view that non-violent civil disobedience was the best way to achieve Indian Independence, and were instrumental in armed resistance against the British force. Netaji was the co-founder and leader of the Indian National Army (distinct from the army of British India) that challenged British forces in several parts of India. He was also the head of state of a parallel regime, the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind. Bengal was also the fostering ground for several prominent revolutionary organisations, the most notable of which was Anushilan Samiti. A number of Bengalis died during the independence movement and many were imprisoned in Cellular Jail, the much notorious prison in Andaman.

Partitions of Bengal

The first partition in 1905 divided the Bengal region in British India into two provinces for administrative and development purposes. However, the partition stoked Hindu nationalism. This in turn led to the formation of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906 to represent the growing aspirations of the Muslim population. The partition was annulled in 1912 after protests by the Indian National Congress and Hindu Mahasabha.

The breakdown of Hindu-Muslim unity in India drove the Muslim League to adopt the Lahore Resolution in 1943, calling the creation of "independent states" in eastern and northwestern British India. The resolution paved the way for the Partition of British India based on the Radcliffe Line in 1947, despite attempts to form a United Bengal state that was opposed by many people.

The legacy of partition has left lasting differences between the two sides of Bengal, most notably in linguistic accent and cuisine.

Bangladesh Liberation War

The rise of self-determination and Bengali nationalism movements in East Bengal which was then the East Pakistan led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, culminated in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War against the Pakistani military junta. An estimated 3 million (3,000,000) people died in the conflict, particularly as a result of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. The war caused millions of East Pakistani refugees to take shelter in India's Bengali state West Bengal, with Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal province becoming the capital-in-exile of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh. The Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces waged a nine-month war against the Pakistani military. The conflict ended after the Indian Armed Forces intervened on the side of Bangladeshi forces in the final two weeks of the war, which ended with the Surrender of Pakistan and the liberation of Dhaka on 16 December 1971.


Main articles: Demographics of Bangladesh, Demographics of West Bengal, Demographics of Tripura, and Demographics of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The largest religions practiced in Bengal are Islam and Hinduism. In Bangladesh 89.9% of the population follow Islam (US State Department est. 2014) while 8.3% follow Hinduism. In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 70.53% of the population while Muslims comprise 27.01%. Other religious groups include Buddhists (compromising around 1% of the population in Bangladesh) and Christians.[18]


Further information: Culture of Bengal
Further information: Culture of Bangladesh

Bengali cuisine

Bengali cuisine is the culinary style originating in Bengal, a region of South Asia which is now located in Bangladesh. Some Indian regions, such as West Bengal, Tripura, and the Barak Valley region of Assam (in India) also have large native Bengali populations and share this cuisine. With an emphasis on fish, vegetables and milk served with rice as a staple diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavours, and its huge spread of confectioneries and desserts. It also has the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from the Indian subcontinent that is analogous in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine, with food served course-wise rather than all at once.


The Bengalis celebrate many holidays and festivals. The Bengali proverb "Baro Mase Tero Parbon" ("Thirteen festivals in twelve months") indicates the abundance of festivity in the state. In Bengal throughout the year many festivals are celebrated. Durga Puja is solemnized as perhaps the most significant of all celebrations in Bengal.

Some major festivals celebrated are Durga Puja,Eid ul Fitr,Eid ul Azha, 21 February - Bengali language Day, Bengali New Year,Independence Day Of Bangladesh, Birthday of Kazi Nazrul Islam, Pohela Falgun, Birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, Death Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore

Bengali language

Main article: Bengali language

Bengali or Bangla is the language native to the region of Bengal, which comprises present-day Bangladesh and the Indian states West Bengal, Tripura and southern Assam. It is written using the Bengali script. With about 250 million native and about 300 million total speakers worldwide, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages, ranked seventh in the world.[35][36] The National Anthem of Bangladesh, National Anthem of India, National Anthem of Sri Lanka and the national song of India were first composed in the Bengali language.

Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects such as the Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, which developed from a dialect or group of dialects that were close, but not identical to, Vedic and Classical Sanskrit.

Bengali literature

Main article: Bengali literature

The earliest extant work in Bengali literature is the Charyapada, a collection of Buddhist mystic songs dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Thereafter, the timeline of Bengali literature is divided into two periods − medieval (1360-1800) and modern (after 1800). Bengali literature is one of the most enriched bodies of literature in Modern India and Bangladesh.

Old Bengali literature

The first works in Bengali, written in new Bengali, appeared between 10th and 12th centuries C.E. It is generally known as the Charyapada. These are mystic songs composed by various Buddhist seer-poets:Luipada, Kanhapada, Kukkuripada, Chatilpada, Bhusukupada, Kamlipada, Dhendhanpada, Shantipada, Shabarapada etc. The famous Bengali linguist Haraprasad Shastri discovered the palm leaf Charyapada manuscript in the Nepal Royal Court Library in 1907.

Middle Bengali literature

The Middle Bengali Literature is a period in the history of Bengali literature dated from 15th to 18th centuries. Following Mughal invasion of Bengal in the 13th century, literature in vernacular Bengali began to take shape. The oldest example of Middle Bengali Literature is believed to be Shreekrishna Kirtana by Boru Chandidas.

Modern Bengali literature

In the middle of the 19th century, Bengali literature gained momentum. During this period, the Bengali Pandits of Fort William College did the tedious work of translating the text books in Bengali to help teach the British some Indian languages including Bengali. This work played a role in the background in the evolution of Bengali prose.

See also


    1. "General Assembly hears appeal for Bangla to be made an official UN language". United Nations. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
    2. "Countries and Their Cultures". Everyculture. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
    3. "Bangladesh" The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency.
    4. "Census of India". Archived from the original on 13 May 2010. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
    5. "Five million illegal immigrants residing in Pakistan". Express Tribune.
    6. "Homeless In Karachi". Outlook. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
    7. "Falling back". Daily Times. 17 December 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
    8. van Schendel, Willem (2005). The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia. Anthem Press. p. 250. ISBN 9781843311454.
    9. Migration Profile - Saudi Arabia
    10. Migration Profile - UAE
    11. "Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses". Migration Information Source. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
    12. "Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2012 Supplemental Table 2". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
    13. "Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2010 Supplemental Table 2". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
    14. "2011 Census: Ethnic group, local authorities in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 11 October 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
    15. Census Profile – Province/Territory, Note 20
    16. Comparing State Polities: A Framework for Analyzing 100 Governments By Michael J. III Sullivan, pg. 119
    17. Bangladesh- CIA World Factbook
    18. 1 2 "Data on Religion". Census of India (2001). Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 26 August 2006.
    20. roughly 163 million in Bangladesh and 100 million in India (CIA Factbook 2014 estimates, numbers subject to rapid population growth); about 3 million Bangladeshis in the Middle East, 1 million Bengalis in Pakistan, 0.4 million British Bangladeshi.
    21. "4000-year old settlement unearthed in Bangladesh". Xinhua. 12 March 2006.
    22. "History of Bangladesh". Bangladesh Student Association @ TTU. Archived from the original on 26 December 2005. Retrieved 26 October 2006.
    23. James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden, ed. (1989). "Early History, 1000 B.C.-A.D. 1202". Bangladesh: A country study. Library of Congress.
    24. "The Truth of Babri Mosque". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
    25. Chowdhury, AM (2012). "Gangaridai". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
    26. Bhattacharyya, PK (2012). "Shashanka". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
    27. Karim, Abdul (2012). "Islam, Bengal". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
    28. History of the Bengali-speaking People by Nitish Sengupta, p 211, UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-7476-355-4.
    29. Calcutta and the Bengal Renaissance by Sumit Sarkar in Calcutta, the Living City edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri, Vol I, p 95.
    30. Georg, Feuerstein (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 600. ISBN 3-935001-06-1.
    31. Clarke, Peter Bernard (2006). New Religions in Global Perspective. Routledge. p. 209. ISBN 0-7007-1185-6.
    32. A versatile genius, Frontline 21 (24), 2004.
    33. Chatterjee, Santimay and Chatterjee, Enakshi, Satyendranath Bose, 2002 reprint, p. 5, National Book Trust, ISBN 81-237-0492-5
    34. Sen, A. K. (1997). "Sir J.C. Bose and radio science". Microwave Symposium Digest. IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium. Denver, CO: IEEE. pp. 557–560. doi:10.1109/MWSYM.1997.602854. ISBN 0-7803-3814-6.
    35. "Statistical Summaries". Ethnologue. 2012. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
    36. Huq, Mohammad Daniul; Sarkar, Pabitra (2012). "Bangla Language". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.

    References and further reading

    • Sengupta, Nitish (1 November 2002). History of the Bengali-Speaking People. Ubs Pub Distributors Ltd. p. 554. ISBN 978-8174763556. 
    • Ray, R. (1994). History of the Bengali People. Orient BlackSwan. p. 656. ISBN 978-0863113789. 
    • Ray, Niharranjan (1994). History of the Bengali people: ancient period. University of Michigan: Orient Longmans. p. 613. ISBN 9780863113789. 
    • Ray, N (2013). History of the Bengali People from Earliest Times to the Fall of the Sena Dynasty. Orient Blackswan Private Limited. p. 613. ISBN 978-8125050537. 
    • Das, S.N. (1 December 2005). The Bengalis: The People, Their History and Culture. p. 1900. ISBN 978-8129200662. 
    • Sengupta, Nitish (2011). Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib. Penguin UK. p. 656. ISBN 9788184755305. 
    • Nasrin, Mithun B; Van Der Wurff, W.A.M (2015). Colloquial Bengali. Routledge. p. 288. ISBN 9781317306139. 
    • Sengupta, Debjani (22 October 2015). The Partition of Bengal: Fragile Borders and New Identities. Cambridge University Press. p. 283. ISBN 978-1107061705. 
    • Chakrabarti, Kunal; Chakrabarti, Shubhra (1 February 2000). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis (Historical Dictionaries of Peoples and Cultures). Scarecrow Press. p. 604. ISBN 978-0810853348. 
    • Chatterjee, Pranab (28 December 2009). A Story of Ambivalent Modernization in Bangladesh and West Bengal: The Rise and Fall of Bengali Elitism in South Asia (Asian Thought and Culture). Peter Lang Publishing Inc. p. 294. ISBN 978-1433108204. 
    • Singh, Kumar Suresh (2008). People of India: West Bengal, Volume 43, Part 1. University of Virginia: Anthropological Survey of India. p. 1397. ISBN 9788170463009. 
    • Milne, William Stanley (1913). A Practical Bengali Grammar. Asian Educational Services. p. 561. ISBN 9788120608771. 
    • Alexander, Claire; Chatterji, Joya (10 December 2015). The Bengal Diaspora: Rethinking Muslim migration. Routledge. p. 304. ISBN 978-0415530736. 
    • Chakraborty, Mridula Nath (26 March 2014). Being Bengali: At Home and in the World. Routledge. p. 254. ISBN 978-0415625883. 
    • Sanyal, Shukla (16 October 2014). Revolutionary Pamphlets, Propaganda and Political Culture in Colonial Bengal. Cambridge University Press. p. 219. ISBN 978-1107065468. 
    • Dasgupta, Subrata (2009). The Bengal Renaissance: Identity and Creativity from Rammohun Roy to Rabindranath Tagore. Permanent Black. p. 286. ISBN 978-8178242798. 
    • Glynn, Sarah (30 November 2014). Class, Ethnicity and Religion in the Bengali East End: A Political History. Manchester University. p. 304. ISBN 978-0719095955. 
    • Ahmed, Salahuddin (2004). Bangladesh: Past and Present. Aph Publishing Corporations. p. 365. ISBN 9788176484695. 
    • Deodhari, Shanti (2007). Banglar Bow (Bengali Bride). AuthorHouse. p. 80. ISBN 9781467011884. 
    • Gupta, Swarupa (2009). Notions of Nationhood in Bengal: Perspectives on Samaj, C. 1867-1905. BRILL. p. 408. ISBN 9789004176140. 
    • Roy, Manisha (2010). Bengali Women. University of Chicago Press. p. 232. ISBN 9780226230443. 
    • Basak, Sita (2006). Bengali Culture And Society Through Its Riddles. Neha Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 9788121208918. 
    • Raghavan, Srinath (2013). 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. Harvard University Press. p. 368. ISBN 978-0674728646. 
    • Inden, Ronald B; Nicholas, Ralph W. (2005). Kinship in Bengali culture. Orient Blackswan. p. 158. ISBN 9788180280184. 
    • Nicholas, Ralph W. (2003). Fruits of Worship: Practical Religion in Bengal. Orient Blackswan. p. 248. ISBN 9788180280061. 
    • Das, S.N. (2002). The Bengalis: The People, Their History, and Culture. Religion and Bengali culture. volume 4. Cosmo Publications. p. 321. ISBN 9788177553925. 
    • Schendel, Willem van (2004). The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia. Anthem Press. p. 440. ISBN 978-1843311447. 
    • Mukherjee, Janam (2015). Hungry Bengal : War, Famine, Riots and the End of Empire. Harper Collins India. p. 344. ISBN 978-9351775829. 
    • Guhathakurta, Meghna; Schendel, Willem van (2013). The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. p. 568. ISBN 978-0822353188. 
    • Sengupta, Nitish (19 November 2012). Bengal Divided: The Unmaking of a Nation (1905-1971). Penguin India. p. 272. ISBN 978-0143419556. 

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