West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India. The province Bengal was partitioned along religious lines when India gained independence in 1947. The western part went to India and was named West Bengal, while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal, later renamed Bangladesh in 1971 as an independent State. The State is bordered by the countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and the Indian States of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim and Assam. It is spread over 88,750 sq km stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. It encompasses two broad natural regions: The Gangetic Plain in the south and the sub-Himalayan and Himalayan area in the north.
It is the nation’s fourth most populous State with over 91 million inhabitants. The main rivers of West Bengal are the two branches of the Ganges—Bhagirathi and Hooghly river and also Damodar in the plains and Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Mahananda in the northern hilly region. Damodar, the tributary of the Ganges, and once known as the ‘Sorrow of Bengal’ due to its frequent floods—has now several dams under the Damodar Valley Project. At least 9 districts in the State suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater, and an estimated 8.7 million people drink water containing arsenic above the World Health Organization recommended limit.
The climate of West Bengal varies from tropical in the south to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons here are summer, rainy season, autumn and winter. Monsoons bring rain to the whole State from June to September. Heavy rainfall of above 250 mm occurs in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. During the arrival of the monsoons, low pressure in the Bay of Bengal region often leads to the occurrence of storms in the coastal areas.
Winter is mild over the plains. However, Darjeeling in the Himalayan hilly region experiences a harsh winter with occasional snowfalls. West Bengal has 3.26% of its geographical area under Protected Areas comprising 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 National Parks. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
West Bengal is noted for its political activism. The State was ruled by democratically elected Congress for three decades (1947-1976) and communist-dominated United Front government for three decades (1977-2011). After that, the All India Trinamool Congress and Indian National Congress coalition were elected to power in 2011 though the coalition was split later on. The capital and largest city of the State is Kolkata—the third-largest urban city in India.
Agriculture is the leading occupation in West Bengal. Rice is the State’s main crop. Potato, jute, sugarcane and wheat are the other major crops of the State. Tea is produced commercially in northern districts and Darjeeling tea is well-known for its high quality. For many years after independence West Bengal was dependent on the Central Government for meeting its demand for food.
However, there has been a significant part of food production since the 1980s, and the State has now a surplus of grains. Industries are localised in the Howrah region and Haldia port project. The Durgapur-Asansol colliery belt has a cluster of major steel plants. Other industries playing an important role are engineering and electronic products, leather, textiles, jewellery, manufacturing of automobiles, railway coaches and wagons.
The State’s share of total industrial output in India was 9,8% in 1980-81, declining to 5% by 1997-98. Though there has been a debate over the land acquisition policy, the State Government has now been trying to increase the status. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate. The literacy rate is 77%—higher than the national rate of 74%.
As for religion, Hinduism is the principal religion (70.54%), while Muslims comprise 27.01% of the total population, being the second-largest community. Sikhism, Christianity and other religions make up the remainder. The State was also the home of several religious teachers, such as Sri Chaitanya and Sri Ramakrishna. Raja Rammohun Roy and Swami Vivekananda were the bridge between the East and the West. Durga Puja and Id is the most popular festival in West Bengal. Rathajatra, Doljatra, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Christmas, Muharram are other major festivals.
Literature in Bengali is very rich including Rabindranath Tagore and others. There are two Nobel laureates from West Bengal—one Rabindranath in literature and the other Amartya Sen in economics. The State had been the harbinger of modernism in fine arts having Abanindranath Tagore, called the Father of Modern Indian Art.
West Bengal, unlike most other States of India, is noted for its passion and patronage of football. Nagendranath Sarbadhikari was called the Father of Indian football. East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting Club are the top national football clubs in India. However, cricket and football are now popular sports in the state.