|Largest city||Kolkata (Calcutta)|
|Chief Minister||Buddhadeb Bhattacharya|
|Legislature (seats)||Unicameral (295)|
• 904 /km2 (2,341 /sq mi)
|Time zone||IST (UTC+05:30)|
|Area||88752 km2 (34267 sq mi)|
|Portal: West Bengal|
West Bengal (Bengali: পশ্চিমবঙ্গ Poshchim Bônggo, IPA: [poʃtʃim bɔŋɡo]) is a state in eastern India. With Bangladesh, which lies on its eastern border, the state forms the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. To its northeast lie the states of Assam and Sikkim and the country Bhutan, and to its southwest, the state of Orissa. To the west it borders the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal.
The region that is now West Bengal was part of a number of empires and kingdoms during the past two millennia. The British East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the city of Calcutta, now Kolkata, served for many years as the capital of British India. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities, West Bengal—a state of India, and East Bengal, a part of the new nation of Pakistan. Following India's independence in 1947, West Bengal's economic and political systems were dominated for many decades by Marxism, Naxalite movements and trade unionism.
An agriculture-dependent state, West Bengal occupies only 2.7% of the India's land area, though it supports over 7.8% of the Indian population, and is the most densely populated state in India. West Bengal has been ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front for three decades, making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government. Since the late 1990s, the state has seen a resurgence in its economy after decades of stagnation.
In 1999, the West Bengal legislative assembly voted to change the name of the state to "Bangla," but this change has not been approved by the central government.
Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BC, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Persia under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC.
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) in reference to an area in Bengal. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Java, Sumatra and Siam (modern day Thailand). According to Mahavamsa, Vijaya Singha, a Vanga prince, conquered Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) in 544 BC and gave the name "Sinhala" to the country. Bengali people migrated to the Malay Archipelago and Siam (in modern Thailand), establishing their own colonies there.
From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. 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 Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. In the sixteenth century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered 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.
European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century. Their influence grew until the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal subah, or province, following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, eventually including all British territories 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. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. 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 that claimed 3 million lives.
Bengal 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 Subhash 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 India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to independent Bangladesh in 1971). Both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee influx during the partition in 1947, leading to the political unrests later on. The partition of Bengal entailed the greatest exodus of people in Human History. Millions of Hindus migrated from East Pakistan to India and thousands of Muslims too went across the borders to East Pakistan. Because of the immigration of the refugees, there occurred the crisis of land and food in West Bengal; and such condition remained in long duration for more than three decades.The politics of West Bengal since the partition in 1947 developed round the nucleus of refugee problem. Both the Rightists and the Leftists in the Politics of West Bengal have not yet become free from the socio-economic conditions created by the partition of Bengal. These conditions as have remained unresolved in some twisted forms have given birth to local socio-economic, political and ethnic movements.
In 1950 the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal after King Jagaddipendra Narayan had signed the Instrument of Accession with India. 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 subsequently merged with West Bengal.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Marxist-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 Communist Party of India (Marxist), has governed for the state for the subsequent three decades.
The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government, aided by election of a new reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. As of 2007, armed activists have been organising minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration are taking place at several sensitive places on the issue of industrial land acquisition.
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 belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu (3,636 metres / 11,929 feet)—the highest peak of the state. The narrow Terai region separates this region from the 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 on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
The Ganges is the main river, which divides in West Bengal. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma or Pôdda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. 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. At least nine 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 Organisation recommended limit of 10 µg/L. West Bengal's climate varies from tropical savannah in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, 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 day temperature ranging from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). At nights, 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. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian ocean monsoon that moves in a northwest direction. 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. However, the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences a harsh winter, with occasional snowfall at places.
|Union day||August 18 (day of accession to India)|
|State animal||Bengal Tiger|
|State bird||White-throated Kingfisher|
|State tree||Devil Tree|||
|State flower||Night-flowering Jasmine|||
Owing to the varying altitude from the Himalayas to the coastal plains, the flora and fauna of the state is diverse. Forests make up 14% of the geographical area of West Bengal, which is lower than the national average of 23%. Protected forests cover 4% of the state area. Part of the world's largest mangrove forest 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 compounded with favorable rainfall make this region especially fertile. Much of the vegetation of the western part of the state shares floristic similarities 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 Sal. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation; the predominant tree is the Casuarina. The most valuable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundri (Heritiera fomes) from which the forest gets its name. 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 trees of the tropical evergreen type. Above 1000 m, the forest type changes to subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1500 m, common trees typifying the temperate forest are oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons.
The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving Bengal tigers. There are five national parks in the state — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Wildlife includes the Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephants, deer, bison, leopards, gaur, and crocodiles. The state is also rich in bird life. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high altitude forests like Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and Kalij pheasants. In addition to the Bengal tiger, the Sundarbans host many other endangered species like Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin, estuarine crocodile etc. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal.
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, that 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 5 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 Lok Sabha and 16 seats to Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament.
The main players in the regional politics are the Left Front alliance (led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)), the All India Trinamool Congress, the Indian National Congress, and other major parties. Following the West Bengal State Assembly Election in 2006, the Left Front coalition under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) was elected to power(getting 235 seats in the legislature). West Bengal has been ruled by the Left Front for the past 30 years, making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government.
There are 19 districts in West Bengal — Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, East Midnapore, Hooghly, Howrah, Jalpaiguri, Kolkata, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, North Dinajpur, Purulia, South 24 Parganas, South Dinajpur and West Midnapore. Each district is governed by a district collector or district magistrate, appointed either by 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 fourth-largest city in India. Siliguri is an economically important Metropolitan City, strategically located in the northeastern Siliguri Corridor (Chicken's Neck) of India. Asansol, Durgapur are the other Metropolitan cities in the western industrial belt. Other major cities and towns in West Bengal are Howrah, Raniganj,Haldia, Kharagpur, Burdwan, Darjeeling, Midnapore, Tamluk, Malda and Cooch Behar.
|Gross State Domestic Product at Current Prices (93–94 Base)|
|Year||Gross State Domestic Product|
Agriculture is the leading occupation in West Bengal. Rice is the state's principal food crop. Other food crops are pulses, oil seeds, wheat, tobacco, sugarcane and potatoes. Jute is the main cash crop of the region. Tea is also produced commercially; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. However, the service sector is the largest contributor to the gross domestic product of the state, contributing 51% of the state domestic product compared to 27% from agriculture and 22% from industry. State industries are localized in the Kolkata region and the mineral-rich western highlands. The Durgapur–Asansol colliery belt is home to a number of major steel plants. Manufacturing industries playing an important economic role are engineering products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches, and wagons.
A significant part of the state is economically backward, namely, large parts of six northern districts of Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur; three western districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum; and the Sundarbans area. Years after independence, West Bengal was still dependent on the central government for meeting its demands for food; food production remained stagnant and the Indian green revolution bypassed the state. However, there has been a significant spurt 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 1980–81, declining to 5% by 1997–98. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate.
West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) in India, with a net state domestic product of US$ 21.5 billion. During 2001–2002, the state's average SDP was more than 7.8% — outperforming the National GDP Growth. 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. Owing to the boom in Kolkata's and the overall state's economy, West Bengal is now the third fastest growing economy in the country. However, the rapid industrialisation process has given rise to debate over land acquisition for industry in this agrarian state. NASSCOM–Gartner ranks West Bengal power infrastructure the best in the country. West Bengals state domestic product (SDP) grew in 2004 with 12.7 % and in 2005 with 11.0 % .
The total length of surface road in West Bengal is over 92,023 km (57,180 mi); national highways comprise 2,377 km (1,477 mi) and state highways 2,393 km (1,487 mi). 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). Average speed on state highways varies between 40–50 km/h (25–31 mi/h); in villages and towns, speeds are as low as 20–25 km/h (12–16 mi/h) due to the substandard quality of road constructions and low maintenance. Total railway length is 3,825 km (2,377 mi). Kolkata is the headquarters of two divisions of the Indian Railways—Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) plies in 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.
The state's only international airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Dum Dum, Kolkata. Bagdogra airport near Siliguri is another significant airport in the state and recently it has been upgraded to an international airport. Kolkata is a major river-port in eastern India. The Kolkata Port Trust manages both the Kolkata docks 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. Ferry is 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 substandard 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, thus leading to mismanagement. 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, are also used for short-distance travel.
|Source:Census of India|
The vast majority of the 80,221,171 people of West Bengal are Bengalis. The Bihari minority is scattered throughout the state and communities of Sherpas and ethnic Tibetans can be found in regions bordering Sikkim. Darjeeling district has a large number of Gurkha people of Nepalese origin. West Bengal is home to indigenous tribal Adivasis such as Santals, Kol, Koch-Rajbongshi and Toto tribe.
The official language is Bengali. Hindi and English are also used commonly. Nepali is spoken primarily in the Darjeeling district. Languages such as Rajbongshi, Santali and Ho are used in some parts of the state.
Hinduism is the principal religion at 72.5% of the total population, while Muslims comprise 25.2%; Sikhism, Christianity and other religions make up the remainder. West Bengal has a population density of 904 inhabitants per square kilometre (2,341.3/sq mi) making it the most densely populated state in India. The state contributes 7.81% of India's population. The state's 1991–2001 growth rate of 17.84% is lower than the national rate of 21.34%. The gender ratio is 934 females per 1000 males.
The literacy rate is 69.22%. 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 31.85%. 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.
The crime rate in the state in 2004 was 82.6 per 100,000, which was half of the national average. This is the fourth-lowest crime rate among the 32 states and union territories of India. However, the state reported the highest rate of Special and Local Laws (SLL) crimes. In reported crimes against women, the state showed a crime rate of 7.1 compared to the national rate of 14.1. West Bengal was the first Indian state to constitute a Human Rights Commission of its own.
The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage, shared with neighboring Bangladesh. West Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, Bengali literature was modernized in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das and Manik Bandyopadhyay.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, which has also 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 an 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. From the early 1990s, there has been an emergence and popularisation of new genres of music, including fusions of Baul and Jazz by several Bangla bands, as well as the emergence of what has been called Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism). Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chau dance of Purulia is a rare form of mask dance.
Mainstream Hindi films are popular, as are films from the Bengali cinema industry, dubbed "Tollywood". Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of Bengali movie studios and the name "Tollywood" (similar to Hollywood and Bollywood) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is also known for art films or Indy films. Its long tradition of filmmaking has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Ritwik Ghatak. Contemporary directors include Buddhadev Dasgupta, Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh.
Bengal had been the harbinger of modernism in fine arts. Abanindranath Tagore, called the father of Modern Indian Art had started the Bengal School of Art which was to create styles of art outside the European realist tradition which was taught in art colleges under the colonial administration of the British Government. The movement had many adherents like Gaganendranath Tagore, Ramkinkar Baij, Jamini Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. After Indian Independence, important groups like the Calcutta Group and the Society of Contemporary Artists were formed in bengal which dominated the art scene in India.
Rice and fish are traditional favorite 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 favorite among Bengalis. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam and several kinds of Pithe. Popular street food includes Beguni, Kati roll, and phuchka. Panta bhat (rice soaked overnight in water) is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas.
Bengali women commonly wear the shaŗi , often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear Western attire. Among men, western dressing has greater acceptance. Men also wear traditional costumes such as the panjabi with dhuti , often on cultural occasions. Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in the West Bengal. Pohela Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush parbon (festival of Poush), Kali puja, Saraswatipuja, Laxmipuja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha are other major festivals. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Hindu/Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bengali is celebrated by the minority Christian population. West Bengal has been home to several famous religious teachers, including Sri Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Paramahansa Yogananda.
West Bengal schools are run by the state government or by private organisations, including religious institutions. Instruction is mainly in English or Bengali, though Hindi and Urdu are also used. 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 2 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, namely, liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students may enroll in general or professional degree programs.
West Bengal has eighteen universities. The University of Calcutta, one of the oldest and largest public universities in India, has more than 200 affiliated colleges. The Bengal Engineering & Science University and Jadavpur University are prestigious technical universities. Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan is a central university and an institution of national importance. The state has higher education institutes of national importance including the Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (the first management institute in India of its kind) and the National Institute of Technology, Durgapur (formerly Regional Engineering College, Durgapur).
West Bengal had 505 published newspapers in 2005, of which 389 were in Bengali. Ananda Bazar Patrika, published from Kolkata with 1,234,122 daily copies, has the largest circulation for a single-edition, regional language newspaper in India. Other major Bengali newspapers are Bartaman, Sangbad Pratidin, Aajkaal, Uttarbanga Sambad and Ganashakti. Major English language newspapers which are published and sold in large numbers are The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Statesman, The Telegraph and Asian Age. Some prominent financial dailies like The Economic Times, Financial Express, Business Line and Business Standard are widely circulated. Vernacular newspapers such as those in Hindi, Gujarati, Oriya, Urdu, Punjabi and Nepali 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 STAR Ananda, Tara Newz, Kolkata TV and 24 Ghanta. 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, Aircel, MTS India, Tata Indicom, Idea Cellular and Tata DoCoMo are available cellular phone operators. 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 football (soccer) are popular sports in the state. Kolkata is one of the major centers for football in India and houses top national clubs such as East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting Club. Indian sports such as Kho Kho and Kabaddi are also played. Calcutta Polo Club is considered as the oldest polo club of the world, and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club is the oldest of its kind outside Great Britain.
West Bengal has several large stadiums—The Eden Gardens is one of only two 100,000-seat cricket amphitheaters in the world. Salt Lake Stadium—a multi-use stadium—is the world's third highest-capacity football stadium. Calcutta Cricket and Football Club is the second-oldest cricket club in the world. National and international sports events are also held in Durgapur, Siliguri and Kharagpur. Notable sports persons from West Bengal include former Indian national cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, Olympic tennis bronze medallist Leander Paes, and chess grand master Dibyendu Barua. Other major sporting icons over the years include famous football players such as Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee and Sailen Manna as well as swimmer Mihir Sen and athlete Jyotirmoyee Sikdar (winner of gold medals at the Asian Games).
West Bengal was born with the partition and independence of India, with millions of refugees pouring into the state. It has since seen a lot of turbulence. Rich in culture and literature, immensely proud of a colourful heritage, it is a place where human values are still held high. A road accident immediately draws the attention and support of passers by. Naturally, such people are generally friendly towards others and in Kolkata, those from outside the state outnumber the locals. With all the variety of life, people coming to the state from outside should leave with a pleasant and favorable impression.
However, anyone visiting the state should be aware of Begalis preoccupation with strikes (bandh). When these occur, all transportation (except train) stops and so travel is impossible. This situation has not only severely hampered economic progress in the state, but is also a major disincentive to tourism. Travelers flying from Kolkata need to take this situation into account and plan to arrive several days early.
The topography of the majority of West Bengal is flat, and as a major rice growing region it is characterized by its lush and green environment. However, with the notable exception of the towns located in the tea growing areas of Jalpaiguri (the area around Siliguri) and Darjeeling, the urban areas tend to be characterless jumbles of concrete boxes devoid of charm.
Bengali is the main language here. Apart from Bengali - English, Hindi, Oriya and Assamese are also widely understood by the local people. In the Darjeeling area the main language is Nepalese.
Kolkata is normally the gateway to the state but there are entry points all around. Two commercial airports are at Kolkata and Bagdogra. The state has a number of smaller airports. Railways link it with other states from all sides. Major road connections are NH 2 from Delhi, NH 5 from Chennai, NH 6 from western India and NH 31 from Guwahati. Major ports are Kolkata and Haldia. There are a number of smaller ports.
Within the state the main transport links are trains and buses. Apart from the mail and express trains coming from outside the state (they are generally very crowded), there are a number of fast trains within the state, large number of passenger trains and locals (mostly around Kolkata). Taxis and hired cars are available in most places.
The state stretches from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal and so there are many things to see. Some of the places of tourist interest are listed above. It has wonderful cultural heritage, particularly towards the rural sides. The northern side has beautiful hills and forests, while the south has some nice beaches.
Join a procession! You will find many of them.
Bengal is famous for fish preparations and sweet-meat but some of the vegetarian dishes are also a speciality. In olden times, widows were prohibited from taking anything other than vegetarian food (predominantly they still are but now rules are being broken) and they were principal chefs in large homes. They developed the vegetarian dishes extensively.
In a big city such as Kolkata one will get food as per choice of people from all over the country. Then one gets Chinese, Thai and continental. In most of the other towns it is Bengali cooking, plus Punjabi or North Indian preparations and some South Indian outlets. Mughlai dishes are popular.
There are plenty of bars across the state.
West Bengal serves as entry point for some of the neighbouring states, particularly Sikkim and the North East and also for Bhutan. Andaman and Nicobar Islands are also linked with it closely.
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