(Bengali: বাঙালি হিন্দু) are
ethnic Bengali adherents of Hinduism, and are native to the Bengal
region of the Indian subcontinent.
speak Bengali, which
belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family and adhere to the
traditions of their native religion, Hinduism. The
population is mainly concentrated in the Indian state of
where they are majority (70.54%) and it is also called the
homeland which is created on the time of partition of
to ensure a safe homeland for
in the Bengal
by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, and in
Islamic Bangladesh, they are the second-largest group just after
also form a majority of 60% in the
Indian state of Tripura, due to mass migrations from
in the latter half of the 20th century. There are
significant numbers of Bengali-speaking Hindus in many states of
India, including Assam, Karnataka (especially in the capital of
Bangalore), Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Odisha, and the
Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There is also a diaspora.
Durga Sculpture by Sandalwood, Found in Murshidabad, West Bengal;
Now kept in Indian Museum, Kolkata
Around the 8th century, the
Bengali language branched off from Magadhi
Prakrit, a derivative of
Sanskrit that was prevalent in the eastern
region of the Indian Subcontinent at that time. During the Sena
period (11th – 12th century) the Bengali culture developed into a
distinct culture within the
Hindu civilisation. With the spread of
Islam in the region in subsequent centuries, Islamic characteristics
Bengalis who converted to Islam.
Bengali Hindus were at the
forefront of the
Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century. The Bengal
region was noted for its participation in struggle for the
independence from the British rule. At the time of
India in 1947, the province of
Bengal was partitioned
India and East Pakistan, part of the Muslim-majority state of
Pakistan. Millions of
Bengali Hindus migrated from East
Bangladesh) and settled in West
Bengal and other states of India. The
migration continued in waves through the fifties and sixties,
especially during the 1950
East Pakistan genocide and the 1964
Pakistan riots. In 1971, during the
War, an estimated 2.4 million
Bengali Hindus were massacred by
the Pakistani army. Estimates for the total number of people
Pakistan Army range from 300,000 to 3,000,000.
3.1 Ancient period
3.2 Medieval period
3.3 Early modern period
3.4 British rule, Renaissance, struggle for Independence
3.5 Post-partition period
4 Geographic distribution
4.1 Indian States other than West Bengal
4.2 Outside Indian Subcontinent
7 See also
The Hindus are a religious group, native to the Indian
subcontinent, speaking a broad range of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian
languages and adhering to the native belief systems, rooted in the
Vedas. The word
Hindu is popularly believed to be a Persian exonym for
the people native to the Indian subcontinent. The word is derived from
Sanskrit name for the river
Indus and it initially
referred to the people residing to the east of the river. The Hindus
are constituted into various ethno-linguistic subgroups, which in
spite of being culturally diverse, share a common bond of unity.
The word Bengali is derived from the Bengali word bangali. The English
word Bengali denoting the people as well as the language is derived
from the English word
Bengal denoting the region, which itself is
derived ultimately from the Bengali word Vanga which was one of the
five historical kingdoms of Eastern India. According to Harivamsa,
Bali, the king of the asuras had five sons from his wife Sudeshna
through sage Dirghatama. The five sons namely Anga, Vanga, Kalinga,
Pundra and Sumha went on found five kingdoms of the same name in the
eastern region of the Indian subcontinent. In ancient times Vanga
proper consisted of the deltaic region between Bhagirathi, Padma and
Madhumati, but later on extended to include the regions which now
roughly comprise the Indian state of West
Bengal and Bangladesh.
In India, they tend to identify themselves as Bengalis while in
Bangladesh they tend to identify themselves as Hindus. In the
global context, the terms Indian Bengali and Bangladeshi Hindu
are respectively used. In India, Bengali generally refers to Bengali
Hindus, excluding a significant number of
Bengali Muslims who are also
ethnically Bengalis. The 'other' is usually identified as
'non-Bengali', a term that generically refers to the
Hindu people who
are not Bengali speaking, but sometimes specifically used to denote
Hindi speaking population.
Bengali Hindus constitute of numerous endogamous castes, which are
sometimes further subdivided into endogamous subgroups. The caste
system evolved over centuries and became more and more complex with
time. In the medieval period, several castes were boycotted by the
ruling classes from time to time and this isolation continued till the
19th century. These social boycotts were somewhat discriminatory in
nature. After the Renaissance, the rigidity of the caste system ceased
to a great extent, so much so that the first celebrated intercaste
marriage took place as early as in 1925.
Hindu families are patriarchal as well as patrilocal and
traditionally follow a joint family system. However, due to the
Partition and subsequent urbanisation, the joint families have given
way to the nuclear families. The
Bengali Hindus were traditionally
governed by the
Dāyabhāga school of law, as opposed to the
Mitākṣarā school of law, which governed the other Hindu
ethno-linguistic groups. In [India, after the promulgation of the
Hindu code bills, the
Bengali Hindus along with other Hindus are being
governed by a uniform
There are two major social subgroups among the
Bengali Hindus – the
ghotis and the bangals. The
Bengali Hindus who emigrated from East
Bengal (Bangladesh) at the wake of the Partition and settled in West
Bengal, came to known as the bangals, while the native Bengali Hindus
Bengal came to known as ghotis. For several decades after
partition, these two social subgroups possessed marked difference in
their accents and their rivalry was manifested in many spheres of
life, most notably in the support for the football clubs of East
Bengal and Mohun Bagan respectively. Several such differences have
eased with passing years.
Ganesha sculpture from North Bengal, 11th century CE, Asian
Art Museum of Berlin (Dahlem).
In the ancient times, some of the
Bengali Hindus were seafaring people
as evident from Vijay Singha's naval conquest of Lanka, the
tales of merchants like
Chand Sadagar and Dhanapati Saudagor whose
ships sailed to far off places for trade and establishment of colonies
in South East Asia. By the 3rd century B.C.E. they were united into a
powerful state, known to the Greeks as Gangaridai, whose military
prowess demoralised Alexander from further expedition to the
east. Later the region of
Bengal came under Maurya, Shunga and
Gupta rule. In the 7th century,
Shashanka became the independent Hindu
ruler of Gauda. He successfully fought against his adversaries
Harshavardhana and Bhaskaravarmana and protected the sovereignty of
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism
In the middle of the 8th century, the Bengali
Gopala as the ruler of Gauda, ushering in an
era of peace and prosperity in [Bengal, ending almost a century of
chaos and confusion. The Buddhist Pala rulers unified
Bengal into a
single political entity and expanded it into an empire, conquering a
major portion of North India. During this time, the Bengali Hindus
excelled in art, literature, philosophy, mathematics, sciences and
statecraft. The first scriptures in Bengali Charyapada was composed
during the Pala rule. The Pala were followed by the Senas who made far
reaching changes in the social structure of Bengali Hindus,
introducing 36 new castes and orthodox institutions like kulinism.
The literary progress of the Pala and Sena period came to a halt after
the Turkish conquest in the early 13th century. Except for Haridas
Datta's Manasar Bhasan no significant literary work was composed for
about a century after the conquest. Even though the ruling classes
resisted the invaders, Gauda, the centre of
Bengal polity, fell to the
Islamic invaders. During this period hundreds of temples and
monasteries were desecrated. The next attack on the society came from
the Islamic missionaries. Local chieftains like Akananda, Dakshin
Ray and Mukut Ray, resisted the missionary activities.
The Pathan occupation of
Bengal was limited to the region of Gauda,
the rest of which was held in sway by different Bengali
Islam religion gradually spread throughout the
Bengal region, and many
Bengali Hindus were forcefully converted to Islam. In the early 15th
century, the Pathan rule of Gauda was overthrown by the Bengali Hindu
nobility under the leadership of Ganesha. When the Delhi-based Mughals
tried to bring
Bengal under their direct rule, the Bengali Hindu
chiefs along with some
Bengali Muslims consolidated themselves into
confederacies and resisted the Mughals. After the fall of the
confederacies, the Mughals brought a major part of
Bengal under their
control, and constituted a subah.
Early modern period
During the decline of the Mughal Empire, Nawabs of
Bengal (who were
Muslim) ruled large part of Bengal. During the reign of Alivardi Khan.
a Nawab, the severe taxation and frequent raids made the life
miserable for the ordinary Bengali people. A section of the
Hindu nobility helped the British East
India Company in
overthrowing the Nawab
Siraj ud-Daulah regime. After obtaining the
revenue rights, the East
India Company imposed more oppressive
taxation that led to the famine of 1770, in which approximately one
third of the Bengali population died of starvation.
The British began to face stiff resistance in conquering the
Hindu kingdoms outside the pale of Muslim
occupied Bengal. In some cases, even when their rulers have been
captured or killed, the ordinary people began to carry on the
fight. These resistances took the form of Bhumij
(Chuar is a deragatory term used by the English to denote the Bhumij)
and Paik Rebellion. These warring people were later listed as criminal
tribes and barred from recruitment in the Indian
army. In 1766, the British troops were completely routed by the
sanyasis and fakirs or the warrior monks at Dinhata, where the latter
resorted guerilla warfare. Bankim Chandra's
Anandamath is based on the
Famine and consequential Sannyasi Rebellion.
British rule, Renaissance, struggle for Independence
According to author James Jeremiah Novak, as British rulers took power
from Bengal's ruling
Muslim class, they strategically catered to
Bengali Hindus (a majority in
Bengal region at that time). The
British rule destroyed the bases of Bengali
Bengali Hindus got favours from the British rulers, and experienced
development in education and social mobility. In the 19th century, the
elite class of Bengali
Hindu people underwent radical social reforms
and rapid modernisation; the phenomenon came to be known as the Bengal
Swami Vivekananda was a leading figure of the Renaissance who promoted
Hinduism to the world
Public media like press and theatres became vents of nationalist
sentiments, apolitical organisations had given way to political
platforms, secret revolutionary societies emerged and the society at
large became restive.
With rising nationalism among Bengali Hindus, the British rulers
applied divide and rule policy, and started to make favours to Bengali
Muslims. To keep the rising Bengali
Hindu aspirations at bay, the
British partitioned the province in 1905 and along with some
additional restructuring came up with two provinces – Eastern Bengal
Bengal itself, in each of which the Bengali Hindus
were reduced to minorities. The Bengali Hindus, however, opposed to
the Partition tooth and nail, embarked on a political movement of
Swadeshi, boycott and revolutionary nationalism. On 28 September 1905,
the day of Mahalaya, 50,000
Bengali Hindus resolved before the Mother
Kalighat to boycott foreign goods and stop employing
British Raj finally annulled the Partition in
1911. The Raj, however, carried out some restructuring, and carved out
Hindu majority districts like Manbhum, Singbhum, Santal
Purnia awarding them to
Bihar and others like
were awarded to Assam, which effectively made the
Bengali Hindus a
minority in the united province of Bengal. The Britishers also
transferred the capital from
Calcutta to New Delhi.
The revolutionary movement gained momentum after the Partition.
Bengali revolutionaries collaborated with the Germans during the War
to liberate British India. Later the revolutionaries defeated the
British army in the Battle of Jalalabad and liberated Chittagong.
During the Quit
India Movement, the revolutionaries liberated the
Contai subdivision of
Midnapore district from British rule
and established the Tamralipta National Government.
Bengali Hindus who constituted 44% of the province, were awarded less
than a third of the representation in the legislature.
The British, unable to control the revolutionary activities, decided
to hinder the Bengali
Hindu people through administrative reforms. The
India Act 1919 introduced in the 144 member Bengal
Legislative Assembly, 46 seats for the Muslims, 59 for the
institutions, Europeans & others and left the rest 39 as
General,[N 1] where the
Bengali Hindus were to scramble for a
representation. The situation worsened with the
Communal Award of
1932, where in the 250 member
Bengal Legislative Assembly a
disproportionate 119 seats were reserved for the Muslims, 17 for
Europeans, Anglo-Indians & Indian Christians, 34 for the
institutions, and the rest 80 were left as General. The Communal
Award further divided the Hindus into Scheduled
Caste Hindus and Caste
Hindus. Out of the 80 General seats, 10 were reserved for the
Scheduled Castes.[N 2] In response the leading Bengali Hindu
landholders, lawyers and professionals signed the
Manifesto on 23 April 1932 rejecting the justification of reservation
of separate electorates for Muslims in the
In 1946, the
Muslim League supporters started a series of violent
attacks against Hindus in
Kolkata in the name of Direct Action Day,
which escalated into the bloodiest communal riots between Hindus and
Muslims of modern India. After the initial attacks, rapes and killings
Bengali Hindus joined hands with Sikhs and non-Bengali
Hindus in attacking Muslims and ultimately it turned out to be a
violent reprisal that resulted in heavy casualties of Muslims, finally
forcing the government to stop the mayhem. Later in the year, the
Muslim League government orchestrated the infamous Noakhali
Direct Action Day
Direct Action Day and the
Noakhali genocide prompted the Bengali
Hindu leadership to move for the creation of a Bengali
province by partitioning Bengal. At that time, the movement for
Pakistan was in full swing and
Bengal was supposed to form
one of its constituent provinces. After the failure of United Bengal
plan when it became evident that all of
Bengal would go to Pakistan,
Bengali Hindus voted for the Partition of Bengal. On 23 April
Amrita Bazar Patrika
Amrita Bazar Patrika published the results of an opinion
poll, in which 98.3% of the
Bengali Hindus favoured the creation of a
separate homeland. The proposal for the Partition of Bengal
was moved in the Legislative Assembly on 20 June 1947, where the Hindu
members voted 58–21 in favour of the Partition with two members
The Boundary Commission awarded the
Bengali Hindus a territory far
less in proportion to their population which was around 46% of the
population of the province, awarding the Bengali
district of Khulna to Pakistan. However, some Bengali
districts such as
Murshidabad and Malda were handed to India.
After the Partition, the majority of the urban middle class Bengali
Hindu population of East
Bengal immigrated to West Bengal. The ones
who stayed back were the ones who had significant landed property and
believed that they will be able to live peacefully in an Islamic
state. However, after the genocide of 1950,
Bengali Hindus fled East
Bengal in thousands and settled in West Bengal. In 1964, tens of
Bengali Hindus were massacred in
East Pakistan and most
of the Bengali
Hindu owned businesses and properties of
permanently destroyed During the liberation war of Bangladesh, an
estimated 2.4 million
Bengali Hindus were massacred in
Bangladesh. The Enemy Property Act of the
Pakistan regime which is
still in force in the new incarnation of Vested Property Act, has been
used by successive Bangladeshi governments to seize the properties of
Hindu minorities who left the country during the Partition of
Bangladesh liberation war. According to Professor Abul
Dhaka University, the Act has been used to misappropriate
2,100,000 acres (8,500 km2) of land from the Bengali Hindus,
roughly equivalent to the 45% of the total landed area owned by
The refugee rehabilitation became an acute crisis and hundreds of
refugees were rehabilitated in the inhabitable terrains of Orissa,
Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and the Andamans. Apart from that
Bengali Hindus had also immigrated to Assam,
other regions of the North East. In the
Barak Valley region of Assam,
Bengali Hindus were in a majority because of the inclusion
Sylhet into Pakistan, and subsequent immigration of Bengali Hindus
Sylhet into Cachar, an impasse was arrived at on the question of
language. The government of
Assam had unilaterally imposed Assamese as
the sole medium of education. In response, the
Bengali Hindus began
peaceful demonstrations demanding Bengali as the optional medium of
primary education in the
Barak Valley region. The situation took an
ugly turn on 19 May 1961, when eleven Bengali
including a minor girl were gunned down by the police at the Silchar
railway station. Subsequently, the
allowed Bengali as the medium of education in Barak Valley.
However, the rise of ethnic militancy in the eighties and nineties
once again made the
Bengali Hindus vulnerable in the North East. The
United Liberation Front of Asom, National Democratic Front of
Muslim United Liberation Tigers of
Assam and National
Liberation Front of
Tripura militants have selectively targeted the
Hindu people, prompting the latter to form the Bengali Tiger
Discrimination against Bengali
Hindu population is not limited to the
North East. In Jharkhand, the Bengali
Hindu demand of making Bengali
the second official language has not been met, in spite of the fact
that the Bengali
Hindu population forms the second largest linguistic
group in the state. In Bihar, many Bengali
Hindu refugees are denied
land owning rights and caste certificates. On the other
hand, massive infiltration from
Bangladesh has substantially altered
the demography in West
Bengal so much so that
Bengal Hindus have been
reduced to minorities in the border regions and occasionally, there
have been violent clashes between
Hindu mobs in Bengal.
Bengali Hindus constitute a minority ethnic group of the total
population in both
Bangladesh and India, forming less than 10% of
the population in both countries. From the sixties onward, like many
other ethnic groups of India, many
Bengali Hindus began to emigrate
outside India, mostly to pursue higher studies or in search of
lucrative careers. This gave rise to a sizeable expatriate Bengali
Hindu population in many parts of the world.
Bengali Hindus form a majority in West Bengal, with a population of
64,385,550 (70.54%), while in Bangladesh,
Bengali Hindus are the
second largest community with a population of 15,726,800 (9.6%).
India became independent, the city of
Dhaka (present capital of
Bangladesh) had a significant number of Bengali Hindus, but their
numbers have since considerably dwindled, being outnumbered by Bengali
Bengali Hindus are at present the second largest community
after Muslims in
Dhaka at 1,476,000 (8.2%).
Indian States other than West Bengal
Bengali Hindus are the second largest community in
Assam with a
population of 3 million (9%). They are concentrated in the Barak
Jharkhand the Bengali
Hindu population is 2.5 million (8%).
There is also a significant number of
Bengali Hindus residing in the
Andaman and Nicobar Islands, estimated approximately 100,000
comprising 26% of the population. Bengali is also the most widely
spoken language in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, despite it lacking
Outside Indian Subcontinent
UK has a huge portion of Bengali
Hindu population. Former Cricketer
Isa Guha and
Rhona Mitra are prominent descendants of Bengali Hindu
Further information: Culture of Bengal
Various Bengali fish and seafood served with rice and dessert
traditional Bengali wedding
Fish Market of bengali
Hindu society used to be caste-oriented throughout centuries
and the professional status of men depended exclusively on the
hierarchical caste divisions. Some professions such as weaving,
pottery, carpentry, blacksmithing etc. have always been carried out by
Hindu caste groups in Bengal. In traditional Bengali Hindu
society, nearly every occupation is carried on by a ranked hierarchy
of specialised caste groups- not only artisan occupations but also
personal and domestic service functions such as barbering, laundering,
latrine cleaning as well as non-menial tasks such as priesthood.
However, with the introduction of British rule and appearance of urban
civilisation, the former rural agrarian and artisan economy gradually
crumbled and gave way to modern middle class economy. However,
agriculture, land tenure, farming and fishing form the predominant
economic activity in most of the rural area till now. A small but
significant section of rural people carry out small trades and
businesses. In urban and semi-urban areas, most of the people are
engaged in business, industry, government and private service sectors,
self-employing works and intellectual pursuits. Unemployment has
persisted in a certain minuscule section of the community.
Savitri-Satyavan story on
Kalighat Painting, 3rd quarter of the 19th
The proper Bengali literary history begins with the early Vaishnava
literature like the
Shreekrishna Kirtana and the
followed by translation literatures like
Ramayana and Srikrishna
Vijaya. In the medieval period literary works on the life and
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were composed. This period saw the
Shakta padavalis. The characteristic feature of Bengali
Hindu literature in the middle age are the mangalkavyas, that glorify
Hindu gods and goddesses often using folkloristic backgrounds.
The early modern period saw a flurry in the literary activity
especially after the emergence of the Bengali press. The first Bengali
prose Raja Pratapaditya Charitra was written during this time. The
Renaissance saw a rapid development in modern Bengali literature. Most
of the epics, poems, novels, short stories and dramas of the modern
classical literature were written during this period. The Bengal
Literary Society that later came to be known as Bangiya Sahitya
Parishad was founded. The literary development during the Renaissance
culminated in Rabindranath's
Nobel prize for literature.
In the Post-Partition period, the
Bengali Hindus pioneered the Hungry
generation, Natun Kabita and the little magazine movements. Of late,
some of them have made their mark in contemporary English literature.
Kalighat school of painting flourished in
Bengal in the early
modern period, and especially after the first paper mill was set up in
1809. During the rise of nationalism in the early 20th century, the
Bengali Hindus pioneered the
Bengal school of art. It provided the
artistic medium of expression to the
Hindu nationalist movement.
Bengal school later gave way to modernist ideas, it left an
enduring legacy. In the post-liberalisation phase of India, modern art
acquired a new dimension as young artists like Devajyoti Ray, Sudip
Paresh Maity started gaining international recognition.
Devajyoti Ray is known for introducing Pseudorealism, which is one of
the most original genres of Indian art today.
Kali Temple, Kolkata: a spiritual centre of Bengali
Shiva Temple, Puthia, Rajshahi.
Bengali Hindus generally follow the beliefs and practices that
fall under the broad umbrella of Hinduism. Majority of them follow
Shakta or the
Vaishnava traditions, and some follow a
synthesis of the two. The minor traditions include
Shaiva etc. A
significant minority is atheist who do not follow any rituals.
Brahmoism is also found among Bengali Hindus.
Apart of the parent tradition, the
Bengali Hindus usually affiliate
themselves to one of the many sects that have come to be established
as institutionalised forms of the ancient guru-shishya traditions.
Major amongst them include the Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevashram
Sangha, Bijoy Krishna Goswami, Anukul Thakur, Matua, ISKCON, Gaudiya
Math, Ananda Marga,
Ram Thakur etc.
According to a famous Bengali proverb, there are thirteen festivals in
Bengali Hindus celebrate all major Indian festivals.
The year begins with the Bengali New Year's Day or Pohela Boishakh
which usually falls on 15 April. Traditional business establishment
commence their fiscal year on this day, with the worship of Lakshmi
Ganesha and inauguration of the halkhata (ledger). People dress in
ethnic wear and enjoy ethnic food. Poila Baishakh is followed by
Rath Yatra and
Janmashtami before the commencement
of the Pujas.
The puja season begins with the
Vishwakarma Puja and is followed up by
Durga Puja, the greatest and largest Bengali
Hindu festival. It is
commemoration of the victory of the good over the evil. According to
Chandi Purana, goddess
Durga killed Mahishasura, the evil demon and
saved the devas.
Rama the prince of
Ayodhya invoked the blessings of
Durga in a battle against
Ravana of Lanka.
Durga Puja is the
commemoration of Rama's victory over
Ravana and it ends in Bijoya
Dashami, corresponding to the North Indian festival of Dusshera. Durga
Puja is followed by Kojagari
Kali Puja, Bhai phonta,
The winter solstice is celebrated a Paush Sankranti in mid January,
followed by Netaji Jayanti and Saraswati Puja. The spring is
celebrated in the form of Dolyatra or Holi. The year ends with Charak
Puja and Gajan.
Durga Puja, the largest festival of Bengali Hindus
Kali Puja, a major festival of Bengal
Rath Yatra at Dhamrai in
Dhaka district, Bangladesh
Hindu diaspora celebrate
Durga Puja all over the world.
East Bengali refugees
Hinduism in Bangladesh
Hinduism in West Bengal
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Swami Vivekananda's Birthday
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