West Bengal is a state in East India and is the nation’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq mi (88,750 km2), it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata. Together with the neighboring nation of Bangladesh and parts of the state of Tripura, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal.
Ancient Bengal was the site of several major janapadas. It was also part of large empires such as the Maurya Empire (second century BC) and Gupta Empire (fourth century AD); and part of the regional Pala Empire (eighth to 11th century) and Sena dynasty (11th-12th century). From the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan landlords until the beginning of British rule in the 18th century. The East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and Calcutta served for many years as the capital of British India. The early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in expansion of Western education, culminating in development in science, institutional education, and social reforms of the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided during India’s independence in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities: West Bengal-a state of India-and East Bengal-a part of the newly created Dominion of Pakistan-later becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.
A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India’s net domestic product. Noted for its political activism, the state was ruled by democratically elected communist government for 34 years, starting from 1977. It is noted for its cultural activities and presence of cultural and educational institutions; the state capital Kolkata is known as the “cultural capital of India”. The state’s cultural heritage, besides varied folk traditions, ranges from stalwarts in literature including Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore to scores of musicians, film-makers and artists. West Bengal is also distinct from most other Indian states in its appreciation and practice of playing football besides the national favourite sport cricket.