Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Bengal, called also Lower Bengal to distinguish the territory designated from the former presidency of Bengal, which, except as regards the army, is now purely historical, is bounded on the N. by Assam, Bhutan, and Nepaul; E. by Burmah, S. by Burmah, the Bay of Bengal, and Madras, and W. by the North-Western and Central Provinces of India. It is a lieutenant-governorship and comprises the four great provinces of Bengal Proper, Behar, Orissa, and Chutia Nagpur. It covers an area of 193,198 square miles, being the largest and most populous of the twelve local governments of India. Three of its provinces, viz. Bengal Proper, Behar, and Orissa, comprise great river valleys, while the fourth, Chutia Nagpur, is mountainous. In Orissa are the rich deltas of the Mahawuddy river; in Bengal Proper the marvellous deltas of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, higher up whose valleys lies Behar. In these rivers lies the secret of Bengal's wealth and productivity, and what these rivers are to Bengal is thus eloquently described by Mr. W. W. Hunter, director-general of statistics to the Government of India: - "These untaxed highways bring down, almost by the motive power of their own current, the crops of Northern India to the seaboard; an annual harvest of wealth to the trading classes for which the population of the lower provinces neither toil nor spin. Lower Bengal, indeed, exhibits the two typical stages in the life of a great river. In the northern districts the rivers run along the valleys, receive the drainage from the country on each side, absorb broad tributaries, and rush forward in an ever increasing volume. But near the centre of the provinces they enter upon a new stage in their career. Their main channels bifurcate and each new stream so created throws off its own set of distributaries to right and left. The country which they thus enclose and intersect forms the Delta of Bengal. Originally conquered by fluvial deposits from the sea, it now stretches out as a vast dead level, in which the rivers find their velocity checked. The diminished force of their currents ceases to carry along the silt which they have brought down from Northern India. The streams accordingly deposit their alluvial burden in their channels and along their banks, so that by degrees their beds rise above the level of the surrounding country. In this way the rivers in the delta slowly build themselves up into high-level canals, which every autumn break through or overflow their margins, and leave their silt upon the adjacent flats. Thousands of square miles in Lower Bengal thus receive each year a top-dressing of virgin soil brought free of expense from the Himalayas - a system of natural manuring which defies the utmost power of overcropping to exhaust its fertility. As the rivers creep farther down the delta they become more and more sluggish, and their bifurcations and interfacings more complicated. The last scene of all is a vast amphibious wilderness of swamp and forest, amid whose solitudes the network of channels insensibly merges into the sea. Here the perennial struggle between earth and ocean goes on, and all the ancient secrets of landmaking stand disclosed. The rivers, finally checked by the dead weight of the sea, deposit their remaining silt, which emerges as banks or blunted promontories, or, after years of battling with the tide, adds a few feet, or, it may be, a few inches to the foreshore." Excepting its forests, which cover a, surface of 12,000 square miles, no other physical feature of Bengal calls for note. The climate is humid and excessively hot, the mean temperature throughout the year being nearly 80° Fah. For administrative purpcses Bengal is divided into 47 districts, and it has 33 towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Of these the chief are Calcutta and Patna. Internal communication is facilitated by railway and canal systems, which are under the control of the Government. Among the mineral products of Bengal are coal, iron, and salt; its great staple crop is rice, while it also grows oil-seeds, jute, indigo, tea, opium, and cinchona. Among its manufactures are silk, sugar from the date, saltpetre, etc. The natives of Bengal, one of the most densely peopled regions on the globe, present a considerable diversity of type according to their origin and environment. But the great bulk of the lowland peasantry are of dark olive complexion, short stature, and slender extremities, lacking the physical energy of the populations of the more elevated districts such as Berar, Audh, and the Doab. The substratum is certainly non-Aryan, partly Kolarian, partly Dravidian, and even Indo-Chinese and Tibetan, but for many ages subject to Aryan influences, and now mainly Aryan in religion (Hindus) and in speech, the current languages (Bengali, Berari, Hindi, Urdu, etc.) being all essentially neo-Sanskritic, that is, modernised forms of the old Prakrits or vulgar Sanskrit dialects. Many of the upper classes, especially the high-caste Brahmans and Kshatrias, have even largely preserved the regular features, but not the fair complexion, of the primitive Aryan intruders from the north-west. The Bengali is endowed with a considerable degree of intelligence or shrewdness, but is excessively fond of litigation. Many of the upper classes have received a varnish of European culture, and have acquired a certain fluency in the English language. The serious side to the Bengali character is manifested in the rise of the Brahmo-Somaj, a religious movement which aims at the reform of the Hindu system on a monotheistic basis.