Culture of West Bengal
‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’ – these words of Gopal Krishna Gokhale exemplifies the place west Bengal held in Indian history. Located in the eastern end of Gangetic plain and extending from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bay of Bengal, West Bengal was subjected to plenty of influences from varied cultures. The perfect blending of these diverse cultures paved the way to a rich cultural heritage – Bengali culture which contributed significantly to the all the epochs of modern Indian history. This former capital of India was the hot bed of Indian literary and artistic thought. The state possessed a long tradition of literature, drama and music, based mainly on Bengali folklore. Despite pioneering for the cosmopolitan culture in the country, it also contributed vastly to the reformation movements India witnessed over the years. The purity of Hooghly, splendour of Eastern Himalayas, diversity of Sunderbans and fresh tea gardens offer more which cannot be neglected. Having its deep roots in Bengali music, Bengali cinema and Bengali literature, it is a perfect blend of tradition and modernity.
Arts and Crafts
West Bengal’s contribution to Indian culture is immeasurable, so is its talent pool in arts and crafts. The rural areas of Bengal will give us a glimpse of the authentic handicrafts which include Dhokra metal casting, a technique made use of by a tribe called Dhokra kamar tribe, original metal smiths of Bengal. Pottery is another art form where you get images of gods and goddesses and clay pots and plates. West Bengal is also famous for Muslin, a cotton cloth which is unique and light. Other arts and crafts for which Bengal is famous are Alpana floor drawings, Chikankari embroidery, Kalighat paintings, dolls, jute products, wood and sandalwood carvings and so on.
In a land which was regarded as the melting pot of culture, Bengali dance drew inspiration from folk traditions and tribal groups. Chau Dance of Purulia, a rare form of Bengali dance, Gaudiya Nritya, a classical Bengali dance, Rava dance which are performed by the Rava women of Northern Bengal, Jatra, a popular folk theatre of Bengal, Tusu Parab, a sensational dance which is the main attraction of the Makar Sakranti, Jhumar, dance played mainly on agricultural themes, Raibense Dance, a dance which is based on martial arts and folk dances like Brita dance, Gambhira Dance, Santhal dance, Tusu dance and Lathi Dance.
Music is an inseparable part of Bengali culture which constitutes a long tradition of secular and religious themes, which belong to the North Indian classical music, ‘Gharana’. Bengali music has plenty of variety as it ranges from Bangla classic, Bangla folk and rock. Tappa, a classical song made its mark in Nineteenth century Bengal, of which the proponent Ramnidhi Gupta or Nidhi Babu penned innumerable songs. Thumri, lightest classical style, proposed by Nawab Wazid Ali Shah was also quite popular. The state also has Rabindra Sangeet, Ganasangeet, Jeeban mukhi gaan and Bengali film song.
Bengali literature is considered as one of the richest in India. The first Bengali novel was ‘Alaler Ghorer Dulal’. The language also includes a wide variety of classic prose, poetry, and fiction and non-fiction drama. The first record of a Bengali literature is traced back to 8th – 12th century which is collection of Buddhist poems from eastern part of India, namely Charyapada or Charyageeti. Some of the elite names in Bengali literature include Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Dinabandhu Mitra, Sharat Chandra and Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyaya, and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Rabindra Nath Tagore, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda also became of Bengal Renaissance.
Inhabited by people belonging to various ethnic and religious groups, West Bengal characterises religious tolerance, racial harmony, regional amity and linguistic tolerance. Known as perfect hosts, they predominantly include Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Bengali men wear Dhoti and Kurta during traditional festivals and Bengali women’s traditional dress is Sari, Salwar Kameez though western style attire has started gaining great importance among both men and women.
West Bengal shares a strong culinary bond with neighbouring states and neighbouring country, Bangladesh. No wonder Bengali food mesmerises all the foodies all over India. Rice and fish are the trademarks of a Bengali cuisine with hilsa preparations, being the top favourite of the Bengalis. Sweets form a source of pride for Bengalis with delicacies such as sandesh, rosogolla, chanar payesh, Chomchom, Kalojam being popular all over India. Dishes such as telebhaja, Beguni, Kati roll, phuchka, luchi, cholaar dal, kochuri and alurdom to chop-cutlet are some of the delicacies which Bengalis held to their heart.
The majority of West Bengal’s population constitute the Hindus. With a sizeable Muslim population, the other religions that are found are Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Hindus constitute 72.5% of the total population of West Bengal while the Muslims include 25% of population. The other minorities include 1% of the entire population while 2% constitute tribals. All these religions live in peace and harmony with festivities like Durga Pooja, Id and Christmas is celebrated with the same fervour.
Fairs & Festivals
West Bengal is the land of cultural diversities as well as numerous religious events. The popular festivals that are celebrated in West Bengal are Durga Puja, Poila Baishakh, Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush Parbon (festival of Poush), Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Laxmi Puja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram, Bôŗodin. Poush Mela is a popular festival of Shantiniketan taking place in winter every year.
Go through the above mentioned article to get familiarised with the cultural diversities of West Bengal and its beauty.