West Bengal is one of the most populous states in India, with a population of almost 92 million. The state was once part of Bengal, which also included the present-day country of Bangladesh. Bengal is steeped with rich history that dates back to pre-historic times, with findings of 20,000 year old Stone Age tools and artefacts from the Copper Age that date back 4000 years. Ancient heterogeneous empires have attributed to the culture and heritage of West Bengal today. Before the state was even formed the region was a major part of the Rig Vedic kingdoms, the 2nd century BCE Maurya Empire, the 4th century Gupta Empire, the 8th century Pala Empire and the 11th century Sena Dysnasty. From the 13th century numerous Bengal sultans, Hindu kings and warrior landlords, known as Baro-Bhuyans, ruled Bengal until the British Raj officially came into power in the 19th century.
The influence of the Europeans led to the Bengal Renaissance, the 19th century socio-cultural reform movement that saw vast improvement to education and science and acceptance of atheism and rationalism. Bengal was the breeding ground of the Indian independence movement, which birthed the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar revolutionary groups. Bengal was divided into West Bengal and East Bengal, the latter now present-day Bangladesh, during India’s independence in 1947.
West Bengal has been instrumental in the development of Bengali literature, Indian folk music, cinema and textile traditions. Bengali literature dates back to the 10th century, during which time one of the Charyapada, a collection of Buddhist songs was composed. West Bengali folk music is commonly utilises the one-stringed instrument, ektara. The unique heritage of West Bengali folk music has influenced many regional musical traditions including the religious festival of Gajan which is still celebrated today. Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the home of Bengali ‘Tollywood’ cinema. Major film studios located in Tollygunge in Kolkata contribute immensely to West Bengali’s ever-thriving film industry.
Handloom woven sarees are etched into the cultural heritage of West Bengali textiles and this continues to stand the test of time. West Bengal is the pioneer state of jamdani and tangail sarees; the former is of super fine quality and was greatly patronised by kings and emperors in the 15th and 16th century, the latter makes distinct use of silk warp and cotton weft in the weaving process. Silk from West Bengal is also highly acclaimed and is commonly used in the production of exclusive baluchari sarees and the inimitable traditional Bengali daccai saree.
The handloom and textiles industry has a significant role in the economic trade of West Bengal. The industry continues to thrive in modern times with support from the local government with the establishment of the Commissionerate of Handlooms and Textiles and new protection policies on traditional textiles and its artisans.
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