The cradle of the Indian Renaissance and the National Freedom Movement, Bengal has long been considered as the cultural centre of India. The state is long and narrow, running from the Delta of the Ganges River system in the Bay of Bengal to the south, up through the Ganges plain to the heights of the Himalayas and Darjeeling in the north. South of Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal is the area known as Sunderbans, one of the largest deltas in the world and home to the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. To the north lie the flourishing mango plantations and jute fields of the fertile river plains. Farther north again in the Himalayan foothills are the world famous Darjeeling tea plantations. West Bengal is strategically placed with three international frontiers - Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
Revered as 'Vanga' in the Mahabharata, this area has a long history that pre dates the Aryan invasions of India. It was part of the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC before being overrun by the Guptas. For three centuries from around the 9th century AD, the Pala dynasty controlled a large area based in Bengal and including parts of Orissa, Bihar and modern Bangladesh. Bengal was brought under Muslim control by Qutb-ud-din, first of the Sultans of Delhi at the end of the 12th century AD. Following the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Bengal became an independent Muslim state. Britain had established a trading post in Kolkata in 1698, which quickly prospered. After two battles with the Nawab of Bengal, the first at Plassey in 1756 and the second at Buxar in 1764, the British took full control of Bengal. After Independence the state was partitioned
Its main inhabitants are Bengalis who are emotional and artistic and have been sometimes called the Irish of India. They were also the first to react to the intellectual and political stimulus of the West. Some of Bengal's proud sons are the liberal thinker Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the saint Sri Ramakrishna, the renowned philosopher Swami Vivekananda, Nobel literature laureate Rabindranath Tagore and celebrated film maker Satyajit Ray. A land of aesthetes and political activists, West Bengal is famous for its many eminent writers, poets, artists, spiritualists, social reformers, freedom fighters and revolutionaries.