Bengal, a province of British India, often erroneously termed a presidency. It formerly comprised only the level region watered by the Ganges in the lower part of its course, which is now known as Bengal proper. No such territorial division as the presidency of Bengal has ever in fact existed. The application of that title to the region appears to have originated, by some mistake, from the early acts of the British parliament concerning India, in which "the presidency of Fort William in Bengal" is spoken of. At first this term was evidently intended to describe a district more limited than Bengal itself, and included within it, but it was subsequently applied to a much greater extent of territory. In 1833 the presidency of Fort William, thus enlarged, was divided for administrative purposes into two parts, one of which was placed under the government of the officer known as the lieutenant governor of Bengal, and forms the subject of this article. It constitutes one of the ten great political provinces of India, and lies between lat. 19° and 29° N. and lon. 82° and 97° E., bounded N. by Nepaul and Bootan, E. by Burmah, S. by the bay of Bengal, and W. by the Northwestern and Central Provinces. It is divided into regulation and non-regulation districts.
The regulation districts extend over the low, fertile, and densely populated basin of the Ganges, and are subject to a strict and systematic official administration; they include Bengal proper, the native province of Behar, and the maritime districts of Orissa. The wilder outlying countries are comprised in the non-regulation districts, which embrace the hill region of Orissa, the territory S. of Behar called the Southwest Frontier, and the great country of Assam, through which flow the Brahmapootra and its tributaries. Here civilization is far less advanced than in the regulation districts, and the government is comparatively informal. Four native states are under the supervision of the Bengal government: 1, a country on the S. W. frontier, inhabited by aboriginal tribes and little known; 2, the Gar-row and Cossyah or Khasia hills, mountainous districts which rise to a height of from 5,000 to 6,000 ft., between Assam and Bengal proper; 3, Tipperah, and 4, Munepoor, two extensive tracts bordering upon Burmah. The area and population of Bengal, according to the official returns for 1872, are as follows:
Area in sq. m., excl. of rivers, wastes, and forests.
Bengal, forming the N. E. corner of Hindo-stan, consists mainly of a level plain of vast extent and little elevation, intersected by the Ganges, the Brahmapootra, and their tributaries. The two main streams flow across it toward the bay of Bengal and each other, the Ganges from N. W. to S. E., the Brahmapootra from N. E. to S. W. Their waters partially mingle before reaching the coast, as the main trunk of the Brahmapootra unites with an arm of the Ganges at a point about 80 m. inland; but they enter the sea by different mouths, though not more than two miles apart at some points in their course. According to Sir Charles Lyell, the area of the delta of the combined rivers is considerably more than double that of the Nile. The head of the delta, or point where the first arm is given off, is in the case of each river about 200 m. from the sea. Along the coast of the bay of Bengal for a distance of 180 m. is a perfect labyrinth of streams and inlets surrounding the extensive tract of islands denominated the Sunderbunds, a wilderness equal in area to Wales, overspread with jungle and infested by wild beasts. Here the water is salt, but it is fresh in the Hoogly, the main outlet of the Ganges, on which Calcutta is situated.
This channel, the Hauringotta arm, and that which bears the name of the river itself are all navigable. The annual inundations in Bengal cover an immense region, and not unfrequently attain the dimensions of disastrous floods, occasioning great loss of life and destruction of property. Enormous dikes arc constructed to restrain the rising waters. It is said that every year, from the 15th of June to the loth of September, the plains of upper Assam are completely overspread by the floods. Among the most destructive of the inundations are those which sometimes occur when a high spring tide in the bay of Bengal combines with a heavy gale of wind to check the descending outflow of the rivers. - There are hut few lakes in Bengal, the most important being the Chilka lake in Orissa, a very curious body of water which forms the southern boundary of that subdivision of the present province, formerly a province itself. It is a shallow inland sea from 3 to 5 ft. in depth, 44 m. long, and varying in width from 5 to 20 m., separated from the ocean only by a narrow strip of sand scarcely exceeding 200 yards in breadth, through which the sea forces its way, at a single point, in a channel a few hundred yards wide.
This peculiar lacustrine formation is attributed to the never-ceasing adverse action going on between the rivers and the sea. The water of the lake is salt or brackish except in the rainy season, when it becomes temporarily fresh. - The extreme heat of the climate of Bengal renders it very unhealthy to Europeans. There are three seasons: the cold season, from November to February, with an average temperature of about 68° F., and prevailing northerly winds; the hot season, beginning in March and lasting till the end of May, during which the terrific heat, sometimes 100° and 110° F. in the shade, is occasionally mitigated by tremendous thunder storms of rain and hail; and the rainy season, which sets in with the commencement of the S. \Y. monsoon, early in June, and lasts till October. The average'annual fall of rain at Calcutta is 64 inches, and at Cuttaek, on the N. W. coast of the bay of Bengal, only 50 inches; while it rises to 80 inches at Go-wahatty in Assam, and 600 inches among the Cossyah hills. During the cold season the climate is comparatively pleasant; but the continual rain and constantly recurring fogs which prevail during the latter half of the wet season make it very disagreeable. The nights are the only comfortable portion of the warmer months.
The higher officials, and such other residents of Calcutta as are able to do so. annually resort during this period to the attractive sanatoriums which the government has established among the hill regions of the northern provinces. - The soil of the country is alluvial, and consists of a rich black mould resting upon a sandy clay. There is no substance so coarse as gravel to be found in the great delta, or indeed within 400 m. of the coast. Geological borings at Calcutta have afforded strong evidence that what was once a forest-covered land occupying the present deltaic area has in process of time subsided to a depth of 300 ft.; terrestrial organic remains, animal and vegetable, having been found at even a greater distance below the surface. The valley of the Ganges is famed for its fertility, and the productive power of its lands is renewed without expense to the cultivator by the annual river deposits. Rice is the leading cereal production and an important article of export. Wheat and barley are raised, but only in the higher districts, where millet and maize are also raised for the food of the poorer classes. Peas and beans are extensively cultivated, and much attention is paid to the growth of grains which yield oil, as mustard, sesamum, and linseed.
The principal vegetable productions, commercially speaking, in addition to rice, are cotton, indigo, opium, sugar, and tobacco. The civil war in America gave a great impetus to the cultivation of cotton in Bengal, and the quantity exported in 1863-'4 was val-ued at £3,074,403, against an export value of £76,536 in 1860-'61. The indigo furnished by Bengal alone amounts to five sixths of the en-tire quantity which the world produces. The best quality is grown between lat. 23° and 27° N. and lon. 84° and 90° E., the crop elsewhere being inferior. About 1,250,000 acres are devoted to indigo cultivation, yielding about 60,000,000 lbs., at a gross profit of 40 per cent. The cultivation of the poppy is carried on principally in Behar, the opium being manufactured at Patna, and known in commerce as Patna opium. No one is permitted to engage in it except on account of the government, which makes advances to the cultivators and purchases the whole crop from them at an established price (in 1869 about 3s. 6d. per lb.), and sells it, for exportation from Calcutta to China, at an enor-mous profit. The growth of coffee has been successfully introduced, and large tracts in Assam are devoted to the cultivation of the tea plant.
Fruits are numerous, and comprise the orange, pomegranate, pineapple, banana, lime, and cocoanut. The gigantic banian is the most remarkable tree of the dense forests which cover a very considerable proportion of the country. The methods of agriculture are exceedingly primitive, the implements being of the simplest and rudest sort, and the natives knowing almost nothing about economical husbandry. Each ryot, or native cultivator of the soil, usually occupies about 6 acres of land, and seldom more than 24 acres. There are two harvests: one, of rice only, known as the great harvest; and the little harvest, when the less important grains are garnered. Fences are entirely wanting, and the crops are therefore grown without enclosures - Among the wild animals, the Bengal tiger is the most formidable, and the largest specimens are believed to attain a stature considerably exceeding that of the largest lions. It is much dreaded by the natives, and tiger hunting constitutes a favorite sport among the British army officers and residents. The panther, striped hyama, jackal, and true civet cats are also found.
One species of the rhinoceros (R. Indicus) is met with in the valley of the Brahmapootra. The Bengal elephant (elephas Indicus), which occurs in great numbers, is extensively domesticated and employed as a beast of burden for military and other purposes. Bears, foxes, antelopes, Indian buffaloes, and monkeys abound. Four species of the crocodile are found in the Ganges and contiguous streams, one of which, the gavial, lives only in fresh water and preys exclusively on fish; the others, however, frequent the Sun-derbund region, and attack bathers, and cattle when they come down to drink. The number of venomous snakes is proportionately small as compared with the entire number of serpents; but the terrible cobra de capello is among them. Birds of beautiful plumage are abundant, and crows, storks, the common domestic fowl of Europe, and many varieties of game birds are found everywhere. As a rule, the native horses, cattle, and swine are of inferior breeds and poor; their sheep and goats are rather finer animals. - The administration of the province is intrusted to a lieutenant governor, who is appointed by the governor general of India subject to the approval of the crown.
The local divisions, each presided over by a commissioner (hence called commissionerships), with their respective districts, each under an officer denominated magistrate and collector, are as follows: The Presidency - Calcutta, the 24 Pergunnahs, Nuddea, Jessore, the Sunderbunds. Burdwan - Burdwan, Beerbhoom, Bancoorah, Hoogly, Howrah, Midnapore. Rajshahye - Maldah, Di-nagepore, Rungpore, Bograh, Rajshahye, Pub-na. Moorshedabad - Bhangulpore, Moorsheda-bad, Monghyr, Purneah, the Sonthal Pergunnahs. Patna - Patna, Shahabad, Behar, Sa-run, Chumparum, Tirhoot. Cuttack - Cut-tack, Pooree, Balasore, the Tributary Mehals. Dacca - Dacca, Mymensing, Sylhet, Cachar, Furreedpore, Backergunge. Chittagong - Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts. Tipperah, Bulloah. Assam - Kamroop, Durrung, Now-gong, Seebsagur, Luckimpore, Naga Hills, Cossyah and Jynteah Hills. Chota Nagpore - Lohardugga, Hazareebaugh, Singbhoom, Maun-bhoom, the Tributary States. Cooch Behar - Gowalpurrah (with the Eastern Dooars), the Western Dooars, the Garrow Hills, Darjeeling, the native state of Cooch Behar. The public revenue is mainly derived from the land tax, which differs in Bengal from that imposed in other parts of India. It was instituted by Lord Cornwallis, then governor general, in 1793, by a permanent settlement with the principal landowners, called zemindars, by which they agreed to pay to the government a sum about equal to one half of that which they receive as rent from their own tenants.
Another principal source of revenue is the government monopoly in the growth and manufacture of opium. The amount exported in 1864-'5 was valued at £4,724,300. - The commerce of Bengal is carried on principally with Great Britain. Raw cotton, rice, indigo, saltpetre, and silk are the chief articles of export. The silk product is large, but of inferior quality, the manufactured silk goods of Bengal being surpassed by those of China. Muslins are extensively manufactured in the province. The imports into Bengal for the year ending March 31, 1870, represented a value of £19,496,082, and the exports for the same year a value of £20,-971,121, against £13,656,506 in 1861. Commercial intercourse was formerly carried on almost exclusively by water, the roads being very poor, and the fine causeways constructed by the old native rulers having fallen into ruins. The introduction of railways, however, has somewhat changed the lines of internal trade, as well as given it a vast impetus. In 1859 there were only 142 m. of railway in Bengal; 1,510 m. were open for traffic there in 1870. The East Indian line, which is the grand trunk route to Delhi and the highlands of northern India, traverses the valley of the Ganges from Calcutta upward. - Calcutta, the provincial capital and seat of government of the British East Indian empire, is the most important city in Bengal. According to the last official enumeration, which was made in 1866, the population is 377,924. The cities next in rank are Patna (284,000), Moorshedabad (147,-000), Dacca (67,000), and Burdwan (54,000). These figures, being merely estimates, are only approximations to the true number of inhabitants.
The population is made up principally of native Hindoos and the Mohammedan descendants of the ancient Mogul or Mongol invaders, in the proportion of about four of the former to one of the latter. The Mohammedans, who abhor the religious rites and customs of the Hindoos, are most numerous in the eastern districts. On the whole the Bengalese have generally been regarded as a weak, treacherous, and intriguing people. - In the latter part of the 17th century, when the East India company of England established their first trading factories in Bengal, the country was under the sway of a vicerov of the Mogul emperor of Hindostan. Their settlements were small, and they occupied their limited territory as tenants holding under the native rulers. In 1746, however, the war between England and France extended to southern India, and during the succeeding ten years there was a constant increase of British military power in that region; so that when in 1756 news reached Madras that the company's settlers on the Hoogly had been attacked by the nawaub Nazim, the reigning viceroy, and that 146 of them had been thrust into the black hole at Calcutta, where 123 died, Lord Clive was at once despatched with an adequate force to their relief.
He landed in Bengal in February of the following year, and on June 23 defeated the nawanb in the famous battle of Plassey, which established English ascendancy in India. The history of Bengal since that date will be found under the title India.