Bengal' (old Bangala), a name given to part of British India, but variously signifying - (1) the old historical presidency which, in pre-mutiny times, comprised the greater portion of Northern India; (2) the modern military division, corresponding in extent to the old presidency; (3) the province as it was till 1905, also called Lower Bengal, comprising Bengal Proper (the division of Calcutta and four other districts), Behar, Orissa, and Chota Nagpore; (4) Bengal as divided in 1905 from Eastern Bengal and Assam, with 141,580 square miles and fifty-four millions of inhabitants; while Eastern Bengal (Chittagong, Dacca, and Rajshahi divisions) and Assam has 106,540 square miles and thirty-one millions. The undivided province before 1905 had an area of 151,000 square miles and seventy-five millions - with the native states, eighty millions, or more than the United States of America. Only some 11,000 were British-born. Bengal comprises the low-lying deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, and the alluvial plains stretching along their lower courses; hemmed in on the N. by the Himalayan ramparts. The distinctive features of Bengal are its immense network of rivers, the magnificent range of the Himalayas, the luxuriant but fever-haunted Terai at the base of the great mountain-chain, and the trackless forests and jungles of the Sundarbans (Sunderbunds), on the sea-face of the delta - the almost undisputed home of the tiger and rhinoceros. As compared with Northern India, Bengal has few very large cities. Calcutta, the capital, is one of the largest cities in the world, having, with suburbs, a pop. of a million and a quarter; the next largest in the province being Patna, with 150,000.
The climate of the plains is similar to that of the Indian seaboard everywhere - hot and humid. But inland in Behar it is much drier, with hot winds in summer; while in ascending the hills, every variety of climate is met with, till the perpetual snow-line is reached. The ordinary range of temperature in the plains is from about 52° F. in the cold season, to 103° in the shade in summer. The people are mostly employed in agriculture, and among the chief products are indigo, jute, the opium poppy, oil-seeds, many varieties of rice, cinchona, tea, turmeric, pepper, the silk mulberry, cotton, sugar, and innumerable grains, spices, and drugs. Opium is a government monopoly; and cinchona is chiefly grown at the government plantation at Darjil-ing. Bengal has considerable mineral wealth; in Burdwan, coal, iron, and copper are worked. The jute and cotton mills round Calcutta employ over 40,000 hands. Standing far in advance of the rest of India in education, the enlightened classes in Bengal are largely employed in government service. The province has five colleges affiliated to the university of Calcutta, besides nearly 30 ' institutions' catalogued as giving university education, besides higher and lower schools, engineering, normal, and industrial schools.
"Within the province there is a great variety of race, language, religion, and degrees of civilisation. A large proportion of the people are descended from the Aryan stock; but no sharp line can be drawn between those called Hindus and those reckoned aborigines or non-Aryan, as many low-caste Hindus are wholly aboriginal in blood. Bengal in 1905 had 25 1/2 million Moslem inhabitants (mostly in the upper classes), while about 3 millions are semi-savage tribesmen, and 280,000 are returned as Christian converts. Bengalis speaking Bengali number 40 millions; Hindustani speakers, 26 millions. As divided in 1905, Bengal contains 42 millions of Hindus and 9 of Mohammedans; while Eastern Bengal and Assam has 18 millions of Mohammedans and 12 of Hindus. In Bengal Proper the Santals are the most notable aboriginal stock; in the feudatory states are the Kolarian or Dravidian Gonds, Kols, and Bhuiyas, with Indo-Chinese tribes. The Mohammedan conquest dates from 1200. See India.
Bengal, Bay of, a triangular portion of the Indian Ocean, between India and the Indo-Chinese peninsula. The bay receives many large rivers - the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irawadi, Mananadi, Godavery, Krishna, and Cauvery. On the west coast there is hardly anything worthy of the name of harbour; on the east there are many good ports - Akyab, Gwa, Maulmain, Tavoy River. The numerous islands include the Andaman, Nicobar, and Mergui groups.