Brief History of Bengal and Kolkata

image010Bengal emerged into history as regions of Magadha, Pundra (West Bengal), Vanga (East ‘Banga’ – modern Bangladesh), Anga (parts of Bengal and modern central Bihar state), and Suhma (comprising regions from both east and west Bengal). The neighbouring modern state of Orissa was called Kalinga, Videha formed parts of Nepal, present day Assam (Ahom) was known as Pragjyotisha in the Mahabharata, and in the first millennium AD Kamarupa was known as Kirat Pradesh (Twipra – modern Tripura). Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengal with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively, followed by much of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Greek envoy Megasthenes referred to Bengal as Gangaridai in his book, Indica, mainly because it was structured along the banks of the River Ganges (‘Ganga’).

Bengal coalesced into a single entity during the first millennium AD, when a short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful tribal kingdom emerged in the seventh century. Subsequently the region was conquered by the Palas in the second millennium, then ruled by the Hindu Sena dynasty, and then taken over by the Islamic Khilji Malik sultanate which was controlled from Delhi, like much of the rest of northern and central India.

Dynasties and Rulers of Bengal

  • Gauda Kingdom of Bengal c.AD 600 – 625
  • Pala Dynasty AD 750 – 1174
  • Sena Dynasty AD 1070 – 1230
  • Khilji Malik Dynasty AD 1206 – 1227
  • Mameluke Dynasty AD 1227 – 1281
  • Balban Dynasty AD 1281 – 1328
  • Tughlaq Governors AD 1328 – 1342
  • Iliyas Shahi Dynasty AD 1342 – 1414
  • Raja Ganesha Dynasty AD 1414 – 1436
  • Iliyas Shahi Dynasty (Restored) AD 1436 – 1487
  • Habshi Dynasty AD 1486 – 1494
  • Husain Shahi Dynasty AD 1494 – 153
  • Suri Dynasty / Muhammed Shahi Dynasty AD 1533 – 1564
  • Karrani Dynasty AD 1564 – 1576
  • Moghul Subahdars of Bengal AD 1565 – 1704
  • Nawabs of BengalAD 1704 – 1880
  • 1765 – 1766 The British East India Company creates the Bengal presidency from which to rule the region at Calcutta. This is soon overseen by the position of governor general in British-administered India. The nawabs remain on the throne but as mere figureheads.
  • 1858 Direct British rule follows the Indian Mutiny (or Great Sepoy Mutiny) through a series of British Viceroys.
  • 1880 The last nawab is forced to relinquish his titles and position when his post is abolished. Henceforth, the nawabs only have a titular claim to the state, although they are granted a lesser and relatively meaningless title by the British, that of nawab of Murshidabad, a district of West Bengal and the region in which Bengal’s first independent kingdom was formed (the Gauda kingdom).


Kolkata [Calcutta]

image011As per the evidence, the city owes its origin to the Maurya and Gupta period and so, the popularly assumed fact that the Englishman Job Charnock is the founder of the city is probably not right. The travelogues of Chinese scholars and Persian merchants, dating from centuries BCE, support this claim.

Till date, other than its mention in the ancient epic Mahabharata and some vague description in foreign texts, there is not much valid information about the ancient phase of Kolkata. The medieval phase has some evidence to prove its Maurya and Gupta link. The rent roll of Akbar’s reign, in 16th century, also acknowledges a city called Kolikata. However, one can get the continuous description related to the city only after 1690, when Job Charnock came here.

In 1690, Job Charnok, an agent of the East India Company chose this place for a British trade settlement. The site was carefully selected, being protected by the Hooghly River on the west, a creek to the north, and by salt lakes about two and a half miles to the east. There were three large villages along the east bank of the river Ganges, named, Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata. These three villages were bought by the British from the local land lords. The Mughal emperor granted East India Company freedom of trade in return for a yearly payment of 3,000 rupees.

image012In 1756, Siraj-ud-daullah, Nawab of Bengal, attacked the city and captured the fort. Calcutta was recaptured in 1757 by Robert Clive when the British defeated Siraj-ud-daullah on the battle field of Plassy. In 1772, Calcutta became the capital of British India, and the first Governor General Warren Hastings moved all important offices from Murshidabad to Calcutta. Till 1912, Calcutta was the capital of India, when the British moved the capital city to Delhi.