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History of Bangladesh
 
 
 

Early History

Prehistoric stone implements have been discovered in various parts of West Bengal in the districts of Midnapur, Bankura and Burdwan. But it is difficult to determine, even approximately, the time when people using them first settled in Bengal. It might have taken place 10 thousand years (or even more) ago. The original settlers may have spoken Austric or Austro-Asiatic languages like the languages of the present-day Kola, Bhil, Santal, Shabara and Pulinda peoples. At a subsequent age, peoples speaking languages from two other language families – Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman – seem to have settled in Bengal. Archaeological discoveries during the 1960s furnished evidence of a degree of civilisation in certain parts of Bengal as far back as the beginning of the first millennium BC, perhaps even earlier. The discoveries at Pandu Rajar Dhibi in the valley of the Ajay River (near Bolpur) in Burdwan district and in several other sites on the Ajay, Kunar and Kopai Rivers have thrown fresh light on Bengal's prehistory. Pandu Rajar Dhibi represents the ruins of a trading township, which carried on trade not only with the interior regions of India, but also with the countries of the Mediterranean.

Some deprecatory references indicate that the early people in Bengal were different in ethnicity and culture from the Vedic beyond the boundary of Aryandom and who were classed as 'Dasyus'. The Bhagavata Purana classes them as sinful people while Dharmasutra of Bodhayana prescribes expiatory rites after a journey among the Pundras and Vangas. Mahabharata speaks of Paundraka Vasudeva who was lord of the Pundrasand who allied himself with Jarasandha against Krishna. Mahabharata also speaks of Bengali kings called Chitrasena and Sanudrasena who were defeated by Bhima, Kalidas mentions Raghu defeated a coalition of Vanga kings who were defeated by Raghu and Raghu established a victory column in the Gangetic delta.

Hindu scriptures such as the Mahabharata suggest that Bengal was divided among various tribes or kingdoms, including the Nishadas and kingdoms known as the Janapadas: Vanga (southern Bengal), Pundra (northern Bengal), and Suhma (western Bengal) according to their respective totems. These Hindu sources, written by Indo-Aryans in what is now Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, suggest that the peoples of Bengal were not Indo-Aryans. However, Jain scriptures identify Vanga and Anga in Bengal as Indo-Aryan. While western Bengal, as part of Magadha, became part of the Indo-Aryan civilization by the 7th century BC, the Nanda Dynasty was the first historical state to unify all of Bengal under Indo-Aryan rule.

The Vanga Kingdom was a powerful seafaring nation of Ancient India. They had overseas trade relations with Java, Sumatra and Siam (modern day Thailand). According to Mahavamsa, the Vanga prince Vijaya Singha conquered Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) in 544 BC and gave the name "Sinhala" to the country. Bengali people migrated to the Maritime Southeast Asia and Siam, establishing their own colonies there.

Though north and west Bengal were part of the Magadhan empire southern Bengal thrived and became powerful with her overseas trades. In 326 BCE, with the invasion of Alexander the Great the region again came to prominence. The Greek and Latin historians suggested that Alexander the Great withdrew from India anticipating the valiant counter attack of the mighty Gangaridai empire that was located in the Bengal region. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return. Diodorus Siculus mentions Gangaridai to be the most powerful empire in India whose king possessed an army of 20,000 horses, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 4,000 elephants trained and equipped for war. The allied forces of Gangaridai Empire and Nanda Empire were preparing a massive counter attack against the forces of Alexander on the banks of Ganges. Gangaridai according to the Greek accounts kept on flourishing at least up to the 1st century AD.

Early Middle Ages

The pre-Gupta period of Bengal is shrouded with obscurity. Before the conquest of Samudragupta Bengal was divided into two kingdoms: Pushkarana and Samatata. Chandragupta II had defeated a confederacy of Vanga kings resulting in Bengal becoming part of the Gupta Empire.

By the sixth century, the Gupta Empire ruling over the northern Indian subcontinent was largely broken up. Eastern Bengal became the Vanga Kingdom while the Gauda kings rose in the west with their capital at Karnasuvarna (Murshidabad). Shashanka, a vassal of the last Gupta Empire became independent and unified the smaller principalities of Bengal (Gaur, Vanga, Samatata) and vied for regional power with Harshavardhana in northern India. But this burst of Bengali power did not last beyond his death, as Bengal descended afterwards into a period marked by disunity and foreign invasion.


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