From Classic Encyclopedia 1911
BENGAL, a province of British India, bounded on the E. by the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, the boundary line being the Madhumati river and the Ganges; on the S. by the Bay of Bengal and Madras; on the W. by the Central Provinces and United Provinces; and on the N. by Nepal and Sikkim. It has an area of 141,580 sq. m. and a population of 54,096,806. It consists of the provinces of Behar, Orissa and Chota Nagpur, and the western portion of the Ganges valley, but without the provinces of Northern and Eastern Bengal; and is divided into the six British divisions of the presidency, Bhagalpur, Patna, Burdwan, Chota Nagpur and Orissa, and various native states. The province was reconstituted in 1905, when the Chittagong, Dacca and Rajshahi divisions, the district of Malda and the state of Hill Tippera were transferred from Bengal to a new province, Eastern Bengal and Assam; the five Hindi-speaking states of Chota Nagpur, namely Chang Bhakar, Korea, Sirguja, Udaipur and Jashpur, were transferred from Bengal to the Central Provinces; and Sambalpur and the five Oriya states of Bamra, Rairakhol, Sonpur, Patna and Kalahandi were transferred from the Central Provinces to Bengal. The province of Bengal, therefore, now consists of the thirty-three British districts of Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, Midnapore, Hugh, Howrah, Twenty-four Parganas, Calcutta, Nadia, Murshidabad, Jessore, Khulna, Patna, Gaya, Shahabad, Saran, Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Monghyr, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Santal Parganas, Cuttack, Balasore, Angul and Khondmals, Puri, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Palamau, Manbhum, Singhbum and Sambalpur, and the native states of Sikkim and the tributary states of Orissa and Chota Nagpur.
The name Bengal is derived from Sanskrit geography, and applies strictly to the country stretching southwards from Bhagalpur to the sea. The ancient Banga formed one of the five outlying kingdoms of Aryan India, and was practically conterminous with the delta of Bengal. It derived its name, according to the etymology of the Pundits, from a prince of the Mahabharata, to whose portion it fell on the primitive partition of the country among the Lunar race of Delhi. But a city called Bangala, near Chittagong, which, although now washed away, is supposed to have existed in the Mahommedan period, appears to have given the name to the European world. The word Bangala was first used by the Mussulmans; and under their rule, like the Banga of old Sanskrit times, it applied specifically to the Gangetic delta, although the later conquests to the east of the Brahmaputra were eventually included within it. In their distribution of the country for fiscal purposes, it formed the central province of a governorship, with Behar on the north-west, and Orissa on the south-west, jointly ruled by one deputy of the Delhi emperor. Under the English the name has at different periods borne very different significations. Francis Fernandez applies it to the country from the extreme east of Chittagong to Point Palmyras in Orissa, with a coast line which Purchas estimates at 600 m., running inland for the same distance and watered by the Ganges. This territory would include the Mahommedan province of Bengal, with parts of Behar and Orissa. The loose idea thus derived from old voyagers became stereotyped in the archives of the East India Company. All its north-eastern factories, from Balasore, on the Orissa coast, to Patna, in the heart of Behar, belonged to the "Bengal Establishment," and as British conquests crept higher up the rivers, the term came to be applied to the whole of northern India. The presidency of Bengal, in contradistinction to those of Madras and Bombay, eventually included all the British territories north of the Central Provinces, from the mouths of the Ganges and Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. In 1831 the North-Western Provinces were created, which are now included with Oudh in the United Provinces; and the whole of northern India is now divided into the four lieutenantgovernorships of the Punjab, the United Provinces, Bengal, and Eastern Bengal and Assam, and the North-West Frontier Province under a commissioner.
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Three sub-provinces of the present lieutenant-governorship of Bengal - namely, Bengal proper, Behar and Orissa - consist of great river valleys; the fourth, Chota Nagpur, is a mountainous region which separates them from the central India plateau. Orissa embraces the rich deltas of the Mahanadi and the neighbouring rivers, bounded by the Bay of Bengal on the S.E., and walled in on the N.W. by tributary hill states. Proceeding west, the sub-province of Bengal proper stretches to the banks of the Ganges and inland from the seaboard to the Himalayas. Its southern portion is formed by the delta of the Ganges; its northern consists of the Ganges valley. Behar lies on the north-west of Bengal proper, and comprises the higher valley of the Ganges from the spot where it issues from the United Provinces. Between Behar and Orissa lies the province of Chota Nagpur, of which a portion was given in 1905 to the Central Provinces. The valley of the Ganges, which is now divided between Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam, is one of the most fertile and densely-populated tracts of country in the world. It teems with every product of nature. Tea, indigo, turmeric, lac, waving white fields of the opium-poppy, wheat and innumerable grains and pulses, pepper, ginger, betelnut, quinine and many costly spices and drugs, oil-seeds of sorts, cotton, the silk mulberry, inexhaustible crops of jute and other fibres; timber, from the feathery bamboo and coroneted palm to the iron-hearted sal tree - in short, every vegetable product which feeds and clothes a people, and enables it to trade with foreign nations, abounds. Nor is the country destitute of mineral wealth. The districts near the sea consist entirely of alluvial formations; and, indeed, it is stated that no substance so coarse as gravel occurs throughout the delta, or in the heart of the provinces within 400 m. of the river mouths.
The climate varies from the snowy regions of the Himalayas to the tropical vapour-bath of the delta and the burning winds of Behar. The ordinary range of the thermometer on' the plains is from about 52° F. in the coldest month to 103° in the shade in summer. A temperature below 60° is considered very cold, while with care the temperature of well-built houses rarely exceeds 95° in the hot weather. The rainfall varies from 37 in. in Behar to about 65 in. in the delta.
Lower Bengal exhibits the two typical stages in the life of a great river. In the northern districts the rivers run along the valleys, receive the drainage from the country on !l either side, absorb broad tributaries and rush forward with an ever-increasing volume. But near the centre of the provinces the rivers enter upon a new stage of their career. Their main channels bifurcate, and each new stream so created throws off its own set of distributaries to right and left. The country which they thus enclose and intersect forms the delta of Bengal. Originally conquered by the fluvial deposits from the sea, it now stretches out as a vast dead level, in which the rivers find their velocity checked, and their current no longer able to carry along the silt which they have brought down from northern India. The streams, accordingly, deposit their alluvial burden in their channels and upon their banks, so that by degrees their beds rise above the level of the surrounding country. In this way the rivers in the delta slowly build themselves up into canals, which every autumn break through or overflow their margins, and leave their silt upon the adjacent flats. Thousands of square miles in Lower Bengal annually receive a top-dressing of virgin soil from the Himalayas, - a system of natural manuring which renders elaborate tillage a waste of labour, and defies the utmost power of over-cropping to exhaust its fertility. As the rivers creep farther down the delta, they become more and more sluggish, and their bifurcations and interlacings more complicated. The last scene of all is a vast amphibious wilderness of swamp and forest, amid whose solitudes their network of channels insensibly merges into the sea. The rivers, finally checked by the sea, deposit their remaining silt, which emerges as banks or blunted promontories, or, after a year's battling with the tide, adds a few feet or it may be a few inches to the foreshore.
The Ganges gives to the country its peculiar character and aspect. About 200 m. from its mouth it spreads out into numerous branches, forming a large delta, composed, where it borders on the sea, of a labyrinth of creeks and rivers, running through the dense forests of the Sundarbans, and exhibiting during the annual inundation the appearance of an immense sea. At this time the rice fields to the extent of many hundreds of square miles are submerged. The scene presents to a European eye a panorama of singular novelty and interest - rice fields covered with water to a great depth; the ears of grain floating on the surface; the stupendous embankments, which restrain without altogether preventing the excesses of the inundations; and peasants going out to their daily work with their cattle in canoes or on rafts. The navigable streams which fall into the Ganges intersect the country in every direction and afford great facilities for internal communication. In many parts boats can approach by means of lakes, rivulets and water-courses to the door of almost every cottage. The lower region of the Ganges is the richest and most productive portion of Bengal, abounding in valuable produce. The other principal rivers in Bengal are the Sone, Gogra, Gandak, Kusi, Tista; the Hugh, formed by the junction of the Bhagirathi and Jalangi, and farther to the west, the Damodar and Rupnarayan; and in the south-west, the Mahanadi or great river of Orissa. In a level country like Bengal, where the soil is composed of yielding and loose materials, the courses of the rivers are continually shifting from the wearing away of their different banks, or from the water being turned off by obstacles in its course into a different channel. As this channel is gradually widened the old bed of the river is left dry. The new channel into which the river flows is of course so much land lost, while the old bed constitutes an accession to the adjacent estates. Thus, one man's property is diminished, while that of another is enlarged or improved; and a distinct branch of jurisprudence has grown up, the particular province of which is the definition and regulation of the alluvial rights alike of private property and of the state.
The greater part of Bengal is occupied by the alluvial deposits of the Ganges, but in the south-west rises the plateau of Chota Nagpur composed chiefly of gneissic rocks. The great thickness of the Gangetic alluvium is shown by a borehole at Calcutta which was carried to a depth of about 460 f t. below the present level of the sea without entering any marine deposit. Over the surface of the gneissic rocks are scattered numerous basins of Gondwana beds. Some of these are undoubtedly faulted into their present positions, and to this they owe their preservation. In the Rajmahal Hills basaltic lava flows are interbedded with the Gondwana deposits, and in the Karharbari coalfield the Gondwana beds are traversed by dikes of mica-peridotite and basalt, which are supposed to be of the same age as the Rajmahal lavas. The Gondwana series is economically of great importance. It includes numerous seams of coal, many of which are worked on an extensive scale (at Giridih, Raniganj, &c.). The quality of the coal is good, but unfortunately it contains a large amount of ash, the average being as high as 17%.
In the sub-provinces under the lieutenant-governor of Bengal dwell a great congeries of peoples, of widely diverse origin, speaking different languages and representing far separated eras of civilization. The province, in fact, became so unwieldy that this was the chief relson for its partition in 1905. The people exhibit every stage of human progress, and every type of human enlightenment and superstition from the educated classes to primitive hill tribes. On the same bench of a Calcutta college sit youths trained up in the strictest theism, others indoctrinated in the mysteries of the Hindu trinity and pantheon, with representatives of every link in the chain of superstition - from the harmless offering of flowers before the family god to the cruel rites of Kali, whose altars in the most civilized districts of Bengal, as lately as the famine of 1866, were stained with human blood. Indeed, the very word Hindu is one of absolutely indeterminate meaning. The census officers employ it as a convenient generic to include 42 millions of the population of Bengal, comprising elements of transparently distinct ethnical origin, and separated from each other by their language, customs and religious rites. But Hinduism, understood even in this wide sense, represents only one of many creeds and races found within Bengal. The other great historical cultus, which during the last twelve centuries did for the Semitic peoples what Christianity accomplished among the European Aryans, has won to itself one-fifth of the population of Bengal. The Mahommedans number some 9 ,000,000 in Bengal, but the great bulk of their numbers was transferred to Eastern Bengal and Assam. They consist largely of the original inhabitants of the country, who were proselytized by the successive Pathan and Mogul invasions. In the face of great natural catastrophes, such as river inundations, famines, tidal waves and cyclones of the lower provinces of Bengal, the religious instinct works with a vitality unknown in European countries. Until the British government stepped in with its police and canals and railroads, between the people and what they were accustomed to consider the dealings of Providence, scarcely a year passed without some terrible manifestation of the power and the wrath of God. Mahratta invasions from central India, piratical devastations on the sea-board, banditti who marched about the interior in bodies of 50,000 men, floods which drowned the harvests of whole districts, and droughts in which a third of the population starved to death, kept alive a sense of human powerlessness in the presence of an omnipotent fate. Under the Mahommedans a pestilence turned the capital into a silent wilderness, never again to be re-peopled. Under British rule it is estimated that 10 millions perished within the Lower Provinces alone in the famine of 1769-1770; and the first surveyor-general of Bengal entered on his maps a tract of many hundreds of square miles as bare of villages and "depopulated by the Maghs." But since the advent of British administration the history of Bengal has substantially been a record of prosperity; the teeming population of its river valleys is one of the densest in the world, and the purely agricultural districts of Saran and Muzaffarpur in the Patna division support over 900 persons to the square mile, a number hardly surpassed elsewhere except in urban areas.
Excluding immigrants the languages spoken by the people of Bengal belong to one or other of four linguistic families - Aryan, Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman. Of these the languages of the Aryan family are by far the most important, being spoken by no less than 95% of the population according to the census of r901. The Aryan languages are spoken in the plains by almost the whole population; the Munda and Dravidian in the Chota Nagpur plateau and adjoining tracts; and the Tibeto-Burman in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Jalpaiguri. The most important Aryan languages are Bengali, Bihari, Eastern Hindi and Oriya. On the average in the province, before partition, out of every 1000 persons 528 spoke Bengali, 34 1 Hindi and Bihari, and 79 Oriya. As a rule Bengali is the language of Bengal proper, Hindi of Behar and Chota Nagpur, and Oriya of Orissa.
The staple crop of the province is rice, to which about 66% of the cropped area is devoted. There are three harvests in the year - the boro, or spring rice; dus, or autumn rice; and dman, or winter rice. Of these the last or winter rice is by far the most extensively cultivated, and forms the great harvest of the year. The dman crop is grown on low land. In May, after the first fall of rain, a nursery ground is ploughed three times, and the seed scattered broadcast. When the seedlings make their appearance another field is prepared for transplanting. By this time the rainy season has thoroughly set in, and the field is dammed up so as to retain the water. It is then repeatedly ploughed until the water becomes worked into the soil, and the whole reduced to thick mud. The young rice is then taken from the nursery, and transplanted in rows about 9 in. apart. Aman rice is much more extensively cultivated than dus, and in favourable years is the most valuable crop, but being sown in low lands is liable to be destroyed by excessive rainfall. Harvest takes place in December or January. Aus rice is generally sown on high ground. The field is ploughed when the early rains set in, ten or twelve times over, till the soil is reduced nearly to dust, the seed being sown broadcast in April or May. As soon as the young plants reach 6 in. in height, the land is harrowed for the purpose of thinning the crop and to clear it of weeds. The crop is harvested in August or September. Boro, or spring rice, is cultivated on low marshy land, being sown in a nursery in October, transplanted a month later, and harvested in March and April. An indigenous description of rice, called uri or jaradhdn, grows in certain marshy tracts. The grain is very small, and is gathered for consumption only by the poorest. Wheat forms an important food staple in Behar, whence there is a considerable export to Calcutta. Oil-seeds are very largely grown, particularly in Behar. The principal oil-seeds are sarisha (mustard), til (sesamum) and tisi or masina (linseed). Jute (pat or kosta) forms a very important commercial staple of Bengal. The cultivation of this crop has rapidly increased of late years. Its principal seat of cultivation, however, is Eastern Bengal, where the superior varieties are grown. The crop grows on either high or low lands, is sown in April and cut in August. Apart from the quantity exported and the quantity made up by hand, it supports a prosperous mill industry, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Calcutta and Howrah. In 1905 there were thirty-six jute mills in the province and 2± million acres were cropped. The value of jute and of the goods manufactured from it represents more than a third of the aggregate value of the trade of Calcutta. Indigo used to be an important crop carried on with European capital in Behar, but of late years the industry has almost been destroyed by the invention of artificial indigo. Tea cultivation is the other great industry carried on by European capital, but that is chiefly confined to Assam, the industry in Darjeeling and the Dwars being on a small scale. Opium is grown in Behar with its head station at Patna. The cultivation of the cinchona plant in Bengal was introduced as an experiment about 1862, and is grown on government plantations in Darjeeling.
The chief mineral product in Bengal is coal, which disputes with the gold of Mysore for the place of premier importance in the mining industries of India. The most important mine in point of area, accessibility and output is Raniganj, with an area of 500 sq. m. Another of rising importance is that of Jherria, with an area of 200 sq. m., which is situated only 16 m. to the west of Raniganj; while Daltonganj also has an area of 200 sq. m. The small coalfield of Karharbari with an area of only i i sq. m. yields the best coal in Bengal. Besides these four coalfields there are twenty-five others of various sizes, which are only in the initial stages of development.
The sea-borne trade of Bengal is almost entirely concentrated at Calcutta, which also serves as the chief port for Eastern Bengal and Assam, and for the United Provinces. The principal imports are cotton piece goods, railway materials, metals and machinery, oils, sugar, cotton, twist and salt; and the principal exports are jute, tea, hides, opium, rice, oil-seeds, indigo and lac. The inter-provincial trade is mostly carried on with Eastern Bengal and Assam, the United Provinces and the Central Provinces. From the United Provinces come opium, hides, raw cotton, wheat, shellac and oil-seeds; and from Assam, tea, oil-seeds and jute. The frontier trade of Bengal is registered with Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan, but except with Nepal the amount is insignificant.
Bengal is well supplied with railways, which naturally have the seaport of Calcutta as the centre of the system. South of the Ganges, the East Indian follows the river from the North-Western Provinces, with its terminus at Howrah on the Hugh, opposite Calcutta. A chord line passes by the coalfield of Raniganj, which enables this great railway to be worked more economically than any other in India. The Bengal-Nagpur, from the Central Provinces, also has its terminus at Howrah, and the section of this railway through Midnapore carries the East Coast line from Madras. North of the Ganges the Eastern Bengal runs north to Darjeeling, and maintains a service of river steamers on the Brahmaputra. The Bengal Central serves the lower Gangetic delta. Both of these have their termini at Sealdah, an eastern suburb of Calcutta. Northern Behar is traversed by the Bengal & North-Western, with an extension eastwards through Tirhoot to join the Eastern Bengal. In addition there are a few light lines and steam tramways.
Canals and Rivers
Rivers and other waterways still carry a large part of the traffic of Bengal, especially in the delta. The government maintains two channels through the Sundarbans, known as the Calcutta and Eastern canals, and likewise does its best to keep open the Nadiya rivers, which form the communication between the main stream of the Ganges and the Hugh: There is further a route by water between Calcutta and Midnapore. The most important canals, those in Orissa (see Mahanadi) and on the Sone river in southern Behar, have been constructed primarily for irrigation, though they are also used for navigation. Except as a protection against famine, expenditure on irrigation is not remunerative in Bengal, on account of the abundance of rivers, and the general dampness of the climate.
The administration of Bengal is conducted by a lieutenant-governor, with a chief secretary, two secretaries and three under-secretaries. There is no executive council, as in Madras and Bombay; but there is a board of revenue, consisting of two members. For legislative purposes the lieutenantgovernor has a council of twenty members, of whom not more than ten may be officials. Of the remaining members seven are nominated on the recommendation of the Calcutta corporation, groups of municipalities, groups of district boards, selected public associations and the senate of Calcutta university. The number of divisions or commissionerships is 6, of which Chota Nagpur ranks as "non-regulation." The number of districts is 33.
In Lord Kitchener's reconstitution of the Indian army in 1904 the old Bengal command was abolished and its place taken by the Eastern army corps, which includes all the troops from Meerut to Assam. The boundaries of the 8th division include those of the former Oudh, Allahabad, Assam and Presidency districts; and the troops now quartered in Bengal only consist of the Presidency brigade with its headquarters at Fort William.
The history of so large a province as Bengal forms an integral part of the general history of India. The northern part, Behar, constituted the ancient kingdom of Magadha, the nucleus of the imperial power of the successive great dynasties of the Mauryas, Andhras and Guptas; and its chief town, Patna, is the ancient Pataliputra (the Palimbothra of the Greeks), once the capital of India. The Delta or southern part of Bengal lay beyond the ancient Sanskrit polity, and was governed by a number of local kings belonging to a pre-Aryan stock. The Chinese travellers, Fa Hien in the 5th century, and Hsiian Tsang in the 7th century, found the Buddhist religion prevailing throughout Bengal, but already in a fierce struggle with Hinduism - a struggle which ended about the 9th or 10th century in the general establishment of the latter faith. Until the end of the 12th century Hindu princes governed in a number of petty principalities, till, in 1199, Mahommed Bakhtiyar Khilji was appointed to lead the first Mussulman invasion into Bengal. The Mahommedan conquest of Behar dates from 1197 A.D., and the new power speedily spread southwards into the delta. From about this date until 1340 Bengal was ruled by governors appointed by the Mahommedan emperors in the north. From 1340 to 1539 its governors asserted a precarious independence, and arrogated the position of sovereigns on their own account. From 1540 to 1576 Bengal passed under the rule of the Pathan or Afghan dynasty, which commonly bears the name of Sher Shah. On the overthrow of this house by the powerful arms of Akbar, Bengal was incorporated into the Mogul empire, and administered by governors appointed by the Delhi emperor, until the treaties of 1765, which placed Bengal, Behar and Orissa under the administration of the East India Company. The Company formed its earliest settlements in Bengal in the first half of the 17th century. These settlements were of a purely commercial character. In 1620 one of the Company's factors dates from Patna; in 1624-1636 the Company established itself, by the favour of the emperor, on the ruins of the ancient Portuguese settlement of Pippli, in the north of Orissa; in 1640-1642 an English surgeon, Gabriel Boughton, obtained establishments at Balasore, also in Orissa, and at Hugli, some miles above Calcutta. The vexations and extortions to which the Company's early agents were subjected more than once almost induced them to abandon the trade, and in 1677-1678 they threatened to withdraw from Bengal altogether. In 1685, the Bengal factors, driven to extremity by the oppression of the Mogul governors, threw down the gauntlet; and after various successes and hairbreadth escapes, purchased from the grandson of Aurangzeb, in 1696, the villages which have since grown up into Calcutta, the metropolis of India. During the next fifty years the British had a long and hazardous struggle alike with the Mogul governors of the province and the Mahratta armies which invaded it. In 1756 this struggle culminated in the great outrage known as the Black Hole of Calcutta, followed by Clive's battle of Plassey and capture of Calcutta, which avenged it. That battle, and the subsequent years of confused fighting, established British military supremacy in Bengal, and procured the treaties of 1765, by which the provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa passed under British administration. To Warren Hastings (1772-1785) belongs the glory of consolidating the British power, and converting a military occupation into a stable civil government. To another member of the civil service, John Shore, afterwards Lord Teignmouth (1786-1793), is due the formation of a regular system of Anglo-Indian legislation. Acting through Lord Cornwallis, then governor-general, he ascertained and defined the rights of the landholders in the soil. These landholders under the native system had started, for the most part, as collectors of the revenues, and gradually acquired certain prescriptive rights as quasi-proprietors of the estates entrusted to them by the government. In 1793 Lord Cornwallis declared their rights perpetual, and made over the land of Bengal to the previous quasi-proprietors or zamindars, on condition of the payment of a fixed land tax. This piece of legislation is known as the Permanent Settlement of the Land Revenue. But the Cornwallis code, while defining the rights of the proprietors, failed to give adequate recognition to the rights of the undertenants and the cultivators. His Regulations formally reserved the latter class of rights, but did not legally define them, or enable the husbandmen to enforce them in the courts. After half a century of rural disquiet, the rights of the cultivators were at length carefully formulated by Act X. of 1859. This measure, now known as the land law of Bengal, effected for the rights of the under-holders and cultivators what the Cornwallis code in 1793 had effected for those of the superior landholders. The status of each class of persons interested in the soil, from the government as suzerain, through the zaminddrs or superior landholders, the intermediate tenure-holders and the undertenants, down to the actual cultivator, is now clearly defined. The act dates from the first year after the transfer of India from the company to the crown; for the mutiny burst out in 1857. The transactions of that revolt chiefly took place in northern India, and are narrated in the article Indian Mutiny. In Bengal the rising began at Barrackpore, was communicated to Dacca in Eastern Bengal, and for a time raged in Behar, producing the memorable defence of the billiard-room at Arrah by a handful of civilians and Sikhs - one of the most splendid pieces of gallantry in the history of the British arms. Since 1858, when the country passed to the crown, the history of Bengal has been one of steady progress. Five great lines of railway have been constructed. Trade has enormously expanded; new centres of commerce have sprung up in spots which formerly were silent jungles; new staples of trade, such as tea and jute, have rapidly attained importance; and the coalfields and iron ores have opened up prospects of a new and splendid era in the internal development of the country.
During the decade 1891-1901 Bengal was fortunate in escaping to a great extent the two calamities of famine and plague which afflicted central and western India. The drought of 1896-1897 did indeed extend to Bengal, but not to such an extent as to cause actual famine. The distress was most acute in the densely populated districts of northern Behar, and in the remote hills of Chota Nagpur. Plague first appeared at Calcutta in a sporadic form in April 1898, but down to April of the following year the total number of deaths ascribed to plague throughout the province was less than 1000, compared with 191,000 for Bombay. At the beginning of 1900, however, there was a serious recrudescence of plague at Calcutta, and a malignant outbreak in the district of Patna, which caused I 000 deaths a week. In the early months of 1901, plague again appeared in the same regions. The number of deaths in 1904 was 75,436, the highest recorded up to that date.
The earthquake of the 12th of June 1897, which had its centre of disturbance in Assam, was felt throughout eastern and northern Bengal. In all the large towns the masonry buildings were severely damaged or totally wrecked. The permanent way of the railways also suffered. The total number of deaths returned was only 135. Far more destructive to life was the cyclone and storm-wave that broke over Chittagong district on the night of the 24th of October 1897. Apart from damage to shipping and buildings, the low-lying lands along the coast were completely submerged, and in many villages half the inhabitants were drowned. The loss of human lives was reported to be about 14,000, and the number of cattle drowned about 15,000. As usual in such cases, a severe outbreak of cholera followed in the track of the storm-wave. Another natural calamity on a large scale occurred at Darjeeling in October 1899. Torrential rains caused a series of landslips, carrying away houses and breaking up the hill railway.
The most notable event, however, of recent times was the partition of the province, which was decided upon by Lord Curzon, and carried into execution in October 1905. Serious popular agitation followed this step, on the ground (inter alia) that the Bengali population, the centre of whose interests and prosperity was Calcutta, would now be divided under two governments, instead of being concentrated and numerically dominant under the one; while the bulk would be in the new division. In 1906-1909 the unrest developed to a considerable extent, requiring special attention from the Indian and home governments; but as part of the general history of India the movement may be best discussed under that heading (see India: History). See Parliamentary Papers relating to the reconstitution of the provinces of Bengal and Assam (Cd. 2658 and Cd. 2746, 1905); Colonel E. T. Dalton, The Ethnology of Bengal (1872); Sir W. W. Hunter, Annals of Rural Bengal (1868), and Orissa (1872); Sir H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal (1891); C. E. Buckland, Bengal under the Lieutenant-Governors (1901); and Sir James Bourdillon, The Partition of Bengal (Society of Arts, 1905).