One of the most culturally prosperous states of India, West Bengal is filled with surprises. Be it the different religions all assimilating into one or the lovely cultural events that seem to make up the glorious state that it is. There is much more to West Bengal than big red bindis and dhoti kurtas. There are a lot of elements about the culture of West Bengal, and now we are going to have a look at some of the interesting aspects of it.
West Bengal has a rich legacy of amazing literature with great authors like Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay contributing their fair share to the Bengali literature as well as to the world literature. The literature heritage extends well beyond that too. There has been a long tradition of folk tales like the Thakurmar Jhuli, stories of Gopal Bhar and much more which in their popularity bear a great resemblance to famous stories like Arabian nights and the Panchatantra. Bengalis have played a significant role in modernising the course of Indian literature. Rabindranath Tagore even went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his collection of poems - Gitanjali. There were several post modernisation movements in the latter part of the 20th century, some of them were known as Kallol movement, Hungry movement and Little magazines. These movements saw some emerging leaders who would go on to be prominent names in the Bengali literature circle like Sukumar Ray, Jibananda Das, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Syed Mustafa Siraj being a few among them.
Theatre and Films
West Bengal has a long-standing tradition of folk drama known as Jatra. This form of theatre is a musical drama which depicts some story in a melodious manner even while acting it out on stage. It used to be one of the ways to spread the story of Lord Krishna to people. The dialogues are all dramatic monologues, and nowadays the play is usually preceded by a musical concert to attract the audiences.
West Bengal has its own film industry known as 'Tollywood' as it is based in the Tollygunge region of West Bengal. It has a long list of acclaimed filmmakers both nationally and globally, including the Academy Award-winning film director Satyajit Ray. Other famous contemporary filmmakers include Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Nandita Roy etc.
Bengal is credited to be the forerunner of modern contemporary art with famous artists like Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Rabindranath Tagore being among the forefront to promote modernization of art in the country. Abanindranath Tagore is sometimes referred to as the 'Father of Modern Indian Art', and he went on to establish the Bengal School of Art to promote artistic styles out of the European influence. Even before the advent of modernisation, there are numerous references to terracotta art and Kalighat paintings which show that art was loved since a long time in the region. After independence, a lot of graffiti with a political propaganda went up on various walls of the state painting witty banters, limericks and of course party promotion. This continues to be popular even now. Due to a ban imposed on painting graffiti on private walls, the paintings are restricted to club walls.
Architectural influences from different eras continue to be a part of the region. There are buildings of public and private use that show influences of Terracotta, Indo- Saracenic, Islam and British. The city of Calcutta used to be the Capital of India during the British reign and so it has a lot of buildings reflecting the British culture. There are various temples, mosques, churches, rajbaris (Home of the aristocratic people in the olden times).Calcutta was once known as the 'City of Palaces'. With the growing status as a cosmopolitan, Kolkata has flats coming up in its newer region.
Music and Dance
The amazing influence of regional music further increases the rich heritage of the region. Baul singing is perhaps the most famous of all the traditional singing of the yore. This involves singing a folk song about God, and one can see the powerful emotions that such type of singing evokes. The singer has his/ her eyes closed, completely lost in the moment- as if in a trance. There are other forms of folk singing too like Gombhira, Bhawaiya and kirtans etc. The region also has certain influences of the Indian Classical Music and Rabindrasangeet- made famous by the genius all rounder, Rabindranath Tagore is considered to be a contemporary music option. In short, West Bengal has quite a rich variety of music.
Traditional dance forms like Chau originated in the state of West Bengal, where people wear huge colourful masks and dance.
Food Culture Of West Bengal
Food- something that we cannot live without, and Bengalis sure know how to enjoy theirs! Rice is a staple, owing to the enormous plantations of rice all across the state. Roti, Vegetables with thick curry, fish, egg and meat form staples of everyday life. Fish is found in many different varieties, and Bengalis have many unique dishes devoted to the same such as Malai curry of Prawn Fish, patori, ilish mach etc. The sweets of West Bengal are also very famous with majority of them are made of milk and its subsidiaries. The most famous are rasogolla, sandesh, rasamalai, homemade pitha, etc. which are loved throughout the country. The modern day Bengali prefers to explore more, and so Anglo -Indian, Continental, Lebanese, Thai and Chinese are also preferred in addition to the traditional Bengali cuisines.
West Bengal sees an array of festivals too, just like its other aspects. Durga Puja is the favourite festival of the region, witnessing crowd from all over the world. It is the celebration of celebrating the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. The roads are overcrowded till the nine days that the festivities are on. This festival is a lavish affair for the Bengalis with elaborate tents (known as pandals) going up in different parts of the state and people buying new clothes and accessories exclusively for this time of the year. Other festivals like Kali Puja (which is celebrated during Diwali), Lakshmi Puja (celebrating in honor of the Indian Goddess of Wealth) etc. are celebrated throughout the year.
Bengali women traditionally wear a sari, draping the 'pallu' in a special manner that is exclusive to the state of West Bengal. With modernisation, shalwar kameez have also become famous with the newer generation wearing jeans, dresses and skirts too. The men used to wear dhoti kurtas in olden times but now do so only during some special occasions like during festivals or marriages. Their style is basically fusion with putting on a kurta with jeans apart from the westernised shirt pants. This touch of westernization is especially visible in Kolkata more than in any other city of West Bengal.
The West Bengal culture is colourful and vivid. Lots and lots of variety are present in almost everything. You can even know more if you can spare some time and go there for a visit!