Bangladesh is a state in an ancient land. It has been described by an American political scientist as “a country challenged by contradictions”. It is neither a distinct geographical entity, nor a well-defined historical unit. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of one of the largest nation in the world whose gropings for a political identity were protracted, intense and agonizing. The key to these apparent contradictions lies in her history.
Historically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate “Vanga” which was first mentioned in the Hindu scripture Aitareya Aranyaka (composed between 500 B C and 500 A D). It is derived from:-
- The Tibetan word “Bans” which implies “wet and moist”. According to this interpretation, Bangladesh literally refers to a wetland.
- Bodo (aborigines of Assam) words “Bang” and “la” which connote “wide plains.”
I have divided the history of Bengal in the three periods:-
- Ancient Bengal (326 B.C. to 1204 A.D.)
- Mediaeval Bengal (1204 to 1757)
- British Rule in Bengal (1757 to 1947)
Political Dynamics in Ancient Bengal (326 B.C. TO 1204 A.D.)
The earliest historical reference to organized political life in the Bangladesh region is usually traced to the writings on Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 B.C. The evidence from various sources refers to the rise and fall of a large number of principalities in the region. There are two schools of opinion regarding the political evolution of ancient Bengal:-
- According to one school, the Bangladesh region in the ancient period was an integral part of mighty empires in north India. These historians maintain Gangaridai and Prasioi empires were succeeded by the Mauryas (4th to 2nd century B.C.), the Guptas (4th-5th century A.D.), the empire of Sasanka (7th century A.D.), the Pala Empire (750-1162 A.D.), and the Senas (1162-1223 A.D.).
- The revisionist historians maintain that epigraphic evidence suggests that only some of the areas, which now constitute Bangladesh, were occasionally incorporated in the larger empires of South Asia. In their view, political fragmentation and not empire was the historical destiny of Bangladesh region in the ancient times. Inscriptions attest to the existence of a succession of independent kingdoms in southern and eastern Bengal. These local kingdoms included the realms of Vainyagupta (6th century), the Faridpur kings (6th century), the Bhadra dynasty (circa 600-650 A D), Khadaga dynasty (circa 650-700 AD), Natha and Rata dynasty (750-800 A D), the rulers of Harikela (circa 800-900), Chandra dynasty (circa 900-1045 A D), Varman dynasty (circa 1080-1150 A D), and Pattikera dynasty (circa 1000-1100 A D).
The weakness of social, political and economic institutions provided a suitable environment for freedom of religion.