Bengal: Population, A.D. 1901

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.


The distribution of the population, as disclosed by the Census of 1901, is shown in Tables II and IIa at the end of this article (pp. 343-5). The total population of the Province, including Native States, IS 78,493,410, 01 whom 39,278,186 are males and 39,215,224 females. Of the total number, 74,744,866 are in British territory and 3,748,544 in Native States. In the Province'" as a whole there are 400 persons to the square mile, but the density varies remarkably in different parts. It is greatest It has already been mentioned Pandua is believed by many to be identical with the ancient I'aundiavardhana.

  • The populatiun of the Province as now constituted is 54,662,529, of whom

27,140,616 are males and 27,521,913 females. Of the total number 50,722,067 are ill Hritish territory and 3, 940, 462 in the Native States.

' 'Ihe present area of Bengal coniains 36S persons to tlic square mile. in North Bihar, where there are 634 persons to the square mile. Central Bengal and \Vest Bengal are also thickly peopled. Then follow South Bihar, Orissa, East and North Bengal, and last the Chota Nagpur plateau, which, with only 152 persons per square mile, is the area of least dense population. The density is far from uniform even in the same natural division. In East Bengal, for example, Dacca District has 952 persons to the square mile, while the Chittagong Hill Tracts* have only 24, and in North Bihar the number ranges from 908 in Muzaffarpur to 375 in Purnea. Howrah, with 1,668 persons to the square mile, is the most thickly-inhabited District in Bengal, while the most sparse population (21 to the square mile) is found in Sikkim and in the Chang Bhakar* and Korea* Tributary States of Chota Nagpur (22 to the square mile). Marked variations are sometimes found even within the borders of a single District, e. g. in Dacca*, where the Srlnagar police circle contains 1,787 inhabitants to the square mile compared with only 415 in Kapasia. As a general rule it may be .said that the tracts where cold-season rice is the chief staple of cultivation are capable of supporting the largest number of inhabitants. Some parts of Bihar, where other crops are mainly grown, have a fairly dense population ; but their inhabitants are not wholly dependent on local sources of income, and a large proportion of the adult males earn their livelihood in other parts of the Province, whence they make regulai remittances for the support of their families.

In the Province as a whole, out of every 100 persons, 95 live in villages and only 5 in towns'. Bengal is a distinctly agricultural country, and many even of the so-called towns are merely overgrown villages. The urban population is considerable only in Central Bengal, where the inclusion of Calcutta and its environs brings the proportion up to 19 per cent. The second place is shared by West Bengal, with its flourishing industrial centres at Howrah, Bally, Serampore, and Raniganj ; and by South Bihar, with its ancient towns of Patna, Gaya, Monghyr, and Bihar. In both these tracts 7 per cent, of the inhabitants live in urban areas. Orissa follows with an urban population of 4 per cent., then North Bihar and North Bengal with 3 per cent., and, lastly. East Bengal and the Chota Nagpur plateau with only 2 per cent. The order in which the different tracts stand is sufficient to show the want of any connexion between the prosperity of the people and the growth of towns. The general standard of comfort is highest in East Bengal, although it has the smallest proportion of persons living in towns. South Bihar ranks comparatively high in respect of its urban population, and yet it includes the poorest part of the Province. The older towns, which usually owed their origin to the presence of a native court, have few industries, and such as they possess are for the most part decadent ;

' Of the present population 94 per cent, live in villages and 6 per cent, in towns. while in the newer towns the industries are carried on by foreign capital, and even the employes come from other parts of the country. The mills of Howrah and the coal-mines of Asansol are alike worked, with British capital, by coolies from Bihar and the United Provinces, and the shopkeepers, who are enriched by the trade they bring, are also for the most part foreigners.

The population of Calcutta, as limited by the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation, is 848,000 ; but to this should be added that of its suburbs (101,000), and also of Howrah (158,000), which lies on the opposite bank of the Hooghly and is as much a part of Calcutta as Southwark is of London. With these additions, the number of inhabi- tants rises to 1,107,000, which is greater than that of any European city except London, Constantinople, Paris, and Berlin. Next to Calcutta Howrah is now the largest town in Bengal. It is of entirely modern growth, and owes its position to its growing importance as a manufac- turing centre. The increase during the last decade has been 35 per cent., and it has grown by no less than 80 per cent, since 1872. Patna, which stands next, has a very ancient history, and its population w^as once much greater than at present. It was estimated by Buchanan Hamilton at 312,000; but his calculation referred to an area of 20 square miles, whereas the city as now defined has rather less than half that area. At the present time its prosperity is declining, owing to the gradual diversion of trade from the river to the railway. At the time of the Census plague was raging in the city, and the recorded population was only 134,785. Six months later, when the epidemic had subsided, a fresh count showed it to be 153,739, which was still less by nearly 17,000 than in 1881. Dacca* was also a flourishing city long before the days of British rule. For about a century it was the capital of the Nawabs, and its muslins were once famous throughout Europe. When the demand for these muslins declined, its prosperity was seriously affected, and in 1830 its inhabitants numbered only about 70,000. Since then the growth of the jute trade has caused a revival, and the population has now risen to 90,542.

The villages of Bengal vary greatly in different parts. In Bihar, especially south of the Ganges, the buildings are closely packed together, and there is no room for trees or gardens. As one goes eastwards, the houses, though still collected in a single village site, are farther apart, and each stands in its own patch of homestead land, where vegetables are grown, and fruit trees and bamboos afford a grateful protection from the glare of the tropical sun. Farther east, again, in the swamps of East Bengal, there is often no trace of a central village site, and the houses are found in straggling rows lining the high banks of rivers, or in small clusters on mounds from 12 to 20 feet in height laboriously thrown up during the dry months when the water temporarily disappears. The average population of a village is 335, but the definition of this unit for census purposes was not uniform. In some parts the survey area was adopted ; elsewhere the residential village with its dependent hamlets was taken ; but in practice it was often found very difficult to decide whether a particular group of houses should be taken as a separate entity or treated as a hamlet belonging to some other village.

The information regarding the early population of Bengal is scanty and unreliable. In 1787 Sir William Jones thought that it amounted to 24 millions, including part of the United Provinces then attached to Bengal. Five years later Mr. Colebrooke placed it at 30 millions. In 1835 Mr. Adam assumed it to be 35 millions, but this estimate was thought too high and was reduced to 31 millions in 1844. In 1870 the population was held to be about 42 millions, or more than a third less than the figures disclosed by the first regular Census of the Province, which was taken in 1872. The changes recorded by subsequent enumerations are shown below : —


Between 1872 and 1881 the Chota Nagpur plateau showed the greatest apparent growth of population, but this was due mainly to the inaccuracy of the first Census in this wild, remote, and sparsely-peopled tract. Orissa, which came second, had suffered a terrible loss of population in the great famine of 1866, and its rapid growth was the natural reaction from that calamity during a period of renewed prosperity. In North and South Bihar, as in Chota Nagpur, the Census of 1872 was defective, and the increment recorded in 1881 was to a great extent fictitious. The decline in West Bengal was due to a virulent outbreak of malarial fever. Between 1881 and 1891 the apparent rate of development in East Bengal and Chota Nagpur was about the same, but the latter tract again owed part of its increase to better enumeration, and the real growth was greatest in East Bengal. Then followed Orissa and North

VOL. VIL Q Bihar, then North Bengal, and then, in order. West Bengal, Central Bengal, and Soutlx Bihar. At the Census of 1901 East Bengal again heads the list, and is followed in order by the Chota Nagpur plateau, Orissa, West Bengal, North Bengal, and Central Bengal. The population of North Bihar is stationary, while that of South Bihar has suffered a loss of 3'6 per cent.

So far as the figures go, the rate of growth in the Province as a whole shows a progressive decline, but this is due to a great extent to omissions at the earlier enumerations. The pioneer Census of 1872 was admit- tedly very incomplete. That of 1881 was much more accurate; and although it is impossible to estimate, even approximately, the extent to which this affected the comparative results of the two enumerations, it would probably be quite safe to say that, if the two enumerations had been equally accurate, the excess of the figures for 1881 over those for 1872 would have been less than the increment disclosed by the Census of 1 90 1 as compared with that of 1891. But although the Census of 1 88 1 was very much more complete than that of 1872, there were still tracts where the standard of accuracy fell considerably below that attained ten years later ; and it has been estimated that of the increase disclosed by the Census of 1891, about half a million may be ascribed to the greater accuracy of that enumeration, but even so the increment then recorded exceeds that of the last decade by about 800,000. It is calculated that the plague, which appeared for the first time in 1898, accounted for 150,000 deaths; while the cyclone of October 24, 1897, which devastated large tracts in Chittagong*, is believed to be respon- sible, directly and indirectly, for a mortality of about 50,000. Apart from the deaths due to plague and cyclone, there seems no reason to believe that there has been any general increase in the death-rate, and the slower rate of growth seems to be due rather to a falling off in the birth-rate. In Orissa and Central and West Bengal the birth-rate prior to 1891 was abnormally high, owing to the recovery, in the one case, from the famine of 1866, and, in the other, from the ravages of malarial fever. In Bihar successive bad seasons have led to various preventive checks on the growth of the population; but, as noticed elsewhere, they do not appear to have affected the death-rate, and it is only among the wild tribes of Chota Nagpur that a certain amount of mortality was possibly attributable to famine.

The number of immigrants to Bengal from other parts of India, according to the Census of 1901, is 728,715, and the corresponding number of emigrants is 879,583. By far the greatest influx is from the United Provinces, which send a continually growing supply of labourers for the mills of the metropolitan Districts and the coal-fields of Burdwan and Manbhum, and for earthwork, palki bearing, &c., throughout the Province. The total number of persons born in the United Provinces and its States, hut enumerated in Bengal, was 496,940 in 1901, com- pared with 365,248 in 1891 and 351,933 in 1881. These figures include the ebb and flow between contiguous Districts along the boundary line. If this be left out of account, the number of immigrants from the United Provinces at the Census of 1901 is about 416,000. Of these, nearly three-sevenths were residing in Calcutta, the Twenty-four Parganas, and Howrah '. The emigrants to the United Provinces number only 128,991, of whom all but about 32,000 were found in Districts contiguous to the District of their birth.

The emigrants from Bengal to Assam in 1901 numbered nearly 504,000, or 85,000 more than -at the previous Census. Of these, 300,000 were from the Chota Nagpur plateau, which is the great recruiting ground for the tea gardens of Assam. About 157,000 persons born in Bengal were enumerated in Burma, compared with 112,000 in 1891. The majority were harvesters from the adjoining District of Chittagong* ; but many also were from Bihar, and some of these have been settled on waste-land grants in Upper Burma.

Of migration within the Province, the most noticeable feature is the great movement from Bihar to Bengal proper in quest of employment in coal-mines and factories, or on earthwork, or as field-labourers. These immigrants are for the most part adult males who eventually return to their old homes. Their total number at the time of the Census was very little short of half a million. Another internal move- ment of a more permanent nature is that of the tribes of the Chota Nagpur plateau, who, in addition to 300,000 persons enumerated in Assam, have given 400,000 to Bengal proper. The Santals have been working their way steadily north and east for seventy years or more, and are now found in considerable numbers in the elevated tract known as the Barind, in the centre of North Bengal, which they are rapidly bring- ing under cultivation. The other tribes are following their lead as pioneers of cultivation ; many also take service in the coal-fields and in the tea gardens of Jalpaiguri* and the Darjeeling iarai, and large numbers leave their homes every cold season to obtain employment on earthwork or as field-labourers.

The age return is so inaccurate that very little reliance can be placed on the absolute results. The degree of error may, however, be assumed to be fairly constant, and, if so, some interesting conclusions may be deduced by a comparison of the figures for successive Censuses. It would seem that the mean age of the population, which fell slightly in

' The Districts of the United Provinces from which most of the immigrants come are those in the extreme east : namely, Ballia, Azamgarh, Ghazlpur, Gorakhpur, Benares, Jaunpur, Mirzapur, and Allahabad. Then come the Districts immediately to the west of these : namely, Fyzabad, Sultanpur, Partabgarh, Rae BarelT, Liickiiow, Fatehpur, and Cawnpore.

1891, has now risen to a somewhat higher figure than in 1881 \ This is due mainly to the variations in the birth-rate. The population was growing more rapidly than usual in the decade ending 1891, which was a period of recovery from famine and disease, and the larger proportion of young children reduced the average age of the population as a whole. The higher castes appear to live longer than the aboriginal tribes, while the latter have larger families than any other section of the community. There does not seem to be much difference in the relative longevity of Hindus and Muhammadans, but the latter have a larger proportion of children than the Hindus, and the mean age of the community is consequently lower.

Births and deaths are recorded throughout the Province, except in Angul, the Chittagong Hill Tracts*, and the Feudatory States. The present system of mortuary registration was introduced in 1869. The duty of reporting deaths was imposed on the chaukidars, or village watchmen, and not on the relations of the deceased. In 1876 the system was extended to births; but the returns received were so incomplete that they were soon discontinued and, except in towns, for which special legislation was undertaken in 1873, deaths alone were registered until 1892. In that year the collection of statistics of births as well as of deaths was ordered, and the system now in vogue was introduced. In the Chaukidari Amendment Act of 1892, the reporting of vital occurrences was made one of the legal duties of the chaukidars. The births and deaths occurring in each beat are entered on leaflets by the chaukidar, or, if he be illiterate, by the panchayat, and taken by the former to the police station when he attends his weekly muster. A consolidated monthly statement is compiled at the police station and submitted to the Civil Surgeon, who prepares a similar return for the whole District. The accuracy of the reporting is checked by the police and other local officers, but the most valuable testing agency is that of the vaccination establish- ments, who are required to make inquiries regarding vital occurrences when on their rounds to test the vaccination operations. Errors and omissions thus brought to light, which usually range from i to i^ per cent, on the total number of vital occurrences, are communicated to the District Magistrate and the chaukidars at fault are punished. Under the special Act for towns the reporting of births and deaths by the nearest male relative was made compulsory. The information was col- lected for some time by the municipal authorities, but the results were not satisfactory, and the duty was subsequently transferred to the police.

' By mean age is meant the average age of the living, which (except in a stationary population) is not the same thing as the mean duration of life. The mean age of males is calculated to have been 24.2 years in 1S81, 24-0 in iScjijand 24-3 in 1901. These figures, however, are mere apjiroximations.

These measures have led to a great improvement in the accuracy of the vital statistics. The latest estimate of the birth and death-rates in Bengal is that of Mr. Hardy, F.I. A., F.S.S., based on the Census figures for 1891 and 1901, which places them at 43-9 and 38-9 per 1,000 respectively. The rates according to the returns are still below this estimate, but the figures reported from year to year show a gradual improvement ; and they are now sufficiently accurate not only for the purpose of showing the relative healthiness or unhealthiness of the year, but also for calculating the approximate growth of the population. The increase shown by the Census of 1901, as compared with that taken ten years previously, in the areas for which vital statistics are collected, was 3,358,576, while that indicated by the excess of reported births over deaths was 3,159,200. In Noakhali* in 1900 the reported birth-rate was 52-3 per 1,000 calculated on the population disclosed by the Census of 1901, and in Patna in 1901 the reported mortality was 56-8.

According to the returns, more than 70 per cent, of the total mortality is ascribed to fever. This is due mainly to the difficulty of diagnosing all but a few well-defined diseases. Cholera, dysentery, and small-pox are known, but most other complaints are classed indiscriminately as fever. It is impossible to say what proportion of the total is attributable to malarial affections, but it may safely be assumed that, wherever the mortality entered under ' fevers ' is unusually high, the greater part of the excess over the normal is due to their prevalence. On an average, about one-twelfth of the total mortality is due to cholera, but the prevalence of this disease varies greatly from year to year and from District to District. In 1898 it was responsible for less than i death per 1,000 of the population of the Province, but in 1900 the mortality from it rose to nearly 5 per 1,000. In the latter year it killed off nearly 24 persons in every 1,000 in Purnea, while in Bankura only i person in 4,000 died from the disease. Dysentery and diarrhoea account for barely a quarter as many deaths as cholera, while small-pox claims only I victim in every 5,000 persons yearly.

Plague first appeared in Bengal in 1898, when there were two out- breaks, one in Calcutta and the other in Backergunge*. In the early part of 1899 it again visited Calcutta, and there were also outbreaks in ten rural Districts ; and in the cold-season months of 1 900-1 the disease spread over a larger area, not less than 40,000 deaths being caused by it during that period. Plague has now become an annual visitation in many parts of the Province, altogether twenty-seven Dis- tricts being affected in 1905. In the eastern Districts the conditions^ whether of soil, climate, or habitations, seem to be inimical to the propagation of the microbe ; but in the north-western part of the Province, and particularly in the Patna Division, the disease has established itself firmly, coming and going with the seasons with

wonderful regularity, being most prevalent in the winter, and then practically disappearing or remaining dormant throughout the hot and rainy seasons, to recrudesce in September with the advent of the cold season. The mortality from plague in 1905 was the highest on record since it first broke out in 1898, the total number of deaths being 126,000, as against 75,000 in 1904 and 58,000 the average of the preceding quinquennium.

As in other parts of India, so also in Bengal, the infant mortality is very high, and it was estimated in 1891 by Mr. Hardy that only 71 per cent, of male and 75 per cent, of female children survive the first year of life. During the second year the mortality is believed to be only one-third as great as in the first year, and it then continues to fall rapid ly.

Vital Statistics as registered


The actual population shows a slight deficiency of females, who number only 998 to every 1,000 males ^ ; but if the effects of migration be discounted by considering only the natural population, i.e. the persons born in the Province, it appears that the females exceed the males in the ratio of 1,003 to 1,000. They are in marked excess in Bihar and Orissa and, to a less extent, in West Bengal and the Chota Nagpur plateau. East of the Bhaglrathi, where the Mongoloid element in the population is largest, they are in a considerable minority. There has been a steady decline in the proportion of females since 1881, due to the fact that the most progressive tracts are, generally speaking, those where males predominate, while many of the Districts with the largest proportion of the other sex are stationary or decadent. In urban areas females are generally in marked defect, and in Calcutta they are only half as numerous as the males.

The most striking fact brought out by the statistics of marriage is the universality of this institution. The number of persons, other than those suffering from some bodily or mental affliction, who go through life unmarried is extremely small. About half the total number of males were returned at the Census as unmarried, but of these four-fifths were under fifteen years of age. Only one-third of the female popula- ' In the present area of Bengal there are 1,015 females to every 1,000 males. tion was unnianied, and of these only 4 per cent, were over fifteen. The proportion of the widowed is about i in 25 in the case of males, but among females nearly i in every 5 is a widow.

The marriage practices vary greatly in different parts of the Province, especially in regard to females. The girls of the animistic tribes marry when they are about seventeen or eighteen years of age. Muhammadan girls marry earlier, but not so early as those of the Hindus, with whom marriage before puberty is the rule. In some parts of Bihar the Hindus give their children in wedlock much earlier than elsewhere, and in Darbhanga and the neighbourhood both boys and girls are frequently married before the age of five. Widows remarry most freely amongst the animistic tribes, and least so amongst the Hindus. Hindu widows of the higher castes are everywhere forbidden to take a second husband, and in Bengal proper the prohibition extends to all but the lowest castes. The result is that the proportion of Hindu women of child- bearing age who are widowed is nearly twice as great in this tract as elsewhere. In the Province as a whole the age at marriage is gradually rising, while the proportion of the widowed is diminishing. The former circumstance is due, in part at least, to a genuine change in the customs of the people. In Darbhanga and the neighbourhood, infant-marriage is as prevalent as ever, but elsewhere the tendency is to postpone the age at which girls are given in wedlock. The decline in the number of widows is due partly to the fact that the Muhammadans, animistic tribes, and low Hindu castes, who permit their widows to marry again, are increasing more rapidly than the section of the community that forbids them to do so, and partly to the effect of the preaching of the Maulvis amongst the Muhammadans and to the gradual disappearance of their old Hindu prejudices against widow marriage.

Polygamy is allowed among Hindus, Musalmans, and Animists alike, but in the case of the first-mentioned it is often accompanied by restric- tions ; many castes allow a man to take a second wife only when the first is barren or suffers from some incurable disease ; frequently the permission of the caste panchayat has to be obtained, and in some cases that of the elder wife. With the Muhammadans there are in theory no restrictions on the practice, so long as a man does not exceed the limit of four wives prescribed by the Prophet, but in practice the poorer classes at least are almost invariably monogamous. The fraternal form of polyandry, where a man's younger brothers share his wife, still survives amongst the Bhotias ; but it seems to be dying out. The woman is regarded as the wife of the elder brother, and the children that are born of her call him ' father ' and his brothers ' uncle.' The woman moreover can, if she wishes, withhold her favours from the younger brothers. A somewhat similar system prevails amongst the Santals.


Excluding immigrants, the languages spoken in Bengal belong to one or other of four linguistic families : Aryan, Dravidian, Munda or Kol- arian, and Tibeto-Burman. Of these, the languages of the Aryan family are by far the most important, being spoken by no less than 95 per cent, of the total population. The Munda family comes next, but^li^s speakers represent only 1 per cent, of the total, while the other two families each claim less than i per cent. The Aryan languages are spoken in the plains by almost the whole population, while those of the other families are current only in the hills or among recent settlers in the plains. The home of the Munda and Dravidian dialects is in the Chota Nagpur plateau. The Tibeto-Burman languages are found partly in Darjeeling and Sikkim and the adjoining District of Jalpai- guri*, and partly in the south-eastern corner of Bengal, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts* and Hill Tippera*. There are also a few scattered colonies of people speaking languages of this family in Dacca* and Mymensingh*. All these non-Aryan dialects are gradually dying out, and are being replaced by some Aryan form of speech. The main Aryan languages of Bengal are Bengali, Biharl, Eastern Hindi, and Oriya. The Census does not distinguish Bihari from Hindi. On the average, of every 1,000 persons in the Province, 528 speak Bengali, 341 Hindi (including Biharl), 79 Oriya, and i Khas, leaving only 51 persons per 1,000 for all the other languages put together.


Bengal proper, Bihar, and Orissa each has its own caste system, with many castes not found elsewhere, and in the north there are numerous representatives of the caste system of Nepal. Chota Nagpur is peopled mainly by Dravidian tribes who are still outside the pale of Hinduism, and on the eastern border there are many similar tribes of Mongoloid stock. The main characteristics of the Dravidians are a long head, a very broad bridgeless nose, a full round eye, thick protruding lips, hair inclined to be woolly, somewhat low stature, black colour, and absence of muscle on the limbs, especially the legs. The Mongoloid nose is also broad and bridgeless, but less so than the Dravidian ; the head is short, the eye oblique and narrow, the cheek-bones very promi- nent, the hair coarse and straight, the colour inclined to yellow, and the figure short and clumsy, but very muscular. The Aryan type, which is comparatively rare in Bengal, except among some sections of the higher castes, differs markedly from the others. The head is long, like the Dravidian, but the features are finely cut, and the thin nose in particular is characteristic ; the figure is tall and well shaped, and the hair is comparatively fine.

Owing to the size of the Province and the inclusion within its limits of the dissimilar tracts described above, the number of its castes and tribes is exceptionally great. There are 66 castes with 100,000 members, and 15 with a strength of more than a million: namely (in order of numbers), the Ahir (or Goala), Brahman, Kaibartta, Rajbansi (including Koch), Namasudra (Chandal), Santal, Chamar (including Muchi), Rajput, KurmT, Teli, Kayasth, Koiri, Dosadh, Babhan, and Bagdi. The Ahirs, who number nearly four millions, are by far the most numerous ; next follow the Brahmans with nearly three millions, the Kaibarttas with two and a half millions, and the Rajbansis with over two millions. The Brahmans and Kayasths are found everywhere, and so also are the Chamars, Telis, and Ahirs, though to a less extent ; the Rajputs, Kurmis, Koiris, Dosadhs, and Babhans are, in the main, Bihar castes. The home of the Kaibarttas and Bagdis is in West, of the Raj- bansis in North, and of the Namasiidras in East Bengal ; the Santals are one of the great non- Hindu tribes who inhabit the Chota Nagpur plateau.

The persons who described themselves at the Census as Hindus con- stitute 63 per cent, of the total population ^ of the Province, and the Muhammadans ) percent. ; all other religions taken together make up only 4 per cent, of the population. Hindus are most numerous in Bihar (excluding Malda* and East Purnea), Orissa, and West Bengal, and Muhammadans in the Districts lying east of the Bhagi- rathi and the Mahananda. The Musalmans of Bengal form more than two-fifths of the total number in India.

' In the present area of Bengal, Hindus constilute 7S per cent., Muhammadans 17 per cent., and other religions 5 per cent, of the population. The actual numerical increase since 1891 is about the same for both the main religions ; but compared with their previous strength, the followers of the Prophet have increased by nearly 8 per cent., while the Hindus have gained only 4 per cent. The most progressive part of the Province is that inhabited by Muhammadans, while Bihar, the stronghold of Hinduism, has returned a smaller population than in 1891 ; but this affords only a partial explanation of the figures, and the Muhammadans have gained ground in every Division as compared with their Hindu neighbours. The subject has been discussed at length in the Census Report for 1901, where it is shown that Islam gains to some extent through conversions from Hinduism, but chiefly on account of the greater prolificness of its adherents. They have a more nourishing dietary, their girls marry later, and they permit widow marriage. They are also, in Eastern Bengal, more prosperous than 4;he Hindus, as they have fewer prejudices about changing their residence and move freely to new alluvial formations, where the soil is exceptionally fertile. The advance made by Islam is to some extent obscured by the fact that Hinduism has itself been gaining new recruits from the ranks of the animistic tribes — the Santals, Mundas, Oraons, and other so-called aborigines. These tribes are very prolific, and yet the strength of the animistic religions has increased by only i per cent. The natural growth was probably at least 11 per cent., but this has been counter- balanced by conversions to Christianity and Hinduism. Christianity has taken some 60,000 during the decade. The rest (about 200,000) have entered the fold of Hinduism.

The conventional divisions of Hinduism are better known to the readers of textbooks than to the people themselves. In Bengal proper and Orissa, where the Vaishnava reformer, Chaitanya, gained a great following, the people may often give a definite reply to the question, whether they are followers of Vishnu or of Siva and his wife ; but in Bihar it would be extremely difficult to collect accurate information on the subject. Moreover, it is only the members of the highest castes who concentrate their worship on the deities of the orthodox Hindu pantheon. The everyday religion of the lower orders consists largely of the propitiation of a host of minor deities and spirits. The personi- fied powers of nature — the Earth, Sun, planets, and certain mountains and rivers — are worshipped everywhere ; deified heroes are the main objects of veneration in many parts of Bihar, while in West and part of North Bengal snake-worship is widely prevalent. Farther east various aboriginal deities are adored as forms of the goddess Kali. In addition, almost every village has its special tutelary spirits, who preside over the welfare of the community and have their home in a tree or sacred grove somewhere within its precincts. There are again numerous disembodied spirits of persons who have met with a painful or violent death, e.g. of women who died in childbirth or of persons killed by wild animals.

These hover round the scene of their former existence and cause various kinds of illness and misfortune, and they thus require to be propitiated. In the quaint and childish ceremonial observed at the worship and propitiation of these demons and spirits, the Brahman has, as a rule, no place.

A third aspect of the amorphous collection of religious ideas known as Hinduism is furnished by the followers of the different persons who have from time to time set themselves up, sometimes as inspired teachers, but more often as incarnations of the supreme deity. The Kartabhajas, for example, regard their founder, a man of the Sadgop caste, as an incarnation of the Divinity, and his descendants are held in equal veneration. The exhibition of fervid love is the only form of religious exercise practised by them, and indescribable excesses are said to take place at their secret nocturnal meetings.

The religion of the uneducated majority of the people is a mixture of Hinduism and Animism, in which the belief in evil spirits is the main ingredient. There must be something tangible to represent a beneficent or even a malignant spirit, on which vermilion can be rubbed, over which a libation can be poured, and before which a fowl, goat, or pig can be sacrificed. Accordingly, the simple villagers set up a shapeless stone or block, or even a mound of mud, to represent the spirit whom they worship, while side by side with it is a temple dedicated to one of the regular gods of the Hindu pantheon. The architecture of these temples varies greatly in different parts of the Province. In Bihar their dis- tinguishing feature is a tall pyramidal spire, the outline of which appears originally to have been determined by the natural bend of two bamboos, planted apart in the ground, and drawn together at the top. In Lower Bengal the temples are dome-shaped structures, with a peculiar hog- backed roof, which has obviously been modelled on the form of the ordinary Bengali huts surrounding them.

The Muhammadans of Bengal are mostly, in name at least, Sunnis. But the great majority are of Hindu origin, and their knowledge of the faith they now profess seldom extends beyond the three cardinal doc- trines of the Unity of God, the Mission of Muhammad, and the Truth of the Koran. It was, until recently, the regular practice of low-class Muhammadans to join in the Durga Pilja and other Hindu festivals, and, although they have been purged of many superstitions, many still remain. In particular, they are very careful about omens and auspicious days. Dates for weddings are often fixed after consulting a Hindu astrologer ; bamboos are not cut, and the building of new houses not commenced, on certain days of the week, and journeys are often under- taken only after referring to the Hindu almanac to see if the proposed day is auspicious. When disease is prevalent, Sltala and Rakshya Kali are worshipped. I )harmaraj and Manasa or Bishaharl are also venerated by many ignorant Muhammadans. SashthI is worshipped when a child is born. Even now in some parts of Bengal they observe the Durga Puja and buy new clothes for the festival like the Hindus.

In Bihar they join in the worship of the Sun, and when a child is born they light a fire and place cactus and a sword at the door to prevent the demon Jawan from entering and killing the infant. At marriages the bride- groom frequently follows the Hindu practice of smearing the bride's forehead with vermilion. Offerings are made to the grainya devatd (' village god ') before sowing or transplanting rice seedlings, and exor- cism is resorted to in case of sickness. These practices are gradually disappearing, but they die hard, and amulets containing a text from the Koran are commonly worn, even by the Mullas who inveigh against these survivals of Hindu beliefs.

Apart from Hindu superstitions, there are certain forms of worship common among Muhammadans which are not based on the Koran. The most common of these is the adoration of departed Pirs. When a holy man departs from this life, he is popularly believed to be still present in spirit, and his tomb becomes a place of pilgrimage to which persons resort for the cure of disease or the exorcism of evil spirits, or to obtain the fulfilment of some cherished wish. The educated stoutly deny that Pirs are worshipped, and say that they are merely asked to intercede with God, but among the lower classes it is very doubtful if this distinction is recognized. Closely allied to the adoration of Pirs is the homage paid to certain mythical persons, among whom Khwaja Khizr stands pre-eminent. This personage appears to have been a pre-Islamic hero of the Arabs, and he is believed at the present day to reside in the seas and rivers of India and to protect mariners from shipwreck.

These unorthodox beliefs are violently inveighed against by numerous reformers, most of whom owe their inspiration to Ibn Abdul Wahhab of Nejd in Arabia, who, early in the eighteenth century, founded the sect called Wahhabi. He rejected the glosses of the Imams, denied the superiority of the Ottoman Sultan, made comparatively light of the authority of Muhammad, and insisted on the necessity for waging war against all infidels. His followers in India at the present day do not accept all his views, and many now hold that India is not a country in which war against the infidels is lawful. But they are all united in their opposition to non-Islamic superstitions, and in many places they seem to have succeeded to a great extent in eradicating them.

In Eastern Bengal the Wahhabi movement met with considerable success during the nineteenth century. The principal local reformers were Dudhu Mian and Karamat All. The adherents of both are known as Farazis, or followers of the law ; but there is a considerable differencebetween them, the latter being pure revivahsts, while the former sub- scribe to the extreme views of the original Wahhabis regarding infidels. The aggregate Christian population in 1901 was 278,366, compared with 192,484 in 1 89 1. Of the total number, 27,489, or 9-9 per cent., belong to European and allied races; 23,114, or 8'3 per cent., are Eurasians ; and 227,763, or 8i-8 per cent., are native converts or their descendants. About nine-tenths of the Europeans are of British nation- ality. The great increase of the Christian population during the decade is due to new conversions, especially in Chota Nagpur, and more par- ticularly in Ranchi, where the German Lutheran missionaries have met with great success. This District now contains 124,958 Christians, against 75,693 only ten years ago. Some other Districts in the Province which show a noteworthy increase in the number of Christians are noted below : —


The return of sects shows that 165,528 are Protestants and 108,194 Roman Catholics ; the balance consists of persons who failed to specify their sect, and Armenians, &c. Of the Protestants, 61,024 belong to the Anglican communion, 69,580 are Lutherans, 21,621 Baptists, and 6,691 Presbyterians. The remainder belong to various miscellaneous sects.

The great centre of Roman Catholic missionary enterprise in this Province is Ranchi, where three-fifths of the total number of converts are found. The next largest community of Roman Catholic native Christians is in Dacca*, where they exceed 10,000 (partly descended from Portuguese settlers in the seventeenth century) ; the number is also considerable in Calcutta, the Twenty-four Parganas, Nadia, and Champaran. The mission in the last-mentioned District is the oldest of all, dating from 1740.

Of the Protestant missions the best known and most successful is that in Ranchi, which was started in 1845 by six German missionaries, under the name of Gossner's Mission. An unfortunate disagreement took place twenty-three years later, and the mission was split up into two sections, the one enrolling itself under the Society for the Propa- gation of the Gospel, and the other retaining the original designation. The first mission of the Church of England was started in Burdwan in 1816 ; but the success here has not been so great as that of the offshoot of Gossner's Mission in Ranchi, which has already been mentioned, nor as that in the adjoining District of Nadia, which was founded by thChurch Missionary Society in 1831, and now claims nearly 6,000 native Christians. Among other missions of the Church of England, those in the Twenty-four Parganas, Calcutta, and the Santal Parganas are the most successful. The Baptists have their head-quarters in the swamps of Backergunge* and Faridpur*, where they have been working among the Chandals since 1824. The number of their converts now exceeds 7,000. The Cuttack mission, founded in 1822, claims 2,000 con- verts. The missionaries of the Church of Scotland have been at work since 1870 in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri* Districts with a fair measure of success.

So far as the Anglican Church is concerned, the whole of Bengal, with the exception of Chota Nagpur, which is under an Assistant Bishop, lies in the diocese directly administered by the Bishop of Calcutta, the Metropolitan of India. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church vests in an Archbishop resident in Calcutta, who has suffragan sees at Krishnagar and Dacca*; but cer- tain small communities of Portuguese origin are under the Portuguese Vicar-General of Bengal.

Of the other religions returned at the Census it will suffice to mention the Buddhists, numbering about a quarter of a million, found mainly on the confines of Burma and Nepal; the Jains (7,831), who are chiefly immigrant traders; and the Brahmos or Hindu Theists (3,171).


The most striking feature of the return of occupation is the very large proportion of persons who are dependent on agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of the population are either landlords or tenants ; 6 per cent, have been returned as agricultural labourers ; and of the 7 per cent, shown as general labourers the great majority must also be mainly dependent on agriculture. About 1 2 per cent, of the total population (including dependents) are engaged in the preparation and supply of material substances ; and of these half find a livelihood by the provision of food and drink, and a fifth by making and dealing in textile fabrics and dress. Domestic and sanitary services provide employment for very few, the number of persons who support themselves in this way being barely 2 per cent, of the population, or less than a third of the proportion so employed in England and Wales. Commerce, transport.and storage provide employment for 2 persons in every 100, of whom rather more than half are engaged on transport and storage, and slightly less than half on commerce. Professions, including the priesthood, are the means of subsistence of less than 2 persons per 100.

In East Bengal the cultivator takes as a rule three meals a day. He begins in the early morning with rice left over from the previous night's supper, parched or popped rice, and jack-fruit or mango when in season. The midday and evening meals have boiled rice as their foundation, and with it are mixed pulses of different kinds, fish, or vegetables. Muhammadans eat meat when they can afford it. Among the poorer classes in Bihar conditions are very different. The principal meal is taken at nightfall and consists of some coarse grain, such as maize or a millet, boiled into a porridge. A lighter meal of the same diet is taken at midday, but only the well-to-do enjoy two full meals a day. In Orissa rice again forms the staple diet, but the cultivator is content with a full meal in the evening of rice boiled with a little salt, some pulse or vegetables, and perhaps fish ; in the morning he eats cold the remains of the evening meal. In Chota Nagpur a cold meal is taken at noon, and a hot supper in the evening ; the food consists sometimes of rice or maize, but more commonly of a millet such marua {Eleusine coracand) or gondli {Panicun miliare\ pulses, oil, vegetables, &c. These are eked out with jungle fruits and roots, and especially with the blossoms of the tnahua tree {Bassia latifolid) when in season.

The garments commonly worn by men are the dhoti or waist cloth and the chddar or loose cloth worn over the shoulders ; those who can afford it wear piran or coat. Among the strict Farazi Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal, the dhoti is worn as a lungi or kilt, and is frequently of coloured cloth. Muhammadans wear a skull-cap, and Hindus a pagri. In Bihar the poorer classes wear only the dhoti, and the pagri is reserved for special occasions. For women the sari is almost uni- versal, one end being worn over the head and shoulders and fastened to the waist-piece ; a bodice is added by those who can afford it, and is commonly worn even by women of the poorest class in North Bihar. In the towns the men wear an English shirt over the dhoti, the tails hanging loose, and a chddar over the shoulders ; English socks, loose slippers or shoes, and an umbrella complete the costume. In the fields the agriculturist is content with an exiguous rag round his loins, and in Eastern Bengal a large wicker shield, and in Orissa a wicker hat, protects him from the weather. Girls up to the age of three and boys up to five years generally go naked. All but the very poorest women wear ornaments on wrist, neck, and ankle ; these are generally of silver, brass, or lac.

The houses in Lower Bengal are not congregated into villages, but each homestead stands in its own orchard of fruit and pahn trees.The sites have been laboriously raised by excavation, which has left tanks in every compound ; and the houses are erected on mud plinths and built round a courtyard with wooden or bamboo posts and interlaced walls of split bamboo, with thatched roofs resting on a bamboo framework. The whole is encircled with a bamboo fence, and sometimes by a moat and a thorny cane or cactus hedge. In Bihar the compounds are smaller, and where the fields are low the houses cluster thickly on the raised village sites ; the walls are of mud and the roof tiled or thatched. In the uplands of Bihar, and in Chota Nagpur and Orissa, the home- steads are separate, though they generally adjoin one another ; each house is surrounded by a well-manured patch of castor, tobacco, or some other valuable crop.

The Hindus bury small children who die during the first year after birth ; all others are nominally burnt, but where fuel is scarce the cremation is often far from complete, and sometimes consists only of putting a few lighted sticks in the mouth and on the face, after which the corpse is thrown into the nearest river. In tracts near the Ganges it is the practice to carry dead bodies to burning ghats on its banks, and in all parts it is considered right that the ashes and main bones should be thrown into the sacred stream. The Muhammadans bury their dead, and so do the Jugis of Eastern Bengal and various sects of ascetics, and also the low castes and most aboriginal tribes. The Jugis place the corpse in a sitting position, with the legs crossed in the conventional attitude of Buddha, and the face turned towards the north-east.

The chief amusement of the people lies in attending the fairs which are held all over the Province. These gatherings are at stated seasons, generally in connexion with some bathing festival or other religious ceremony, and are attended by numerous hawkers, who set up booths for the sale of miscellaneous articles, by religious mendicants, jugglers, conjurers, actors, and musicians, all of whom contribute their quota to the entertainment of the crowd. Every market is thronged by gaily dressed crowds, who exchange the gossip of the day and discuss the latest cause celebre while making their weekly purchases. The great annual religious festivals afford an excuse for merry gatherings, espe- cially at the New Year in April, when numbers congregate in the fields and amuse themselves with wrestling, hook-swinging, which now takes the form of a merry-go-round, and gossip. Every one goes mad with merriment at the Holi festival, and many Musalmans enjoy the fun as much as the Hindus. Their own religious festivals are attended by devout worshippers ; they are very fond of religious discussions, and immense crowds gather when famous Maul vis are pitted against each other to argue some knotty point of law or practice. Football is by far the most popular outdoor game, and huge crowds assemble on the Calcutta maiddn to watch games under Association rules, at wliich Bengali boys are remarkably proficient. Among the aboriginal tribes hunting, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, drinking bouts, and saturnalian dancing are the chief amusements.

Hindu names are threefold. The third name is a family or caste title, such as, among others, Mukhopadhyaya (contracted to Mukharji) or Achariya in the case of a Brahman, Das for a Kayasth, Singh for a Rajput. The first two names are appellative, and the middle name is often dropped in actual intercourse. In Bihar there is generally no middle name. Common affixes denoting a town are -abad, -pur, and -nagar ; -garh means a fort, -ganj a market, -gaon or -gram a village, and -bagh a garden : e.g. Murshidabad, Chandpur, Krishnagar, Rohtas- garh, Sirajganj, Bangaon, Kurigram, Hazaribagh,

See also

For a large number of articles about Bengal, extracted from the Gazetteer of 1908 (as well as other articles on Bengal) please either click the 'India' link (below, left) and go to Bengal (under B) or enter 'Bengal' in the 'Search' box (top, right). Bengal, 1908 Bengal: A history, by British Raj writers Bengal: Agriculture in A.D. 1900 Bengal: Arts and manufactures, 1908 Bengal: Commerce and trade, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Famines, 1769-1899 Bengal: Forests, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Mines and minerals, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Physical aspects, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Population, A.D. 1901

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