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The Root of Bangladesh

Part-1


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The Root of Bangladesh

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"Bangladesh has a hundred gates open for entrance,
but not one for departure" - Bernier.

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Bangladesh is a new state in an ancient land. It has been described by an American political scientist as "a country challenged by contradictions". On the face of it, the recent twists and turns of her history are often inconsistent. It is neither a distinct geographical entity, nor a well-defined historical unit. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of the ninth 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.

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Etymologically, 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). Legend has it that Bengal was first colonized by Prince Vanga, the son of King Bali and Queen Sudeshna of the Lunar dynasty. According to linguists, the roots of the term Vanga may be traced to languages in the adjoining areas. One school of linguists maintain that the word "Vanga" is derived from the Tibetan word "Bans" which implies "wet and moist". According to this interpretation, Bangladesh literally refers to a wetland. Another school is of the opinion that the term "Vangla" is derived from Bodo (aborigines of Assam) words "Bang" and "la" which connote "wide plains."

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Proto-history and Pre-history
Geological evidence indicates that much of Bangladesh was formed 1 to 6.5 million years ago during the tertiary era. Human habitation in this region is, therefore, likely to be very old. The implements discovered in Deolpota village in the neighbouring state of West Bengal suggest that paleolithic civilization in the region existed about one hundred thousand years ago. The evidence of paleolithic civilization in Bangladesh region is limited to a stone implement in Rangamati and a hand axe in the hilly tip of Feni district. They are likely to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. New stone age in the region lasted from 3,000 B C to 1,500 B C. Neolithic tools comparable to Assam group were found at Sitakunda in Chittagong. Hand axes and chisels showing close affinity to neolithic industries in West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa have been discovered at Mainamati near Comilla. The thinly forested laterite hills in eastern Bengal dotted with fertile valleys provided a congenial environment for neolithic settlements. However, the archaeological evidence on transition from stone age to metal age in this region is still missing.

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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 Greek and Latin historians suggested that Alexander the Great withdrew from India anticipating the valiant counter attack of the mighty Gangaridai and Prasioi empires which were located in the Bengal region. It is not, however, clearly known who built these empires. Literary and epigraphic evidence refer to the rise and fall of a large number of principalities in the region which were variously known as Pundra Vardhana (northern Bangladesh), Gauda (parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh), Dandabhukti (southern West Bengal), Karna Subarna (part of West Bengal), Varendra (northern Bangladesh), Rarh (southern areas of West Bengal), Summha Desa (south-western West Bengal), Vanga (central Bangladesh), Vangala (southern Bangladesh), Harikela (North-East Bangladesh), Chandradwipa (Southern Bangladesh), Subarnabithi (central Bangladesh), Navyabakashika (central and southern Bangladesh), Lukhnauti (North Bengal and Bihar) and Samatata (Eastern Bangladesh).

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