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Revisiting the Bengal Delta

Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta by Debjani Bhattacharyya, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2019; South Asia Edition, 241 pages, including maps, images, index, ₹ 695.

The major part of historical works on Bengal concentrate on what was once called Lower Bengal. The term comes from Abu’l-fazl ‘Allami’s Akbar Nama, which saw it as Bhati, meaning downstream direction. Abu’l-fazl treated Bangala and Bhati as mutually exclusive regions; for him, the distinctive feature of the latter was its topography. “Bhati,” he said, “is a low country and has received this name because Bengal is higher. It is nearly 400 kos in length from east to west and about 300 kos from north to south’’ (Beveridge 2010: III).

Gommans (2002), also divorcing this low-lying land from upper Bengal, noted that its riparian landscape denoted “Monsoon Asia.” Monsoon Asia, within which the Bengal delta lay, did not just comprise Bengal. For Gommans, Monsoon Asia extended to Burma’s maritime frontier. This was a region distinct from Arid Asia, which, in his view, ext­ended from north-west India all the way to upper Bengal, which was precolonial Bengal’s political nerve-centre with the capitals of Gaur and Murshidabad. Gommans, thus, saw the Bengal delta as something very different from upper Bengal, soci­ally, economically and environmentally.

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Updated On : 12th Sep, 2020

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