Vanga- Banga & Bangla – A Review

Dr. Sushil Rudra

VANGA – BANGA – BANGLA – All these names are related to the names of our motherland Bengal . Non – Bengalis used to pronounce ” Bangal “. British rulers called this West Bengal as ” Bengal”.

Some years back, our Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took resolution in Legislative Assembly to change this name as ” Bango “.

But the opposition parties and Central government didn’t allow to change the name West Bengal.

Out of Vanga – Banga – Bangla, Banerjee insisted on Bango because it will come at first in any national government’s projects.

Alphabetically West Bengal comes at the end. So she appealed for Bango which come from Vango. In debate, some intellectuals supported it, some did not.

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Photo by /vanga bango Bangla/jpg


Vongo was a mass land of the great province Subah Bangala ; Gaur , Pandua , Rarh , Varendri , Sumha , Harikela , Samatera etc were the other places of this greater province in 16 th century and onwards.

It’s known to all that this province, West Bengal came into political pictures before Maharashtra and Tamil Nad.


In this era , changes in name have been part of a greater project of making things have local feels . Hence Mumbai, Chennai, Bangaluru, Mysuru , Kolkata and so on .

So there’s no problem in changing the name of West Bengal . Any name might be selected from the the four – Vanga – Banga – Bangàla – Banga.


The only period in Indian history when the state could be justifiably called West Bengal. It was between 1905 and 1912. Lord Curzon had partitioned the province during this period.

Because then there was an entity called East Benga. That the province came to be called East Pakistan after 1947 and then Bangladesh in 1971.

The first time the words ” West Bengal” were used to define this region. It was in 1905 when the British partitioned Bengal into a Hindu – dominated western province and a Muslim- dominated East

Bengal was unified in 1911. Then made split again in 1947. It was with the western half going to India like West Bengal and the eastern half going to Pakistan as East Bengal.

Till then, all three words – Bongo, Bangla and Bengal – referred to the entire region defined by the Bengali language. After achieving freedom, the East Bengal name changed to Bangladesh in 1971.


” Vango was a part of this province in ancient and mediaeval era like Gaur , Varendri etc. . Murshidabad, Birbhum was under Gaur , next adjoined Bardhaman and Malda .

“Vanga” is the Sanskrit name for Dravidian or Munda – language speaking tribe which gave the region its first name ” Bongo”.

Bengal , Bongo isn’t the only name for this land. There is also “Bangla ” which is also the name of the language. Of course, all three words – Vongo ( Bongo ) , Bangla ( Bangala) , and Bengal, refers to a confusing set of land masses .


Bangla and Bengal both indicate the land masses of Bangladesh and West Bengal , even more than this areas . When Tagore wrote :

“Aamar Sonar Bangla / Aami Tomai Bhalobasi ” ( Oh, My Bengal of gold ! I love you).

This Bangla was not divided into Bengal. The British and Jinnah. Rabindranath and other nationalists firmly protested against this conspiracy.

Banga plus Aal = Bangal or Bangala. Abul Fazal defined this name in such a way . Subah – Bangla was its name during Mughal periods . Abul Fazal explained and derived this name in his ” Aain-E-Akbori “.


” Vanga” is the Sanskrit name for a Dravidian or Munda – language speaking tribal land masses . Perhaps they gave the region its first name: Bongo . “

Vanga or Vongo morphologically changed into Bang in Bengalis pronounce.

However , due to its long history and complicated political divisions , various names have been used to refer to the region and its subsections .

The modern English name ” Bengal” is an exonym derived from Bengal Sultanate period after British colonisation.

Rabindranath in his another patriotic song referred to his birthplace as Bangladesh ( Now a country) – Aaji Bangladesher Hridai hote kakhon Aaponi .

Today, Bangla is the everyday name of the region as opposed to Bongo . It’s formal and stuffy even.

Banglar mati Banglar Jaal ( The Soil of Bengal and the water of Bengal)

Vanga – Banga – Bangala /image: Kalpataru


Dr. Nihar Ranjan Roy and some other scholars tried to expose the actual territory and its land masses. They have seen that during 1000 and above years this Bengal’s name and the position has been changed many times by the administrators .

As Persian- knowing Turks started to invade the subcontinent 12 century onwards they used the term ” Bangala ” to describe the eastern most lands their armies reached. No doubt , it’s undivided Banglal .


When the first independent Bengal Sultanate was established in the 14 th century – free from Delhi’s control – the Sultan took the title ‘ Shah-e-Bangla’ King of Bengal.

In Persian, soon enough, the word Bengal came, even it also enter the Hindu – Urdu language. As British colonists came into India in the18 th century, they first learnt Persian, the administrative and elite lingua franca of the subcontinent at the time.

Struggling to pronounce the Persian word Bangal, they morphed it to Bengal, giving us the English language name.


Do we sometimes ask that from when did the land become known as Bengal? It is home to Bengali culture.

From different genuine research and anthropological survey from the University of Calcutta we came to know that extensive area that is known as Bengal or Vanga Desh, was even 800 or 1000 years ago divided into various regions bearing different names.

In the 2nd half of the 14 th century, Sultan Sumsuddin Ilyas Shah brought these areas under a single administrative regime. Until then, these areas were not recognized as forming an undivided political territory.

The land had been divided into several small, politically independent units, and even their names were not constant. A few standardised names, however, kept coming back in history. These were Gaur, Rarh, Vanga, Sumha, Varendri, Harikela and so on.

Of these, Gaur, Varendri and Vanga appear as a prominent in the political history. But actually how old were they?


Though the famous ancient indian grammarian Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, mentions ‘Gaur’ , it doesn’t mention ‘ Vanga ‘.

Panini’s time was some five centuries before the birth of Christ. But when Patanjali wrote annotations for Ashtadhyayi, 200 or 300 years later, he mentioned Vanga.

Not just ‘ Vanga’ , he also spoke of Anga, Sumha, Pundra, Magadha and Kalinga.

Aitareya Brahmana was also written before the birth of Christ. The text mentions Pundra, but not Vanga. Pundra was at that time taken to Mark the eastern limits of Aryan settlements.

Sukumar Sen has noted the use of the word ‘ Vanga ‘ even in the Vedas. Gaur and Vanga occur even in the Mahabharata, which started in the pre – Christian era .

But the Mahabharata contains many interpretation and therefore, can not perhaps be completely relied on.


In the 15 th century AD , Sumudragupta was the emperor of India. The eulogy of the king composed by the poet Harisen has a description of Bengal , but “Gaur ” and” Vanga ” are not mentioned; the word ” Sumtatra is there.

On the other hand, Kalidasa, writing just after the reign of Sumudragupta, mentions ” Gaur ” , ” Vanga ” and ” Sumha while describing Raghu’s exploits in his Raghuvansa.

But he does not mention Samatata . He describes Gaur as hugging the Sea coast , which seems to imply that he saw Vanga as part of Gaur.

Vatsayan, a near contemporary , praises soft – natured , romantic and lithe Bengali women in his well known work Kamasutra , but instead of Vanga , the word he uses is Gaur.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra also mentions ” Gaur ” .

I think that the use of all these varied place names suggest that though there was an area by the name of Vanga, even if it was in use , was not very popular in areas outside the region known as Vanga in ancient times.


It could also be that the part of Bengal that these writers were referring to was called Gaur and not Vanga .

In ancient times it was only southern Bengal . Several centuries later, even the Pala and the Sena Kings were known not as rulers of Vanga but of Gaur .

Whether eastern and Southern Bengal were under their rule is also open to doubt.


Turks invaded our country at the dawn of 13 the century. The Sena dynasty ended at that time. This land was not then as Vanga. The region that the Turks conquered was familiar as Gaur, not Vanga.

Its capital, named after Lakshman Sena was Lakhnauti ( Lakshman bati . { Lakkhan, as Bengalis would pronounce it . }

BAKTIAR KHIL JI & THEN GAUR: Vanga- Banga – Bangal – A Review

Bakhtiar Khilji had ” Gaur Vijay ” inscribed in Sanskrit on the coin he introduced after his conquest. Vanga existed then, even the word ” Bengal ” was in use.

There are at least two pieces of evidence that prove this. Bhusukapada, one of the Charyapada poets writing around this time. He mentioned a raga Benga” in one of his poems.

There may be a difference of opinion over the time of Bhusukapada. But it is sure that Marco Polo visited India, if not Bengal , towards the end of 13 th century. He refered to “Bangala ” in his memoirs .

He wrote that this land lay close to India ( Bharatvarsh ) and its people worshipped idols and spoke a strange language .

Some 60 to 70 years later , Samsuddin Ilyas Shah for the first time brought Gaur , Varendri , Sumha , Samatata and Vanga under a single rule.

Samsuddin then declared himself ” Shahe Bangaian ” – meaning the ” Sultan of Bangalis “.

According to the 14 th century historian, Shams – Siraj – Afif this title conferred him after conquering Sonargaon. This is approximately in 1352.

But it’s not clear that whether Sumsuddin Ilyas became the Sultan of the whole of Bengal or that he called his sultanate ” Bangala “.

Rather it could be wise that he assumed the title to commemorate his conquest of ” Vanga ” or eastern Bengal.

Whatever that may be it’s after this event that this extensive landmass was gradually brought under a single administration and started being known as ” Bangala “.

But that didn’t happen in a day or even in a century. Another famous poet of 15 th century, Vaisnava Poet Vidyapati of Mithila, sung poems in the praise of contemporary emperors ( 15 -16 century ).

He didn’t praise him as the ” Sultan of Vanga “, but described him as ” Sultan of Gaur “.

Vidyapati wrote another name, that is ” Pancha – Gaur “. The poet uses it to signify greater Bengal.

It’s noteworthy that he identifies greater Bengal , not as Pancha – Vanga , but Pancha – Gaur . This offers indirect proof of the greater importance and wider recognition of Gaur .


Another contemporary poet, Maladhar Basu didn’t speak of Vanga. But writing about ” Pancha – Gaur as Hossein Shah’s territory.

Even great poet, Mukundaram Chakravorty of 16 th century referred separately Gaur, Vanga, and Utkal while writing of Mansingha in his poem ” Chadimangal “.

From his description, it appears that Vanga in his time still generally meant southern Bengal.

That means that 150 years after Ilyas shah declared himself ” Sultan of the Banglalis. Vanga still had not come to mean the whole of Bengal.

Indeed, it was only in the Mughal period, in the late of 16 th century, that the entire region officially came under an umbrella by the name of ” Subhah Bangala “.


Bharatchandra in his ” Annadamangal ” wrote to the whole Bengal as Bangala . Maratha gangs ( Bengalis call it as ” Bargis “) plunder here.

Their plunders made pauper of the people of Bangala, describing Mansingha’s meeting with Bhabananda Majumdar after the former arrives in Bengal.


” Mansingh ferreted out all information regarding Bangala by questioning him: ” When seeking an account of Bengal from Mansingh, Jahangir says: ” Tell us Mansingh, you travelled to Bangala – how did you find that land?

Remarkable Comments:

According to some scholars, the word ” Bengal ” with the addition of the suffix ” al ” to the proper noun ” Vanga “.

Great historian Rakhaldas Bandhyapaddhay and another Bengali scholar, Sukumar Sen told that the earliest use of the word Bengal during 11 to -12 centuries.

Read also: 1. The Great Artist Satyajit Ray 2. Satyajit Ray’s Birth Centenary

By kalpataru

I'm Dr. Sushil Rudra, residing in Durgapur City West Bengal, India . Studied in The University of Calcutta and did M.A , Ph.D . Also another M.A from Sridhar University. Taught in College and University ( RTU) . Love to write, traveling, singing Rabindrasangeet and social work. Have some books authored by me. Vivekananda and Rabibdranath both are my favourite subject. I have written more than 150 articles in my blog( and now I'm writing in my new " blog.

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