Remnants of civilization in the greater Bengal region date back four thousand years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word `Bangla’ or `Bengal’ is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from Bang (Sanskrit Vanga), the Dravidian-speaking tribe that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC.
The Kingdom of Gangaridai was founded as early as in the seventh century BC, which later merged with Bihar under the Magadha, Nanda, Mauryan and Sunga Empires. Bengal was later part of the Gupta Empire and Harsha Empire from the third to the sixth centuries AD. Following its collapse, a dynamic Bangalee named Shashanka founded an impressive yet short-lived kingdom. Shashanka is considered the first independent king in the history of Bangladesh. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years commonly referred to as the `Golden Age of Bengal’. This was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty.
Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Arab Muslim merchants and Sufi missionaries, and subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal in the year 1204.
Mujibnagar Monument in Meherpur district, built in commemoration of the formation of provisional government of independent Bangladesh
The region was ruled by dynasties of Sultans and land lord Bhuiyans for the next few hundred years. By the 16th century, the Mughal Empire controlled Bengal, and Dhaka became an important provincial centre of the Mughal administration.
European traders arrived late in the 15th century, and their influence grew until the British East India Company gained control of Bengal following the Battle of Palashi in 1757. The bloody rebellion of 1857, known as the Sepoy Mutiny, resulted in transfer of authority to the Crown, with a British viceroy running the administration in British India.
Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones, with Dhaka as the capital of the eastern zone. When India was partitioned in 1947 Bengal was partitioned again along religious lines with the western part going to India and the eastern part joining Pakistan as province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan), with its capital in Dhaka. Dissatisfaction with the Centre over economic and cultural issues continued to rise even from the days of partition through the 1950s and 1960s, during which the Awami League emerged as the political voice of the Bangalees under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.