Bengalis (বাঙ্গালী [baŋgali]), also rendered as the Bengali people, Bangalis and Bangalees, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the Bengal region in South Asia, specifically in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, presently divided between Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam’s Barak Valley, who speak Bengali, a language from the Indo-Aryan language family. The term “Bangalee” is also used to denote people of Bangladesh as a nation.
Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world, after Han Chinese and Arabs. Apart from Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam’s Barak Valley, Bengali-majority populations also reside in India’s union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (which was originally not a part of Bengal), with significant populations in Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Uttarakhand. The global Bengali diaspora (Bangladeshi diaspora and Indian Bengalis) have well-established communities in Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Middle East, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Italy.
They have four major religious subgroups: Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Bengali Christians, and Bengali Buddhists.
In modern usage, “Bengali” or “Bangali” is used to refer to anyone whose linguistic, cultural, family ancestral or genetic origins are from Bengal. Their ethnonym is derived from the ancient Banga or Bangla. The exact origin of the word Bangla is unknown, though it is believed to come from “Bung”, a son of Hind (Other accounts speculate that the name is derived from Venga (Bôngo), which came from the Sanskrit word “Bonga” meaning the Sun-god. According to the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Harivamsha, Vanga was one of the adopted sons of King Vali who founded the Vanga Kingdom. It was either under Magadh or under Kalinga Rules except few years under Pals. The earliest reference to “Vangala” (Bôngal) has been traced in the Nesari plates (805 CE) of Rashtrakuta Govinda III which speak of Dharmapala as the king of Vangala. The records of Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty, who invaded Bengal in the 11th century, speak of Govindachandra as the ruler of Vangaladesa. Shams-ud-din Ilyas Shah took the title “Shah-e-Bangla” and united the whole region under one government.
An interesting theory of the origin of the name is provided by Abu’l-Fazl in his Ain-i-Akbari. According to him, “The original name of Bengal was Bung, and the suffix “al” came to be added to it from the fact that the ancient rajahs of this land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called “al”. From this suffix added to the Bung, the name Bengal arose and gained currency”. This is also mentioned in Ghulam Husain Salim’s Riyaz-us-Salatin.