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Malda

Malda, the southern most of the North Bengal districts is surrounded by Bangladesh and South Dinajpur in the east, Santal Parganas of Jharkhand state in the west, Uttar Dinajpur in the north and Murshidabad in the south. Part of the Jalpaiguri Division, it is headquartered at Englishbazar, previously known as Englezavad.

In ancient times, the district was part of the Pundravardhana kingdom, which along with the region of Gour, belonged to the Mauryan Empire. In a later era, Gour, the boundaries of which fluctuated over the ages, became the kingdom of King Shashank and was subsequently the capital of the Pal (Pala) and Sen (Sena) dynasties and the Delhi Sultanate. In 1342, a powerful noble, Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah wrested Bengal free from Delhi’s grip and established the first of several dynasties that remained independent from North India and ruled over a unified Bengal for the next two and a half centuries. The capital was shifted from Gour, which was also known as Lakhnauti (a corruption of Lakshmanvati after Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty) to Pandua, in the process plundering Gour of its monuments. Gour returned to prominence but the city lost its former glory after it was sacked by Sher Shah in 1539. It was re-occupied by the Mughals, who called it Jannatabad, but a change in the course of the Ganga and the outbreak of pestilence in 1575 sealed its fate.  The ruins of Gour and Pandua bear testimony to the fact that prior to the Muslim conquest there were a large number of temples and Buddhist monasteries in the district. 

The district of Malda came into existence under the British only in 1813, carved out of portions of the erstwhile districts of Purnia, Dinajpur and Rajshahi surrounding it.  During the partition of India, it was eventually awarded to West Bengal on August 17, 1947 after a few days of indecision, but the sub-division of Nawabganj was severed from it and given to East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). The district takes its name from the old town of Malda, situated on the left bank of the Mahananda river. 

Malda district has a flat landscape with swampy tracts and fields. The river Mahananda flowing from north to south divides the district into two parts, conforming to the traditional boundary between the ancient regions of Rarh and Barendra. The eastern region, consisting of relatively unfertile soil, is to this day called Barind. The western region is further subdivided by the river Kalindri into two areas, the low lying northern area known as Tal and the thickly populated, fertile, southern area known as Diara. The river Ganga flows along the south-western boundary of district. Other important rivers are Kalindri, Tangon, Punarbhaba, Pagla and Bhagirathi. 

Malda is one of the most underdeveloped districts in West Bengal and with no known mineral resources, agriculture is the mainstay. Thus the population of this district is mainly rural. According to the 2011 Census the total population of this district is 3,997,970 of which 86.20% live in rural areas. The original immigrants were mainly from the Santal Parganas and Bihar, who settled here as cultivators.  The tribal population of the district is very high - about 88% - with the Barind area being inhabited mostly by a huge Santal population. There is a sizeable scheduled caste population as well including communities like the Rajbanshis, Namasudras and Poundras. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, a large displaced population from erstwhile East Pakistan had settled in the bordering areas.

Though the principal language used here is Bengali, a certain percentage of the population speak Hindi or a mixture of Bengali and Hindi known as Khotta. Domiciled Maithili Brahmins, who have settled here speak Maithili while people of Koch affinities, speak a north Bengal dialect and the Santals speak their own language but are slowly acquiring Bengali.

Its backwardness notwithstanding, Malda is well known for its production of raw-silk yarn, a centuries old trade in the district, yielding about 85% of the total output of the State. It is also famous for its mangoes, grown abundantly throughout the district excepting the Barind area. Production of mango is another important feature of its economy.

By far the most popular entertainment in this district is the Gambhira. Originally a festival celebrated on the last 3 days of the Bengali new year (Chaitra-Baisakh), it has now become a social satire in the form of folk drama. Other popular folk dramas in the district are the Alkap, Ashtak and Domni. The creation of earthen dolls and figures is a traditional folk occupation while the making of the Gambhira masks is a dying art.
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