The land of these food-loving characters, Bengal is made up of the Indian state of West Bengal and the sovereign country of Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal or East Pakistan), altogether an area of 228,000 sq.km. (88,000 sq. miles). Most of the terrain is flat, delta land, crisscrossed with rivers, with a few hills especially North Bengal and forests dotted here and there. Parts of North and bordered by the Himalayas and the Western part of neighboring State of Bihar. Overwhelmingly, though this is a flat green land, most of it cultivated and divided into fields, primarily growing rice, the staple food crop. In the Northern districts, of Bangladesh and West Bengal, the land is dried, a red laterite soil replacing the alluvial richness of the central areas. To the east where Bengal slopes down to meet the Bay of Bengal are the famous mangrove swamps, the Sunderbans, home of the Royal Bengal tigers and the huge gharial or Bengali crocodiles. Like the rain forests of Brazil, or the Evergreens of Florida ,(which they resemble in appearance), the Sunderbans are one of the few places where the mushy, beauty and terror of nature are still to be felt. Yet, men can coexist with nature, for these mangrove swamps are the home of a whole community of boat people who live by the catch they haul in from the Bay of Bengal.
The rivers of Bengal have served many purposes in sustaining life and prosperity. The great rivers – the Ganga, Padma, Meghna, Jamuna or Brahmaputra, Damodar, Ajay, Tista, Karnaphuli and others – have always been conduits for goods moving from one place to another, while the Bay of Bengal has provided a natural entry for the incoming seen trade. Their fascination has been perennial, whether in the imagination of the poet or the mind of ordinary peasant. Through the seasons their mood and appearance change dramatically. Attenuated in summer, they swell with life and energy with the monsoon rains and often become forces of destructive fury, only to be tranquil fullness under an autumn sky. In winter the waters start shrinking, yielding the best possible catch of many kinds of fish for the food lovers of Bengal. Though the raging fury of a great river in flood during the height of the monsoon strikes terror in the hearts of the people, those same floods leave rich deposits of silt when they withdraw, replenishing the earth which has been over-cultivated. Sometimes shoals of land appear in the middle of the river and traditionally people have fought and committed crimes over the control of this fertile plain of land and to Bengal acquiring the reputation of a golden granary in later years – 'Sonar Bangla' by Rabindra Nath Tagore. The Bengali calendar is a solar one based on the six seasons two months for each of Grishma, Summer Barsha, Monsoon; Sharat and Hemanta, early and late Autumn; Sheet, Winter and Basanta, Spring. The year begins with the month of Baisakh in mid-April, when the heat of summer is on full-blast. The whole landscape looks parched, the leaves of the trees start dropping and any cultivated plot that is not irrigated seems for less. Of course in terms of felt temperatures and other natural manifestations, spring and summer overlap considerably. The heat of the summer is palpable even in March. The most important season in Bengal is Barsha, the monsoon, which lasts well into what is supposed to be early autumn. The torrential rains infuse the parched earth with new life and wash away the dust and grime of previous months. Everything glows with green vibrancy and the life-sustaining rice crop is planted, transplanted and lovingly nurtured throughout the season. Nothing can be more beautiful than stretches of emerald green rice fields under the slate-grey monsoon sky. The rivers assume their full majesty at this time, and rush along at full spate towards the sea. The autumn is a quite time when the excessive moisture of the late monsoon starts to evaporate and the golden harvest stands ready in the fields. This is followed by the slow aridity of winter when balmy temperatures makes the tropical delta a desirable resort.