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a people in India and Bangladesh; one of the largest groups in South Asia. Bengalis are settled in the lower Ganges River basin and in the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. The Bengali population is about 100 million (1967 census); of this number, about 60 million live in Bangladesh (the basic population of what was formerly called East Pakistan) and about 40 million live in India (the basic population of the Indian states of West Bengal and part of the population of the states of Bihar, Orissa, and Assam). They speak the Bengali language. Anthropologically, Bengalis are basically related to the southern branch of the Caucasoid race; in the northeast the influence of the Mongol race is observed, and in the southwest a Dravidian anthropological type is traced. The majority of Bengalis in India practice the Hindu religion; others are Muslim, Jain, or Christian. The Bengalis of Bangladesh are mainly followers of the Muslim religion.
The Bengali people have followed a complex course of historical development. They began to establish themselves as a nation in the second half of the 19th century. They reached a high level of culture, developing their literature, music, dance, theater, painting and sculpture, artistic crafts, and so forth. The basic occupation is agriculture. (The principal crops include rice and jute.) The ethnic territory of the Bengalis is one of the most densely populated agrarian regions of South Asia and of the entire world (reaching a rural population of 1,000 per sq km). A relatively large number of Bengalis work in production, mainly in Calcutta and its satellite cities, as well as in the areas of Asansol, Belur, and others. Weaving, pottery-making, wood and ivory carving, embroidery, printing of silks, and other crafts are well developed.