The Ancient Period:
Eearlier known only as Bengal, Bangladesh had been a fertile alluvial land that attracted outsiders from time immemorial. Thanks to the inherent open-minded nature of Bengalis, the history of Bengal was one that is marked with constant inward migration and assimilation of outside cultures. Anthropologists agree that Bangladesh has historically been a land of many races. Long before the arrival of the Aryans in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, the Bengalees were already racially mixed. The ancestors of present-day inhabitants of Bangladesh have therefore emerged from the fusion of such diverse races as the Austric, Dravidian, Mongoloid, Homo-Alpine, Mediterranean Brown, Aryans and so on.
The Buddhist Period:
In the proto-historic period, ancient Bengal was believed to be divided among various tribes or kingdoms in the three main regions: Vanga (southern Bengal), Pundra (northern Bengal) and Suhma (western Bengal). The Greek and Latin historians suggested that Alexander the Great, following his invasion in 326 BC, withdrew from India, anticipating a counter-attack from the Gangaridai and Prasioi empires located in the Bengal region.The Nanda Dynasty was the first historical state to unify most of Bengal under Indo-Aryan rule by 4th century BC.
Mahasthangarh, the oldest archaeological site in Bangladesh dating back to 300 BCE, was the ancient capital of the Pundra Kingdom. In the 6th century AD, Sasanka, a powerful Buddhist king, founded the Gauda Empire in Bengal, which was eventually overthrown by the warrior king Sri Harsa, who ruled the Bengal area until the 8th century. Gopala, a Kshatriya tribal chief from Varendra, became the founding figure of the Buddhist Pala dynasty (8th to 11th centuries). He was succeeded by his son Dharmapala, who established the gigantic Somapura Vihara in Varendra, known today as Paharpur.
The Hindu Period:
The 12th century saw the advent of Hindu Senas dynasty to rule Bengal. The dynasty's founder, Hemanta Sena usurped power from the Pala king and styled himself king in 1095 AD. His successor Vijaya Sena (ruled from 1096 AD to 1159 AD) helped consolidate the dynasty. Ballala Sena conquered Gaur from the Pala and made Nabadwip the capital. Lakshmana Sena succeeded Ballala Sena in 1179, ruled Bengal for approximately 20 years, and expanded the Sena Empire to Assam, Odisha, Bihar and probably to Varanasi.
The Muslim Period:
The arrival of the Muslims began with a few Sufi (Muslim mystic) missionaries in the 12th century. Then came Mohammed bin Bakhtiar (a Khilji from Turkistan) who, with only 12 men under his command, captured Bengal and brought the area under the rule of the Sultanate of Delhi, the centre of Muslim power in India. Under the Muslims, Bengal entered a new era. Cities developed; palaces, forts, mosques, mausoleums and gardens sprang up; roads and bridges were constructed; and new trade routes brought prosperity and a new cultural life. In 1576 Bengal became a province of the mighty Mughal Empire, which ushered in another golden age in India. Mughal power extended over most of Bengal except the far Southeast around Chittagong, and it was during this period that a small town named Dhaka emerged to become the Mughal Capital of Bengal.
The British Period:
For decades the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French tussled for influence over the Subcontinent, but it was the British East India Company that prevailed. It was during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1618–1707) that a Bengali Nawab (Governor) sold three local villages to the British East India Company. One of those villages is today’s mega-city, Kolkata. From here the British gradually extended their influence to take over all of Bengal and finally the whole Subcontinent.
The Partition & Pakistan Period:
At the close of the Second World War, the Indian National Congress continued to press for Indian self-rule and the British began to map out a path to independence of India. With the Muslim population of India worried about living in an overwhelmingly Hindu-majority nation, the Muslim League was formed and it pushed for two separate states for Hindus and Muslims in the Subcontinent. Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of British India, decided to act on these desires and to partition the Subcontinent. Though support for the creation of Pakistan was based on Islamic solidarity, the two halves of the new state had little else in common. Furthermore, the country was largely administered from West Pakistan, which tended to enjoy greater powers. The Awami League, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, emerged as the national political party in East Pakistan. The 1970 national elections saw the Awami League winning with a clear majority. Constitutionally, the Awami League should have formed the government of all Pakistan. However, faced with this unpalatable result, the military leader from West Pakistan, the then President Yahya Khan, on 01 March 1971, postponed indefinitely the conveneing of the National Assembly.
Independence of Bangladesh:
On 7 March 1971, at the historical public gathering in Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared an all-out non-cooperation movement against the miliraty government in the Centre. Meanwhile, General Yahya Khan and other leaders from West Pakistan came to Dhaka on 15 March to start a dialogue with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib. The dialogue continued intermittently down to 25 March morning. At mid-night of 25 March 1971, without concluding the dialogue, the government began a sudden, brutal and colossal military crackdown in Dhaka. In response, Bangabandhu declared independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of 26 March 1971 and called upon people to resist the crackdown and wage the War of Liberation. He was arrested and confined in West Pakistan for the duration of the Liberation War. People from all walks of life, including Bengali members of military, para-military and police, participated in the 9-month long War of Liberation under the political leadership of a provisional governemnt and with inspiration from Bangabandhu. Bangladesh was liberated on 16 December 1971, when the War of Liberation ended with Bangladesh's victory over occupation forces. Bangladesh began its journey as an independent nation imbued with the values of peace, democracy and human dignity.