Bengal, a region in the east of the Indian sub-continent, has had a rich and varied history in the past four centuries. Described as the 'paradise of the Indies', it was the richest province of the Mughal Empire, which ruled over much of India from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The British East India Company was attracted to trade with Bengal because of its famous textiles – the fine silks, calicos and muslins from India's handloom weavers, which were popular in European markets.
In the eighteenth century, the Mughal empire lost its power in the region and Bengal was caught in the rivalry between the British and the French for trade with India. By their interventions in Bengal, after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the Company became the rulers of Bengal. From there, the British empire expanded over the rest of India. Calcutta, its main city was the capital of the British Indian empire until 1912. Bengal was a region of great economic and political importance to the empire, particularly because of its rivers and ports, which were the lifelines of the growing trade between India and Europe. Bengal also provided many English-educated Indians who worked as administrators for the British empire and later many of the leaders of the Nationalist movement, who wanted an independent India, also came from the region.