Vanga an ancient janapada or human settlement in Eastern Bengal. Like all other settlements of the region, its geographical connotation varied in different periods of history.
The name Vanga indicating a people occurred for the first time in the Aitareya Aranyaka, where they are mentioned along with the Magadhas. In the Baudhayana Dharmasutra the Vangas are mentioned in a list of peoples who lived in regions beyond the zone of Aryan civilisation in the neighbourhood of Kalinga. In the Puranas they are mentioned along with other eastern people such as Anga, Magadha, Mudgaraka, Pundra, Videha, Tamralipti and Pragjyotisa. The Ramayana mentions the Vangas to be in league with Ayodhya. In the Digvijaya section of the Mahabharata it is related that Bhima killed the king of Modagiri, subjugated the ruler of the Pundras and another potentate who ruled on the banks of the river Kaushiki. He then fell on the Vangas, and after having subjugated the Tamraliptas, Karvatas, Suhmas and the people living in the coastal regions, he reached the banks of the Lauhitya (Brahmaputra). In a later section of the epic it is indicated that the realm of the Vangas extended up to the sea.
The earliest known reference to Vanga as a territorial unit is found in the Arthashastra of Kautilya, in which it is mentioned as an area where finest quality white and soft cotton fabrics (svetam-snigdham-dukulam) were produced. The references in the Mahaniddesha (c 2nd century AD) and the Milindapanho (c 1st or 2nd century AD) indicate that there was a coastal area approachable from the sea in the territory of Vanga. From the above references Vanga appears to be an eastern country located in the proximity of the janapadas of Pundra,
suhma, tamralipti, Anga, Mudgaraka, Magadha and pragjyotisa. It apparently extended up to the sea. But none alludes to its exact location.
Some indication of its location, however, is available in Kalidasa's Raghuvangsha (4th-5th century AD). While describing the conquests of Raghu, it is mentioned that after having defeated the Suhmas he exterminated the Vangas, who are said to be able naval people (nausadhanodyatan). Raghu then set up pillars of victory in the islands situated in between the channels of the Ganges (Gangasroto' ntaresu). This clearly indicates the location of Vanga in the triangular deltaic land between the two main streams of the Ganges - the Bhagirathi and the Padma. The inhabitants of this submerged flood plain would naturally be able naval people. This is the area which classical Greek and Latin writers termed as gangaridai. The Chinese text Wei-lueh (3rd century AD) referred to Pan-yueh (ie Vanga) as the country of Han-yueh (Xan-gywat) or the Ganga.
The Jaina Upanga Pannavana (Prajnapana), assignable to 1st century BC-1st century AD, furnishes a little wider denotation for Vanga. It includes Tamralipti (Tamluk, Medinipur district) in Vanga. If the tradition recorded in the Mahavangsa regarding the sending of the Bodhi tree to Singhala from Tamalitti during the reign of Ashoka is to be believed, Tamralipti's existence as a port is to be dated back to the Maurya period. So it is not unlikely that in the early historical period Vanga included parts of the territory lying to the west of the Bhagirathi. However, in the post-Gupta period Vanga no longer seemed to include the territory now in West Bengal to the west of the Bhagirathi, when the names of gauda and radha got currency. In the Dashakumaracharita of Dandin, however, Damalipta (a variant of Tamralipta) is referred to as a city in Suhma
In the Satpanchashaddeshabibhaga section of the Shaktisangamatantra, the territory of Vanga is said to have extended from the sea to the Brahmaputra, which may be taken to have marked its northern as well as eastern boundary. In Yashodhara's commentary on Vatsyayana's Kamasutra, Vanga is located to the east the Lauhitya. This may refer to the extended connotation of the territorial unit of Vanga; the extension resulted from the political domination of Vanga over a wider area.
The epigraphical records of the Sena period refer to Vikramapura bhaga and navya bhaga of Vanga, denoting the greater Dhaka, Faridpur and Barisal areas of Bangladesh. The Kamauli copperplate of Vaidyadeva refers to Anuttara-Vanga or southern Vanga. The Sahitya Parisad copperplate of Vishvarupasena refers to Vangala-vadabhu in the Ramsiddhi pataka of the navya region of Vanga. Ramsiddhi has been identified with the Gaurnadi area of greater Barisal district. Thus the navya division of Vanga can be taken to have comprised the southern part of Bangladesh. Chandradvipa of the Chandra copperplates refers to the same area and was a part of Vanga.
In addition to these divisions of Vanga, early epigraphic and literary records seem to indicate other sub-divisions of Vanga. The Brhat Sanghita mentions Upa-Vanga in the list of countries of the southeastern divisions of India; Vanga is also included in the same list. According to the Digvijaya-Prakasha (c 1600 AD) Upa-Vanga denoted Jessore and the adjoining forest areas, probably portions of the Sundarbans. The coastal territory in the southern portion of Vanga was vangala, which may have had separate existence at certain period of time.
From the above discussion it is clear that the territorial name of Vanga, as with other such units, had an ethnic origin. It is difficult to ascertain its exact location in different periods of history, but broadly it may be said it have denoted areas in the south and southeastern part of present Bangladesh. It may have extended to areas in southern West Bengal in the earlier period, but the area within the two main streams of the Ganges (from the Bhagirathi to the Padma-Meghna) formed the core of this territorial unit. It was this area which saw the rise of the independent kingdom of Vanga.
In the early part of Muslim rule in Bengal this unit came to be mentioned as 'Bang' and it continued to be so known till the name 'Bangalah' got currency in the mid 14th century to denote the whole region of Bengal (present Bangladesh and the Indian province of West Bengal). [AM Chowdhury]
For map see history.
Amitabha Bhattacharyya, Historical Geography of Ancient and Early Mediaeval
Bengal, Calcutta, 1977; AM Chowdhury, 'Banglar Bhaugolik Parichay',
in Anisuzzaman (ed), Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, I, Dhaka, 1987; BN
Mukherjee, Indian Museum Bulletin, XXV, Calcutta, 1990.