Bengali (Bangla bhasha) is one of the official languages of India, mainly spoken in the states of West Bengal and Tripura. It is also the official language of Bangladesh, a neighboring country of India. This Indo-aryan language with 200 million speakers is currently the seventh most spoken language.
It is said to have emerged as a separate language in around 1000 A.D. The Bengali literature found its base on poetry. The first literature in Bengali is most probably the 'charyapada'. It is mainly a collection of religious poems composed by Buddhists. The modern form of Bengali began to take form from the British period. English people like Sir William Carey (1761-1834) helped in the progress of the language.
Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (1820 - 1891) set the trend of writing Bengali prose. He wrote several books like Sitar Banabas, Bhrantibilas, Shakuntala which were adapted from books in other languages and school textbooks like Barna Parichaya, Bodhadaya and Kathamala.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838 - 1894) brought about a major change in Bengali prose writing. He wrote several stories and novels, which became very popular. Among his works are Durgesh Nandini (his first Bengali novel published in 1865), Kapalkundala, Debi Choudhurani, Sitaram, Mrinalini, Rajsimha, Rajani, Krishna Kanter Will. India's national song Vande Mataram was authored by Bankim and is part of the novel Anandamath.
Michael Madhusudan Datta (1824-73) was one of the greatest poets of Bengal. Some of his works are - Tilottamasambhab, Meghnad-badh, Krishnakumari, Vrajangana, and Virangana. He first introduced amritakshar chanda , a new fashion of writing poetry.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941)is no doubt the brightest figure in Bengali literature. He wrote many novels, short stories, plays and poems. The songs he composed popularly known as Rabindrasangeet form the heart of Bengali culture. His English translation of his collection of poems Gitanjali (Song offerings) won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Some of his novels include Bauthakuranir Hat, Rajarshi, Naukadubi, Chokher-Bali, Gora and Ghare Baire. Chitra, Naivedya, Kheya, Geetanjali and Balaka are some of his famous poetry collections. India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana was written by Tagore.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876 -1938)brought Bengali literature to homes and hearts of the common people. His works have been translated into every major Indian language. For a long time his novels provided the storyline of many Indian film productions. Some of his famous works are - Bada Didi, Bindur Chele, Ramer Sumati, Debdas, Biraj Bou, Srikanta, Charitraheen, Grihadaha, Datta, Dena Paona, Pather Dabi, Shesh Prashna.
Sukumar Ray (1887 - 1923) was one of the best writers in Bengali. His father Upendra Kishore Chowdhury was also a writer and was well known for his children's stories. Some of his works are unique in the hilarious effect they create on the reader. Sukumar Ray's outstanding works include Abol Tabol which is extremely popular to this day. The character of Pagla Dasu (Mad Dasu) is still the favourite of many young children even at this age of Harry Potter. Ray was also an excellent illustrator. His son Satyajit Ray though famous for his film direction, was also an excellent writer and illustrator.
Jibanananda Das(1899-1954) is one of the heterodox poets in the post-Tagore era. He was unique in his thought and presentation. He brought the style of free rhyme in Bengali poetry. His works include Jhara Palak (A Cast-off Feather, 1928) , Dhusar Pandulipi (The faded Manuscript, 1936) , Banalata Sen (1942, enlarged 1952), Mahaprithibi (The Great earth, 1944) and Satti Tarar Timir (Darkness from the Seven Stars, 1948). His Srestha kabita (The Best Poems, 1954) ) is a collection that contains also some poems not included in the other volumes.
Kazi Nazrul Islam (circa 1900 -1976) was one of the greatest poets of Bengal. His famous works include Agnibina, Dolonchampa, Biser Bansi, Bhangar Gan, Puber Hawa and Bulbul. His nationalist feelings expressed in his works earned him the title of "Bidrohi Kabi" (Rebel Poet).
This description excludes many of the stalwarts of Bengali literature (specially in the contemporary time) and is only a very short introduction to the great language.