Berkeley Bangla Initiative

Colorful graphic with "BANGLA AT BERKELEY" textThe Bangla Studies Initiative supports the instruction in Bangla language and literature at Berkeley. Spoken both in India and Bangladesh, Bangla is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world, and is the language of some of the world’s greatest writers and creative artists, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Satyajit Ray. Yet in the United States, Bangla is regularly taught at only one institution of higher education and sporadically at a handful of other universities:


The Bangla Studies Fund allows ISAS to:

  1. Teach the Bangla language at the introductory, intermediate and advanced levels
    • Help prepare researchers who wish to conduct field work in Bangladesh or India
    • Train development practitioners, entrepreneurs and NGO activists to work in the field
  2. Fund scholarships
    • For Berkeley students focusing on West Bengal or Bangladesh
    • For Bangla or Bangladeshi graduate students pursuing graduate studies at UC Berkeley
  3. Create new and innovative materials to enhance the study of Bangla
  4. Increase Berkeley’s library holdings in Bangla literature
  5. Create lecture series to bring Bangla scholars, artists and performers to the Bay Area

The Bangla Studies Fund is the only one of its kind, specifically designated for the study of Bangla language and culture at an American university.

Your generous donation will initially be collected in to a current use fund which will then annually be transferred to an endowment.

Bangla Faculty

Courses Offered

Introductory Bangla (BANGLA) 1A
  • Course Format: One and one-half hours of lecture and two and one-half hours of reading/writing per week.
  • Prerequisites: 1A is prerequisite to 1B, or consent of instructor.
  • Description: Students will be expected to acquire knowledge of the basic grammar of Bengali, such that they learn to read simple graded texts and to speak at the "low intermediate" level by the end of the year.
Intermediate Bangla (BANGLA) 101A
  • Course Format: Five hours of session per week.
  • Prerequisites: 1B is prerequisite to 101A; 101A is prerequisite to 101B; or consent of instructor.
  • Description: Students are expected to be able to read, with the aid of a dictionary, modern Bengali literature, and speak at a "high-intermediate" level by the end of the year. There will be viewing of Bengali videos at a mutually agreed upon time and in class from time to time.

Experience to date

In 2004, the Institute for South Asia Studies launched the Bangla Studies fundraising drive. As a result of strong community support, introductory and intermediate level Bangla, taught by Abhijeet Pal, along with content courses on the culture, history and the society of modern Bengal, have been taught at UC Berkeley since the Fall of 2005.

The content courses on Bengal’s culture and history cover a wide range of topics: nineteenth-century Bangla social and cultural Enlightenment; nationalist and colonial struggle in Bengal and India; the Partition of India and Bengal in 1947; and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Bangla texts in translation and Bangla films have been effective tools of instruction about Bengal’s past and present. The Bangla program, in this short time, has already been able to fulfill its unique potential through sustained student participation and scholarly engagement with Bangla language, culture and society across the borders of the two Bengals.

We are also pleased to announce the recently created lecture series – the Rajendranath Das Lecturership [as a result of the generosity of Mr. Satyen Das.

We would like to thank Chevron Corporation for their generous support of the Berkeley Bangla initiative.

South Asian Language Instruction at UC Berkeley

Administered through the Institute for South Asia Studies, UC Berkeley provides comprehensive language instruction at three levels, from introductory to advanced, in six of the major literary and spoken languages of five countries in South Asia: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bangla, Punjabi and Sanskrit. Additionally, in Fall, 2007, UC Berkeley will also begin to offer courses in Telugu. Instruction in reading, writing, conversation and literature in these languages is extensive, both in breadth and depth, and students can earn Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Hindi, Urdu, Tamil and Sanskrit.


We are very grateful to all our Berkeley Bangla Studies Fund supporters in helping us kick start our Bangla Studies Fund Initiative. Many thanks especially to the following people who generously donated $5k and above: Pranab & Kalpana Bardhan, Kimi & Shankar Bhattacharya, Manisha & Somangsu Bhattacharya, Anshu & Atri Chatterjee, Sunanda & Kali Chaudhuri, Chevron Corporation (Ahmed and Leena Badruzzaman), Satyendranath Das, Kamil & Talat Hasan, Anjali Morris, Sanjay & Anuradha Ray, Ratna & Subhas Sarkar, Sengupta Family of Walnut Creek, CA, and Gita & Ashok Vaish.

For more information on giving opportunities, please contact:

Anirban Gupta-Nigam
Associate Director, Institute for South Asia Studies

Bangla scriptBangla is simply more than a language. It is the essence and pride of all Bengalis, no matter where they reside and for however many years they have been away from West Bengal (India) or Bangladesh, the two places where it is spoken as a native language. While India has about 67,200,000 Bangla speakers, its neighbor Bangladesh has approximately 100,000,000 speakers. These figures do not indicate the entire population of Bengalis as many others reside in various other countries. For instance, U. A. E. has about 70,000 Bengalis and the US. has a far greater number. The extensive diaspora of the Bengali population all over the globe, has raised the everyday demand and popularity of this language in the international scene. 

Bangla is more than a language for it opens the door to a whole vista of rich cultural material that is both traditional and contemporary. Those who learn Bangla learn to appreciate the works of Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate in literature, and the works of the modern masters from West Bengal and Bangladesh--Jibanananda Das, Manik Bandopadhyay, Akhtaruzzaman Ilias, Humayun Ahmed, Selina Hossein, and many others. Many also learn to appreciate the beauty and craft of Bangla cinema, especially the films of Satyajit Ray, the Oscar winner of the 'Lifetime Achievement Award', and Ritwik Ghatak, the radical auteur of the Partition trilogy, as well as the films of the young turks like Tareque Masood. For those interested in philosophy and religion, the knowledge of Bangla becomes crucial to understand the philosophy Chaitanya, Bhakti, the posthumanist philosophy of the Baul (wandering minstrels of Bengal) and Lalon Fakir, and the spirituality of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

In today's world Bangla occupies an important place. For this language, whose origins lie in the middle of the tenth century, allows one to simultaneously explore the ancient traditions as well as appreciate the prevailing trends of a community of people who hold onto their traditional values, but at the same time are eager to explore new paths in diverse directions.