Birbhum district is an administrative unit in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the northernmost district of Burdwan division—one of the three administrative divisions of West Bengal. The district headquarters is in Suri. Jamtara, Dumka and Pakur districts of the state of Jharkhand lie at the western border of this district; the border in other directions is covered by the districts of Bardhaman and Murshidabad of West Bengal.
Often called “the land of red soil,”Birbhum is noted for its topography and its cultural heritage which is unique and is somewhat different from the other districts in West Bengal. The western part of Birbhum is a bushy region, a part of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau. This region gradually merges with the fertile alluvial farmlands in the east
The name Birbhum comes probably from the term ‘land’ (‘bhumi’) of the ‘brave’ (‘bir’). Another theory says that the district bears the name of Bir kings, who ruled in the area. Bir in the Santali language means forests; therefore, Birbhum could also mean a land of forests
Situated between 23° 32′ 30″ (right above the tropic of cancer) and 24° 35′ 0″ north latitude and 87° 5′ 25″ and 88° 1′ 40″ east longitudes, and about 4,545 square kilometres (1,755 sq mi) in area, this district is triangular. River Ajay forms the southern base and the apex of the triangle points north. The river forms the boundary between the districts of Birbhum and Bardhaman. The state of Jharkhand is at the northern and the western border of Birbhum and Murshidabad is at the east.
The Panagarh–Morgram Highway runs through the district. All the towns and villages are connected by roads. The total length of roads in the district are: surfaced–2,413 km (1,499 mi) and unsurfaced–4,674 km (2,904 mi). Against this the total length of rail track in the district is 201.32 km (125.09 mi), including 26.55 km (16.50 mi) of the Ahmedpur-Katwa narrow gauge track, laid in 1917. The Sahibganj Loop of the Eastern Railway, laid in 1862, passes through this district. There is a junction at Nalhati for the connection to Azimganj in Murshidabad district. The Andal-Sainthia Branch Line connects it to the main Howrah-Delhi main line at Andal.
The bauls of Birbhum, their philosophy and their songs form a notable representation of the folk culture of the district. Birbhum has been home to kabiyals, kirtaniyas and other folk culture groups.
The numerous fairs in Birbhum start with Poush Mela at Santiniketan and follows through the Bengali month of Poush till Makar Sankranti. Particularly lively is the fair at Jaydev Kenduli. Festivities are organized across the seasons. People of Birbhum patronise folk entertainment programmes such as jatra, kavigan and alkap.
The growth of literacy in the last decade of the twentieth century was particularly remarkable with special emphasis on the eradication of illiteracy. While it is feared that Birbhum may not be able to fulfill the national objective of sending all children in the age group 6–14 years to school by 2010, efforts are on in that direction.
The district has 127 libraries supported by the government, one private library and one district library.