Bangladesh is known as the land of rivers, rich heritage and culture. We also have six seasons which we celebrate organising diverse festivals.
The seasons, each comprising two months, form the Bengali calendar which begins with the advent of Grishma (summer). The other seasons are Barsha (rainy), Sharat (autumn), Hemanta (late autumn), Shhit (winter) and finally Bashanta (spring).
Grishma comprises the months of Baishakh and Jyeshtha. The arrival of Baishakh marks the beginning of a new Bengali year.
Bengalis usher in the New Year on the eve of Pahela Baishakh. On the last day of Bashanta, which comprises the months of Phalgun and Chaitra, we bid farewell to the passing year organising the Chaitra Sankranti festival and on Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Baishakh, we welcome the Bengali New Year organising various programmes, which reflect our age-old tradition.
Baishakh in the rural areas is celebrated in a more colourful way, the roots of which can be traced back to the ceremonies of the land’s agrarian society, which is heavily dependent on the cycle of seasons.
The Bengali calendar originates from the Vikrami calendar, which takes its name from Vikramaditya, the legendary emperor of ancient India, who had launched the Vikrama Samvat around 57 BCE, according to popular tradition.
According to historians celebrations of Pahela Baishakh began from Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign for easing the tax collection process.
The Mughals used to collect the land taxes following the Arabic or Hijri calendar. This calendar, based on lunar cycle, did not coincide with the solar agricultural cycles of the land. Therefore, farmers found it difficult to pay taxes following the Mughal fiscal system.
On Akbar’s order a new calendar was created by combining the Hijri calendar and Hindu calendar already in use by Fatehullah Shirazi and the calendar was known as Fasholi shan (harvest calendar).
The calendar, introduced on March 10/11, 1584, was dated from Akbar’s accession to the throne in 1556 and the New Year subsequently became known as bangabda or Bangla year.
The Bengali calendar made a profound impact on the economy of the land’s agrarian society. Rural Bengal had always been focused on Chaitra Sankranti rather than welcoming Baishakh as it was a custom to clear up all dues on the last day of Chaitra and on the following day, Pahela Baishakh, landlords would entertain the tenants with sweets.
Gradually the rural societies began celebrating Chairtra Sankranti organising village fairs featuring cultural events, crafts, sweets and others.
Pahela Baishakh is celebrated in Bangladesh on April 14 every year.
In 1966, a committee headed by Dr Muhammad Shahidullah modified the old Bengali calendar, making the first five months 31 days long, rest 30 days each, with the month of Phalgun adjusted to 31 days in every leap year.
The new calendar was officially adopted by Bangladesh in 1987. Since then, the Pahela Baishakh always falls on April 14 in Bangladesh.
Besides, the day is celebrated under different names on April 14 or 15 in different Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odhisha and Assam and in countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
In the Chittagong Hill Tracts different ethnic minority groups like Tripura, Marma and Chakma also celebrate the occasion following their respective traditions.
In urban areas marking the Bengali New Year gradually gained importance over celebrating Chaitra Sankranti.
In Dhaka the Pahela Baishakh celebration commences at the crack of dawn. The biggest Bengali New Year event is organised by cultural organisation Chhayanaut, who greet Baishakh organising a Borsho Boron programme at Ramna Botomul, which has become a signature event.
Chhayanaut first organised the Borsho Boron programme in 1967 as a celebration of Bengali culture as part of a national awakening. The programme has been organised every year except for 1971.
People from all walks of life irrespective of age, caste and creed throng Ramna Park in the morning on Pahela Baishakh to enjoy the programme where artistes of Chhayanaut welcome the New Year presenting songs, dances, recitation and instrumental recitals.
Artistes render songs penned by Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and others portraying the beauty of six seasons while dancers entertain the audience presenting colourful dance recitals.
Haal Khata, also known as the opening of new ledger book, is an age-old tradition which can be traced back to Chaitra Sankranti celebrated in rural areas.
Traders across the country, especially jewellers and grocers, close the old ledgers and open a new one on Pahela Baishakh. The customers clear old dues and the businessmen entertain them with sweets and other traditional delicacies like pitha.
Baishakhi fairs are primarily a signature event of Pahela Baishakh even in the urban areas.
People throng the fairs, which are held across Dhaka and other cities, in large numbers to buy traditional handicraft items, toys, different kinds of traditional sweets and more.
Besides, people gather at Shahbagh in the morning to participate in the Mangal Shobhajatra, a colourful procession which is brought out by students and teachers of Faculty of Fine Arts of Dhaka University every year.
It features colourful masks and gigantic replicas of birds, fishes, animals and other motifs, made by students based on a specific theme. A different theme is selected each year for Mangal Shobhajatra which symbolises unity against evil forces.
This year’s theme is ‘Mastok Tulite Dao Ananta Akashe.’ The 21st batch of Dhaka University’s FFA is organising the main procession.
The students are raising funds for it by selling paintings, potteries, masks and others made by the teachers and students of FFA.
Though Charupath, a Jashore-based cultural organisation, first organised the Mangal Shobhajatra with some puppets and colourful masks to observe the Nababarsha, FFA students have been organising Mangal Shobhajatra since 1989.
The colourful procession was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.
The Mangal Shobhajatra parade will start from the faculty premises at 9.00 am on the day and it will march through Shahbagh, Ruposhi Bangla intersection, TSC and then return to the faculty.
Besides FFA students of DU in Dhaka, students of all public and private universities across the country will bring out Mangal Shobhajatra on Pahela Baishakh.
Fine arts students also draw theme based alpana on their respective campuses and on important streets across the country following rural tradition.
No festival is complete without its own cuisine and it has become a trend to eat panta (soaked rise) with hilsha fish on Pahela Baishakh.
Makeshift panta stalls attract huge crowds on the day.
Dhaka wears a festive look with multiple Baishakhi fairs, concerts, pitha festivals and more being held across the city.
People bid farewell to the old and welcome the new. They spend the day attending different cultural events, socialising with friends, visiting amusement parks with family members and more.
Places like Ramna Park, Suhrawardy Uddyan, Dhaka University campus, Shahbagh, Rabindra Sarobar in Dhanmondi and others attract most crowds.
Young women clad in saris wearing floral bands on their heads and men adorning themselves in panjabis throng venues where mass celebrations take place.
The celebration of Pahela Baishakh has become grand and vibrant in recent years.
Fashion houses have been introducing new trends every year while cell phone companies, beverage makers, paint companies and others have been sponsoring various events like concerts, alpana drawing on streets and more.
Though red and white coloured saris are considered the traditional attire for women, now-a-days different local fashion houses offer theme based saris, shalwar kamiz and panjabis of diverse colours decorated with different folk motifs for youths.
Besides, Berger Paints Bangladesh Limited has been organising biggest alpana drawing in the country on the streets of Manik Mia Avenue in Dhaka for the last few years.
This year the alpana will be drawn on an area of 3,00,000 square feet at Manik Mia Avenue. Besides, alpana featuring folk motifs will also be painted on important streets in four other cities- Chattogram, Bogura, Sylhet and Khulna.
Other corporations are holding similar events marking Pahela Baishakh.
Today Pahela Baishakh, the biggest celebration of secular identity of the Bengali people, which started its journey in the agrarian society, has become not only an urban but a global event that is celebrated by Bengalis in all continents. May the New Year bring joy, prosperity and happiness to us all. Shubho Nababarsha 1426!
Photos by Indrajit Kumer Ghosh,
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