THE Bangla month of Phalgun, the harbinger of spring, has always been feted in literature. But the first of Phalgun has never been a day of much importance until the early 1990s when students of the University of Dhaka started marking both Pahela Phalgun, the first day of spring that brings in vernal exuberance, and Valentine’s Day, named after one or two early saints called Valentinus with an indistinct history, as celebrations of romance and romantic love.
But the advent of Phalgun had earlier been noticed in the accoutrements of the educated young people, more of girls than boys, since the 1960s in a mark of defiance to what the rulers of the erstwhile West Pakistan had done to suppress the Bengali culture.
It was in 1991, when Pahela Phalgun started to gain ground, with the day falling on February 13 and Valentine’s Day, having already been promoted by a magazine that brought out a special issue on the occasion, the next day. The Bangla calendar, keeping to the reforms effected in 1966 by a committee headed by Dr Muhammad Shahidullah that was set up in 1963, has by then already been put to official use, and not beyond this.
The government officially accepted the reformed calendar structure on January 1, 1987, setting it rolling from the 1987–1988 Bangla year of 1394, more than two decades after the Shahidullah committee had reformed the calendar, with Baishakh–Bhadra spanning 31 days and Ashwin–Chaitra 30 days with a 31-day Chaitra in the leap year, and published the amended calendar in 1966 for the Bangla year 1373.
The duration of Bangla months, in calendars for both civil and religious purposes, earlier spanned from 29 days to 32 days, depending on the planetary movement and people’s efforts for its approximation in the calculation of calendars. The 1966 reforms that Bangladesh adopted made the duration of the months regular.
The reform, the first step towards transforming the sidereal Bangla calendar to a tropical one, made a difference of a day from the Bangla calendar in practice in West Bengal of India. The calendar was then minorly corrected in 1994–1995, or the Bangla year 1402, when it officially began to be followed, to accommodate the provision for the leap year and to count the day’s beginning at midnight, in sync with the Gregorian structure, veering away from the sunrise when the day earlier began, as it still begins in the West Bengal calendar.
From 1991 onwards, Pahela Phalgun, along with Valentine’s Day, started gaining ground in the popular culture. Some fine arts students, mainly girls, roamed about the campus of the University of Dhaka, near the Teacher-Student Centre and the Ekushey book fair, clad in dresses that they are reported to have designed the previous night. In 1992, there was a bit of planning, with girls clad in saffron saris and boys in punjabis, and a bit more joining in by other students. They played with colours on the campus. In 1993, they broached a festival of colours, in the fashion of Dol as is celebrated in West Bengal.
In 1991, on the day after Pahela Phalgun being Valentine’s Day, which had already been in conversation because of the magazine’s special issue, some students, who might include those who made noise about Pahela Phalgun the day before, made noise again around the Teacher-Student Centre and in the book fair, which had a stall of the magazine where proponents of the day presented girls and boys with roses. The next year, there was a bit of planning and a larger group of students briefly marched around the campus and exchanged flowers and greetings cards.
In the case of Pahela Phalgun, a national spring celebrations council was set up in 1994, or the Bangla year 1401, with the occasion by then having been celebrated across a few places in the capital. And in case of Valentine’s Day, young people, especially those studying in universities, took up the day on their own to be a lovers’ feast as they started going out on happy courting. In both the cases, the popular significance of the days, perhaps less cultural and more commercial, caught on. This is how the first of Phalgun acquired importance of a sort in the popular culture.
A further correction in the Bangla calendar structure has, meanwhile, caught young people, and perhaps also traders who have so far made windfall business by selling bells and trinkets that are associated with both the days, off-guards this year as both the days fall on February 14, with Phalgun beginning a day later. In 2019, or the Bangla year 1426, many newspapers printed the same Bangla date of Kartik 2 or Kartik 3 on two consecutive days, remaining unaware of the fact that Ashwin spanned by a day more, delaying Kartik by a day than it did in 1425.
The authorities made the changes so that historical dates of Bangladesh fall on the same Bangla dates that they took place. Shahid Dibas or Ekushey February which took place on February 21, 1952 on the Gregorian calendar and on Phalgun 8, 1358 on the Bangla calendar came to fall on Phalgun 9. The reforms from 1426 make it fall on Phalgun 8.
The latest reforms set out that the first six months, from Baishakh to Ashwin, will have 31 days and five months, from Kartik to Magh and Chaitra, will have 30 days. Only Phalgun will now have 29 days, which will be a leap month of 30 days in the corresponding leap year of the Gregorian calendar. In the Gregorian year 2020, which is a leap year, Phalgun will have 30 days.
But what makes it difficult for any corrections that the authorities may make to make all historical Bangla dates match the dates of Gregorian calendar in cases of the events that happened before 1987, when months had varying days. Yet, Bangladesh authorities appear to have been able to fully align the sidereal Bangla calendar, in which the year, which is longer, is counted based on the sun’s return to the point of start with respect to the frame of stars on a static background, to the tropical year, as is the Gregorian structure, in which the year, which is shorter, is counted based on the sun’s return to the equator, the point of zero tilt of the equinox, making the length. The Bangla calendar in Bangladesh now intrinsically subsumes the Gregorian structure.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.
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