Bangla New Year [Bangla: বাংলা নববর্ষ Bangla Nôbobôrsho] or Pohela/Poyela Boishakh [পহেলা বৈশাখ Pohela Boishakh or পয়লা বৈশাখ Poyela Boishakh] marks the first day of the Bangla Calendar. Pohela Boishakh is celebrated with great fervor in the South Asian region of Bengal (Bangladesh and Indian/West Bengal) and among Bengali communities living in the Indian states of Tripura and Assam (specially in Barak Valley [Bangla: বরাক উপত্যকা]). Pohela Boishakh coincides with the New Years in many other Southern Asian calendars.
Bangla New Year or Pohela Boishakh connects all Ethnic Bengalis irrespective of religious and regional differences. Ethnic Bengalis across the world and from all walks of life unite to celebrate the Public or Universal Festival of Bengalis i.e. Pohela Boishakh; it's the occasion to welcome the New-Year with a new hope of peace, prosperity and goodwill. Poyela Boishakh generally falls on 14th or 15th of April of the Georgian calendar. In Bangladesh, it is a national holiday celebrated around 14th April according to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy. In India, in Indian/West Bengal & Assam it is a public (state) holiday and is publicly celebrated on 15th of April.
History of Pohela Boishakh
Pohela Boishakh celebration dates back to Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar's reign. Akbar the Great, the renowned grandson of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babar was the 3rd Mughal Emperor. In order to ease tax collection, Akbar-e-Azam changed the tradition of agricultural tax collection according to Hijri calendar and ordered a reform of the calendar because the Hijri calendar, being a lunar calendar- did not coincide with the harvest sessions and thus the farmers faced severe difficulties in paying taxes out of season.
The Royal Astrologer of Emperor Akbar's court, Aamir Fatehullah Siraji, was the one who actually devised this calendar, after performing a research on the lunar Hijri and Solar calendar. The unique characteristic of the Bengali year was that, rather than being a lunar calendar, it was based on an amalgamation of the solar and lunar year. This was indeed a great development, as the solar and lunar years were formulated in very different methods.
Initially this calendar was named as "Fasli San" (agricultural year) and then Bônggabdo or Bangla Year was introduced on 10/11 March 1584, but was dated from 5th November 1556 or 963 Hijri. This was the day that Akbar defeated Himu in the second Battle of Panipat to ascend the throne. This not only glorified his victory but also streamlined revenue collection into an orderly process.
It was Akbar-e-Azam's directive to settle all dues on the last day of Choitro. The next day was the first day of the New Year (Poyela Boishakh), the day for a new beginning; landlords would distribute sweets among their tenants, and Businessmen would open a "HalKhata" (new accounts book) and close their old ones. Businessmen used to invite their customers to share sweets and renew their business relationship with them. There were fairs and festivities allover and gradually Poyela Boishakh became a day of celebration.
Another study shows that , King Shoshangko who ruled ancient Bengal might have actually started the Bengali era. Which means the Bangla calendar started from value one, the starting point is estimated to be on Monday, 14th April 594 in proleptic Gregorian calendar and Monday, 12th April 594 in the Julian Calendar.
Celebration of Pohela Boishakh
Pohela Boishakh is a Public festival of the Bengalis; it is celebrated among all Bengalis- irrespective of religious and regional differences. As discussed earlier; the celebrations started from Akbar's reign. But the Public celebration of Poyela Boishakh and the large-scale organizations of cultural events have started more recently.
Rabindranath Tagore had said, প্রতিদিন মানুষ ক্ষুদ্র, দীন, একাকী কিন্তু উৎসবের দিনে মানুষ বৃহৎ, সে সমস্ত মানুষের সঙ্গে একত্র হইয়া বৃহৎ, সেদিন সমস্ত মনুষ্যত্বের শক্তি অনুভব করিয়া মহৎ। [Prōtidin mānush khudrō, deen, ekāki. Kintu Utsōber dine mānush brihōt, se sōmōstō mānusher sōnge āekōtrō hōiyā brihōt, sedin sōmōstō mōnushōtver shōkti ōnubhōv kōriyā mōhōt]. The summary of the statement is that, a person feels stronger, complete & united when he's among other fellow mates on the occasion of a festival as compared to daily life. Truly, socializing brings a lot of change in the personality of a person; it actually changes his outlook towards the world and makes him broad minded, well-mannered and a better person indeed. Nowadays it's seen that, due to our busy schedule and hectic life we tend to forget the purpose of the festivals after they are over; people come together during festivals, forget their differences but as soon as the festival is over the differences are highlighted once again!
The Poyela Boishakh celebrations and festivities reflect the life in rural Bengal. Usually on this day everything is washed and cleaned; people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes and then go to visit relatives and friends. Special food items are prepared for the guests. Starting as a rural festival, Poyela Boishakh has now become an integral part of Bengali culture.
People from all walks of life dress-up in traditional Bengali attire: Men wear dhuti / payejama / lungi and kurta /Panjabi. Young women wear white saris with red borders, and adorn themselves with tip (bindis), churi (bangles) and ful (flowers). Its like a custom to start the day with the traditional breakfast of Panta-Bhat (leftover rice soaked in water), onion, Shobuj Lonka (green chillies), Achar (pickles), dal (lentils) & Bhaja Elish Mach (fried Hilsa fish).
Boishakhi Fairs are organized in many parts of Bengal. The lifestyle of rural Bengal is showcased in almost all these fairs. Various traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, agricultural products, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold at these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers and dancers staging jatra (traditional plays), pala gan, kobigan, jarigan, gambhira gan, gazir gan and alkap gan. They present folk songs as well as baul, marfati, murshidi and bhatiali songs. Narrative plays like Laila-Majnu, Yusuf-Zulekha and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of these fairs are puppet shows, merry-go-round and Giant wheels are also installed and are enjoyed by the children.
Historical Importance of Poyela Boishakh in Bangladesh
In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani Government had banned poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the most famous poet and writer in Bengali literature. Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Poyela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore's song welcoming the month in 1965. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement and an integral part of the people's cultural heritage. Later, in the mid- 1980s the Institute of Fine Arts added color to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade. In the big metropolitans like Dhaka and Chittagong this day is marked by mass crowd flocking to hundreds of open air concerts and cultural programs, mask rallies etc.
In Dhaka, large numbers of people pour out of their houses and gather early in the morning under the banyan tree at Ramna Park. Along with the rising sun, the Chhayanat artists sing the famous song of Tagore in chorus, "এসো, হে বৈশাখ, এসো এসো" Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho (Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come), welcoming Boishakh.
Dhaka's Poyela Boishakh celebration is incomplete without the "Mangal Shobhajatra". Students and teachers of the Dhaka University's Institute of Fine Arts take out a colorful procession (known as "Mangal Shobhajatra") and parade on different streets and finally returns to the Fine arts Institute. This procession mainly consists of Arts & crafts like (cutouts of tigers, owls, dragon-fly etc. and different types of masks) these colorful pieces of art display the elements of Bengali culture and resemble lifestyle of rural and modern Bengal. People of all ages and irrespective of class and profession take part in this procession. Since 1989 this Procession (Shobhajatra) has become an important event and also a major tourist attraction.
Apart from these, various cultural programs are organized by social and cultural organizations all over Dhaka. Newspapers and magazines bring out special supplements. Targeting the Poyela Boishakh event, various movies, music albums, books etc. are released and special programs are also telecasted on television and radio.
Many old festivals connected with New Year's Day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the punya connected with the closing of land revenue accounts has disappeared. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshiganj used to be very colourful events. Other popular village games and sports were horse races, bullfights, cockfights, flying pigeons, and boat racing. Some festivals, however, continue to be observed; for example, bali (wrestling) in Chittagong and gambhira in Rajshahi are still popular events.
Pohela Boishakh celebration has also hit the dancefloor of the pubs and clubs in the major cities, as an increasing number of parties are being organized nowadays for the youth. Thus, giving the celebration a western touch but keeping the indigenous feel intact.
The centre of attraction of the Poyela Boishakh celebrations in the port city Chittagong is the DC Hill Park. Sammilitō Sanskritik Jot organizes a two day festival to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the New Year. Various cultural events are organized here including plays etc. Public celebration of Poyela Boishakh in Chittagong was started in 1973; the initiative was taken by the politicians to promote Bengali culture.
Chittagong Hill Tracts : In the Hill tracts of Chittagong three different ethnic minority groups have their individual New Year celebrations. Boisuk of Tripura People, Sangrai of Marma people and Biju of Chakma people; presently they have come together to celebrate it commonly as Boi-Sa-Bi, a day of a wide variety of festivities; specially need to mention the water festival of the Marma people.
Pohela Boishakh is celebrated in Khulna with enormous joy and enthusiasm. People from all walks of life take part in the Borshoboron Rally organized by Khulna Sonskriti Kendro.
College students take great effort in designing festoons, banners, colourful masks for this event. A newly formed non-governmental cultural organization Shokha Moyukh celebrated Pohela Boishakh at the campus of Govt. B L College, Khulna. The rally was followed by a cultural function at the campus. The event was organized by the students with support from the college faculty.
Kolkata and West Bengal
Kolkata, the sovereign of Bengalis in India; witnesses some of the grand celebrations of Poyela Boishakh. In Kolkata and rest of Indian/West Bengal, Poyela Boishakh and indeed the entire month of Boishakh is considered auspicious time for marriages, opening of new business ventures etc. Choitro is the Last month of the Bangla year; the garment traders give special discounts throughout the month. The last day of Choitro, is celebrated as Choitro Sankranti among the Hindu community, and Charak Pujo is held on this day. On this very same day Charak Mela/fair is organized in various parts of rural Bengal; some really miraculous acrobatics are performed by the members and these stunts are quite risky indeed.
The day of Poyela Boishakh is a day of cultural events. Like Bangladesh, here also people wake up & bathe early in the morning and dress up in traditional Bengali attire. Many go for Probhat Pheri (a parade similar to "Shobhajatra" in Bangladesh, but it's not as colorful as that) to welcome the first day of the New Year singing Rabindra Sangeet, here also the song "এসো, হে বৈশাখ, এসো এসো" Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho is very popular.
Pohela Boishakh is also the occasion when the whole family comes for a get together; youngsters touch feet of elders seeking benediction and peers greet each other Suvo Noboborsho with a hug . The celebration remains incomplete without "mishti mukh" exchanging sweets with the near and dear ones.
Businessmen open new accounting books (HalKhata) on this day; for the Bengali Hindu businessmen HalKhata begins only after performing puja, "Swastik" sign is drawn on the HalKhata by the priests. Devotees are seen in front of the Kalighat temple , in long queues, from late night. Devotees offer Puja to receive the blessings of the almighty.
The Government of West Bengal organizes various fairs and cultural events in different parts of the state. The most famous of these is Bangla Sangit Mela, held at Nandan-Rabindra Sadan ground.
In Australia, the Bangla new year is celebrated in various cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra through Boishakhi Melas (fairs) where people gather to celebrate the culture Bengalis through dances, fashion shows, stalls of art, music, clothing, food etc. However the largest celebration for the Bangla new year in Australia is the Sydney Boishakhi Mela which was traditionally held at the Burwood Girls High School but from 2006 has been held at the Sydney Olympic Park. It attracts large crowds and is a very anticipated event on the Australian Bengali community calendar.
The festival is also celebrated in Sweden with great enthusiasm. Traditional Bangladeshi dance performance in the Pohela Boishakh 1417 celebrations event organised by Bangladesh Students Association, Sweden.
The Bengali community in the United Kingdom celebrate the Bengali new year with a street festival in London. It is the largest Asian festival in Europe and the largest Bengali festival outside of Bangladesh.
Today, Pohela Boishakh celebrations also mark a day of cultural unity without distinction between class and religious affiliations. Of the major holidays celebrated in Bangladesh and West Bengal, only Pôhela Boishakh comes without any preexisting expectations (specific religious identity, culture of gift-giving, etc). Unlike holidays like Eid ul-Fitr & Durga Pujo, where dressing up in lavish clothes has become a norm, or Christmas where exchanging gifts has become an integral part of the holiday, Pohela Boishakh is really about celebrating the simpler, rural roots of the Bengal. As a result, more people can participate in the festivities together without the burden of having to reveal one's class, religion, or financial capacity.