Pahela Baisakh is the first day of the Bengali calendar. Both Bangladesh and parts of West Bengal festively celebrate the day. It is also a countrywide day off in Bangladesh. Bangladesh celebrates it on the 14th of April every year, whereas West Bengal celebrates it on either the 14th or 15th of April. Irrespective of their religious faith, every Bengali celebrates the day with joy and tradition.
Origin of the Bengali calendar
As per history, during the Mughal reign, Bengali people had to pay land taxes according to the Hijri or Arabic calendar. As it was a lunar calendar, its new year did not accord with that of the fiscal. So, farmers could not pay their taxes in due time. To balance the land tax system with the calendar, Mughal Emperor Akbar wanted a calendar reform. So, renowned scholar and stargazer Fateullah Shirazi conveyed the Bangla year based on Hijri and Bangla calendars.
The Emperor introduced the calendar on 10/11 March 1584, but Akbar dated the calendar from his concurrence to sovereignty. In 1556. This calendar system gradually became famous as the Bangla year. Since then, people are celebrating Pahela Baishakh; however, people used to clear up all their dues on Chaitra’s last day under Akbar’s reign. The next day, they celebrated the new year by opening a new account on the ‘Halkhata.’ Landlords used to welcome their occupants with sweets.
Indian states use a Bangla calendar based on the Sanskrit ‘Surya Siddhanta.’ Their calendar is linked with the Hindu calendar system as they use it to set numerous religious festivals.
Bangladesh reformed the old calendar system in 1966, creating the first five months 31 days, the rest 30 days each with Falgun adjusting to 31 every leap year. Bangladesh authoritatively granted this system in 1987. People have been celebrating ‘Pahela Baishakh’ on 14th April since then.
Pahela Baishakh celebrations in Bangladesh and West Bengal
Bangladesh observes Pahela Baishakh as a public holiday. Irrespective of their religious faith, both Muslim and Hindu people celebrate the day following almost the same traditions. It is a method of expressing national superiority and legacy. This festival is closely related to the village life of Bangladesh.
People bathe early in the morning to visit relatives, friends, and public places. They prepare food for guests. Many organizations and locals arrange Baishakhi fairs. People wear traditional red-white Panjabi and Saree. Bangladeshis enjoy various conventional foods, including Paanta-vaat, Hilsha Fry, and Varta(mashed vegetables or fish).
The most colorful celebrations of Pahela Baisakh take place in Dhaka. Every year Chayanat-A cultural organization arranges a program under the banyan tree at Ramna Park. They welcome the new year by singing Rabindranath’s well-known song “Esho Hey Baishakh Esho Esho.” Institute of Fine Arts, Dhaka University also arranges a similar cultural program. They arrange a procession and parade called ‘Mangal Sovajatra.’
Outside Dhaka, Chittagong has the most vibrant Pahela Baishakh celebrations. Abdul Jabbar Saodagor and his successors have been arranging a traditional form of wrestling named “Boli Khela,” popularly known as ‘Jobbar er Boli Khela.’ They arrange it to rejoice in the new year. Some educational and cultural institutes also organize fairs and cultural programs at DC Hill and CRB.
Pahela Baishakh is a provincial day off in the states of West Bengal and Tripura. Some regions start celebrating a few days earlier. They decorate their homes with Alpana(design or Rangoli). Some of them also take a ritual bath in nearby rivers. Some shopkeepers make calendars with pictures of the goddess and distribute them to their clients.
Resembling Bangladesh’s ‘Mangal Sovajatra,’ they arrange a procession named ‘Prabhat Pheri.’ They perform various prayers like Kumari Puja and Ganesh Puja; They also ask for the blessings of elders. They also enjoy numerous sweets and confectionaries. Bengali communities of Assam and some other eastern states also celebrate the day.
Festivity in other countries
Bengali communities of Canada, France, Australia, the USA, and the UK colorfully celebrate the day by wearing traditional dress and eating conventional foods. They also try to arrange cultural programs to give the day perfection.
Baisabi is a momentous festival of the three major ethnic groups of Bangladesh. It is a collective form of Baishu, Sangrai, and Biju. This festival is generally observed for three days in the hilly regions of Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachari. They celebrate Baishabi following their traditions.
How foreigners enjoy the Pahela Baishakh
Hundreds of foreigners come to Ramna Park on Pahela Baisakh’s morning to join the traditional cultural program. They try to sing with the chorus. Some of them join the Mangal Shovajatra and pray for goodness to override the badness. They visit the fairs and get to know the Bengali culture and foods. Local people also welcome them heartily to join them in the celebration.
Importance of the Pahela Baisakh
Pahela Baishakh is often said to be the ‘Day of Reborn.’ People try to forget the weariness and fatigue from the previous year. The day brings a festive mood to our life. The festival’s motto is to celebrate the new year with everyone. It brings new joy and hopes to every home. We exchange mutual good wishes with a hug. It plays a vital role in our lives and helps us to live in harmony. It teaches us that, regardless of our religions, we all are Bengali.
As Bangladeshis and Bengalis, we should be proud of a festival like Pahela Baisakh. It brings joy, hope to our lives, and most importantly, it reminds us of our cultural importance; That we have a calendar system of our own. We have to know the Bengali calendar system properly and remember the dates. We have to respect our cultures and proudly be a part of them.