The secular celebration of Pahela Baishakh

‘Pahela Baishakh’ in Bangladesh is closely linked with rustic Bengal but the festivity has spread to the cities. Fairs and festivals are held with farming products and handicrafts for auction while songs and dances provide amusement to all Masihul Huq Chowdhury

Pahela Baishakh marks the beginning of new year for Bengali people across the border both in Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal, Tripura and Bengali speaking population in other state of India. It is celebrated on 14th April in Bangladesh and usually on the 15th April in the Indian states.

The Pahela Baishakh new year day is celebrated elsewhere in the Indian Sub- continent and called by other names. For example, it is called Vaishakhi by Hindus and Sikhs in north and central India, which too marks the solar new year.  The same day every year is also the new year for many Buddhist communities in parts of southeast Asia such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, likely an influence of their shared culture in the 1st millennium CE. In Thailand,
The Songkran celebration is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues is considered an iconic ritual for this holiday. It represents purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck. As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders. As a way to show respect, younger people often practice water pouring over the palms of elders’ hands. Paying reverence to ancestors is also an important part of Songkran tradition.
The holiday is known for its water festival which is mostly celebrated by young people. Major streets are closed for traffic, and are used as arenas for water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other. Traditional parades are held and in some venues “Miss Songkran” is crowned where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress.
In various parts of India, the new farming year was opening introduced on 10th or 11th March 1584, but it was dated from Akbar’s ascension to the throne in 1556. Then the New Year became identified as “Bangla Year”, which usually known as “Bonggabdo”. Celebrations of Pahela Baishakh started from Akbar’s reign (1556). It was usual to clear up all dues on the last day of the Bengali Year (last day of Choitro). On the next day of the New Year (Pahela Baishakh), landlords would keep amused their tenants with sweets. The major event of the day was to open a new book of accounts or new accounts. Which normally known as “Halkhata”.
Nowruz  is the name of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by the Iranians and Turkish people  along with some other ethno-linguistic groups, as the beginning of the New Year. It has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in Western and Central Asia, the Caucasus the Black Sea Region and the Baltic. It marks the first day of the first month in the Iranian Calendar. Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It usually occurs on 21st March or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator  and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals.
Although having  Iranian and religious Zoroastrian origins, Nowruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethno-linguistic communities for thousands of years. It is a secular  holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians.
Emperor Akbar introduced the Baishakhi marking start of the Bangla and New Year in other parts of India which can be seen as the bridge between the festivals observed both in the East and West of his Empire with a secular background.
This is still done in a lot of saleable shops and markets. ‘Pahela Baishakh’ in Bangladesh is closely linked with rustic Bengal but the festivity has spread to the cities.
Fairs and festivals are held with farming products and handicrafts for auction while songs and dances provide amusement to all. The largest fair is held in Dhaka where generally 100,000 people gather together to welcome the new-year. As mentioned earlier, the festivity of Bengali New Year, ‘Pahela Baishakh’ takes place both in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
But ‘Pahela Baishakh’ in Bangladesh did not receive a joint form until 1965. During the growing association for a self-governing state from Pakistan that began by the end of the 1940s and continued until the sovereignty in 1971, the erstwhile Pakistani Government implemented a lot of policies that were somewhat modified versions of the British “Split and Law” principle. In additional words, those policies were destined to differentiate a Bengali Muslim from others and keep away from a strong, joint movement for self-government. As a continuance to such steps, the Pakistani administration banned poems by Rabindranath Tagore. Then, Chhayanaut, the only main Fine Arts institution of the time, intended their artistic show for Pahela Baishakh to be a means of complaint.
The Mongol Jatra and painting on the streets by the students of Institute of Fine Arts got a symbolic representation of embracing new year.
Pahela Baishakh is completely a secular celebration where people of all religions coming all across lives enjoy and celebrate with the family. Let us celebrate and welcome the New Bangla Year 1439. Shubho Nobo Borsho to all the readers and their new ones.

The writer, a banker by profession, has worked both in local and overseas market with various foreign and local banks in different positions