Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pohela Boishakh - Bengali New Year

Bengal is the land of culture and festivity. Quite naturally, Bengal is known as the cultural capital of India. Hence, no wonder that Bengali New Year would be marked with great cultural celebration and festivity.

The Bengali New Year is called ‘Pohela Boisakh’. It is also known as ‘Noboborsho’ since in Bengali language ‘Nobo’ means new and ‘Borso’ means year. The first day of Bengali calendar is therefore celebrated as ‘Pohela Boisakh’ and it is celebrated across the globe by Bengali communities.

History of Bengali New Year

The celebration of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ coincides with the New Year celebration of the many south-east Asian countries. Like many of the other states, the beginning of the New Year also marks the beginning of the harvest season in Bengal.

Just like the history of Bengal, celebration of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ also has a very long history. References of New Year celebrations can be found during the time of Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. During his time the existing lunar calendar was revised to match the harvest season of the province so that the farmers can pay their taxes easily. Initially the calendar that was designed by the court astrologer of Akbar, Aamir Fatehullah Siraji, was named as Fasli San. Thus the new calendar which combined both the existing lunar calendar with the Bengali solar calendar marked the beginning of the new agricultural year in March, 1584. It was later popularized as ‘BĂ´nggabdo’. Thus the special calendar for the Bengalis was introduced.

According to Akbar’s directive all dues were to be settled during the last day of Choitro and therefore the following day was marked as the first day of the Bengali New Year or ‘Pohela Boisakh’. In Bengali language ‘Pohela’ means the first and ‘Boisakh’ happens to be the first month of Bengali Calendar and thus 1st day of Boisakh is celebrated as the Bengali New Year day.

Cultural significances of Pohela Boisakh 

‘Pohela Boisakh’ has great cultural significance over the lives of Bengalis. This day is celebrated with great pomp and show. This is a public festival and don’t have religious significances. Hence, Bengalis irrespective of their caste, creed, religious and socio-economic differences participate in the celebration. Although the origin of the celebration can be dated back to the time of Akbar, the large scale celebration and organizations of cultural events are more recent.

On this day every Bengali household is specially cleaned, clothes washed and people don on new clothes.

The day before the Pohela Boisakh is also marked with many rituals. On the New Year’s Eve or the last day of ‘Choitro’ a special dish of flattened rice, sweet curd and fruits is eaten. On the day of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ special dishes are prepared and shared amongst family members.

On the day of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ Bengalis would visit their friends and family and spend time in socializing. Sweets are prepared and distributed.

Buying new thing on the day of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ is said to bring good luck and prosperity to the household and therefore Bengalis will buy new clothes or utensils on New Year.

The first day of the year is also considered as auspicious for beginning trade and hence a special ceremony to open a new ledger is performed by businessmen and shopkeepers. This celebration is called the ‘halkhata’. Traders invite customers to their shops and distribute sweets and gifts.

Long queues of devotees can be seen in front of the famous temples of Kalighat and Dakshineswar in West Bengal to seek blessings for the New Year. ‘Pujas’ are offered to the Gods even at people’s home. Hindu auspicious signs like- swastika is drawn on the walls of houses to ward off the evil.

Since it is a public festivals people from all walks of life participate in it. Bengalis dress up in their traditional attires, which is ‘dhuti and kurta’ for men and white sari with red border for women. Women will also wear traditional gold jewelries to accessories their attires.

‘Pohela Boisakh’ is also celebrated with grandeur in rural Bengal. People there also clean their houses and wash clothes, offer pujas to cattle and plowing equipments. They visit the houses of their relatives and friends.

In many parts of rural Bengal special fairs, known as ‘Baisakhi Mela’, are organized where various traditional handicrafts, toys, agricultural products, clothes cosmetics, various food and sweets are sold. In many places special plays, locally known as ‘Yatras’, are also organized. Musical shows, baul gaan, puppet shows also are parts of the Baisakhi Melas.

Celebration of ‘Pohela Boisakh’ isn’t restricted only to West Bengal and Bagladesh but worldwide Bengalis celebrate their New Year with great fun and abundance. Hence, ‘Pohela Boisakh’ is observed in England, USA, Australia and many other foreign countries. In England ‘Pohela Boisakh’ is considered as the greatest Asian festival in Europe.

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