April is the month of the New Year in Bangladesh. Keep reading to learn about the history of this day and how Bangladeshi's celebrate!
Shubho Nobobarsho! Happy New Year! This month, we kick off the Bengali national holiday known as Pohela Boishakh, which means first day of the first month Boishakh, in the Bengali calendar. The month of Boishakh is filled with parades of celebration to bring in the new year and also spring! It’s a wonderful time when things come to life, and us Bangladeshis celebrate to the fullest!
The origins of Pohela Boishakh trace back centuries to the rule of a Mughal emperor named Baadshah Akbar ,also known as Akbar the Great. His ruled lasted from 1556 to roughly 1609. He implemented the holiday in hopes that it will ease the process of paying taxes to landowners. He charged Fatelluah Shiraji to prepare a calendar that better represented the six seasons in reference to agriculture, as it was the main source of revenue at the time. Yes, six! Grisma (summer), Barsa (rainy), Sarat (autumn), Hemanta (late autumn), Shhit (winter) and Basanta (spring).
He then set the new year to be celebrated after the harvest and taxes have been collected. He hoped it would subdue the burden of paying tax while also creating an excuse to celebrate hopes of a better year to come, boosting moral and, celebrating spring.
Pohela Boishakh was later adopted in Bangladesh in 1965, in rebellion to Pakistani rule. At the time Bangladesh was still known as East Pakistan. Following the British model of divide and conquer, Pakistan banned the work of poet Ravindranath Tagore in East Pakistan (where Bangladesh is today), in an attempt to separate the Muslim Bengalis from East Pakistan and the Hindu Bengalis from the region of West Bengal. Both regions shared a language, but West Bengal was territory of India. Tagore was a nobel prize winning poet and writer from West Bengal and, Pakistan saw his work as a threat to their rule in East Pakistan. In response the students of the fine arts institution of Chhayanaut, held a Pohela Boishakh celebration to showcase the work of Tagore and encourage Bangladeshi nationalism, in open defiance to Pakistan. Tensions of civil war had been brewing since the 1940s in East Pakistan and in 1971, Bangladesh finally won independence.
Ever since Pohela Boishakh celebrations have been opened with the songs of Tagore, to be sung under the Banyan Tree in Rama Park, Dhaka. This is how it is celebrated today in Dhaka, accompanied by parades and alpona drawn all along the streets.
For those of us who can’t be in Bangladesh for the celebrations here are some ways for you to celebrate Pohela Boishakh, wherever you are:
1. Dressing up
Fashion is perhaps one of the biggest staples of this celebration. It is custom for women to wear white saris, often made of cotton, with red borders. With the times the fashion has evolved. Now you will see beautiful printed patterns in bright red and, sometimes bits of yellow over white. Men wear a long tunic with a soft collar known as a kurta. They are also predominantly white.
2. Setting the tone
The start of the year represents new beginnings, hopes, and goals. It’s a prosperous time celebrated with cleanliness and newness. Most houses will be thoroughly cleaned for guests, most garments to be worn will be new or freshly cleaned. It is said that the first day of the year will set the tone for the rest of the year, so do it up. Live well and, be happy, in hopes that the feeling will carry on throughout the year.
In addition to cleanliness, homes will be decorated by beautifully drawn patterns called alpona. These patterns are used in auspicious occasions and are drawn predominantly by the females in the household. They are drawn in white, red and green. Rice powder was used to create white color, sindur was used to create red and, the green color mainly came from grinding leaves. As technology and abundance have grown so to did the materials used for alpona. Today many people simply use chalk to draw the patterns on the pavement by their homes and some use paper and glue to make a more lasting decoration. In parts of India the traditional of alpona is often referred to as rangoli.
4. Making the rounds
It’s a time of togetherness. Visiting family and friends is essential. You often will bring sweets as gifts accompanied by many well wishes for the year to come. It’s a time to catch up, and feast. You might have to let out your petticoat or loosen your belt by the end of the night!
5. Food.. of course
Nothing brings people together like food! Traditionally dishes like panta bhat (rice soaked in water and a bit of salt overnight), achar (pickled ...) and various types of fish are served, mainly hilsa illish, and, shutki, which is dried fish. The hisla fish is the national fish of Bangladesh as it is readily available in the region. Around 65% of the world’s hisla illish comes from Bangladesh! Now that’s what I call plenty of fish!
6. Going out on the town
Throughout the month there are hundreds of parades, fairs/melas, shows and functions held around the world to usher in the new year. These events showcase a real love for Bangladeshi nationalism and pride. Stories are told through song and dance, showcasing a rich colorful culture and traditions to live on.
Written by: Mahfuza Rahman