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Pohela Boishakh


Pohela Boishakh

Poila (Pahela/Poyla/Pohela) Boishakh is the first day of the Bangla Calendar. Poila Boishakh is celebrated in a festive manner in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, as well as by Bengali people in Tripura. Hence, Poila Boishakh connects all ethnic Bengalis irrespective of religious and regional differences. In Bangladesh, Poila Boishakh is a national holiday and in West Bengal it is a public holiday. It falls on April 14 or April 15 of the Gregorian calendar depending on the use of the new amended or the old Bangla calendar respectively. In Bangladesh, it is celebrated on April 14 according to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy.

Poila Boishakh is also known as Noboborsho, or Bengali New Year, as it is the first day of the first month of Boishakh in the Bengali calendar. This day is a very festive time for Bengalis.

The Hindu solar calendar based on the Surya Siddhanta commences in mid-April of the Gregorian year. The first day of this calendar is celebrated as the traditional New Year in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Tripura.

Under the Mughals, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar. However, as the Hijri calendar is a Moon calendar, it does not coincide with the harvest. As a result, farmers were hard-pressed to pay taxes out of season. In order to streamline tax collection, the Mughal Emperor Akbar ordered a reform of the calendar. Accordingly, Fatehullah Shirazi, a renowned scholar and astronomer, formulated the Bangla year on the basis of the lunar Hijri and Bangla solar calendars. The new Fasli San (agricultural year) was introduced on 10/11 March 1584, but was dated from Akbar's ascension to the throne in 1556. The new year subsequently became known as Bongabdo or Bengali year.

Celebrations of Poila Boishakh started from Akbar's reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of Choitro. On the next day, or the first day of the new year, landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. On this occasion there used to be fairs and other festivities. In due course the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment.

The main event of the day was to open a halkhata or new book of accounts. This was wholly a financial affair. In villages, towns and cities, traders and businessmen closed their old account books and opened new ones. They used to invite their customers to share sweets and renew their business relationship with them. This tradition is still practised, especially by jewellers.


New Year's festivities are closely linked with rural life in Bengal. Usually on Poila Boishakh, the home is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned; people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. They spend much of the day visiting relatives, friends, and neighbours. Special foods are prepared to entertain guests. This is one rural festival that has become enormously big in the cities, especially in Dhaka.

Boishakhi fairs are arranged in many parts of the country. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, 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 Laily-Majnu, Yusuf-Zulekha and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of these fairs are puppet shows and merry-go-rounds.

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.

Observance of Poila Boishakh has become popular in the cities. Early in the morning, people gather under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise. Artists present songs to usher in the new year. People from all walks of life wear traditional Bengali attire: young women wear white saris with red borders, and adorn themselves with churi bangles, ful flowers, and tip (bindis). Men wear white paejama (pants) or lungi(dhoti/dhuti) (long skirt) and kurta (tunic). Many townspeople start the day with the traditional breakfast of panta bhat (rice soaked in water), green chillies, onion, and fried hilsa fish.

The most colourful new year's day festival takes place in Dhaka. Large numbers of people gather early in the morning under the banyan tree at Ramna Park where Chhayanat artists open the day with Rabindranath Tagore's famous song, Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho (Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come). A similar ceremony welcoming the new year is also held at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. Students and teachers of the institute take out a colourful procession and parade round the campus. Social and cultural organisations celebrate the day with cultural programmes. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programmes on radio and television.

The historical importance of Poila Baishakh in the Bangladeshi context may be dated from the observance of the day by Chhayanat in 1965. 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 Poila Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore's song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan 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 colour to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade.


Article Archive

01. Bangladeshi eCommerce
02. eCommerce in Rajshahi
03. Christmas in Rajshahi
04. Ramadan in Rajshahi
05. Iftar in Rajshahi
06. Rajshahi Silk
07. Tangail Sharee
08. Pohela Boishakh
09. Bangladeshi Pitha
10. Bangladeshi Media

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