Nababarsha, the first day of the Bangla Shaal, is a momentous occasion in the life of each and every Bangladeshi. People in every nook and corner of our country celebrate Pahela Baishakh with fun and frolic, pleasure and gaiety, joy and happiness.It is a cruel irony of fate, however, that a few biased and narrow-minded Muslims look down upon the Nababarsha festival simply because they consider it to be a festival of non-Muslim origin. On the other hand, a group of ignorant and bigoted non-Muslims try to distort history and establish that the Bangla calendar was introduced by a non-Muslim king. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There is simply no shadow of doubt that the Bangla calendar was definitely introduced by the Muslims in this subcontinent.
Pahela Baishakh or the Bangla New Year’s Day, so warmly celebrated throughout the length and breadth of Bangladesh and in some adjoining states of India as well, however, originated not from our country but from an entirely different part of the subcontinent, more than a thousand miles away from Bangladesh. What is more, it was introduced not by any Bangalee but by an out and out non-Bengalee in whose grandfather’s veins flowed the blood of both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Yes, what is popularly known as Bangla Shaal today (Shaal incidentally originates from the Persian word Saal which means “year”) saw the light of day through an ordinance promulgated by Akbar the Great, the renowned grandson of the legendary Mogul emperor Babar whose mother was a descendant of Genghis Khan and father a descendant of Tamerlane. It was to immortalize a momentous occasion, a critical juncture of history, that the Great Mogul introduced this new system of calendar. The new calendar was initially known as Tarikh-e-Elahi and it was introduced on the 10th or 11th March of 1584 AD (963 AH). Tarikh-e-Elahi, although introduced in 1584 AD, dates from the day of Akbar’s ascension to the throne of Delhi and commemorates his coronation as the Emperor of India in 1556 AD.
It was no ordinary event. The Moguls had nearly lost the throne of Delhi for good. Akbar was not even an adult when the life of his father Humayun was cut short on the stairs of his own library. What is more, the mighty Hindu general Himu, the Commander-in-Chief of Islam Shah, conquered both Delhi and Agra and declared himself Raj Chakravarty. It seemed that the days of the Moguls were numbered and they would soon be driven out from the subcontinent for ever and a day. But the brave and indomitable Akbar rose to the occasion and faced the music with all the courage and conviction under the sun. With the able guidance and help of Bairam Khan, Abul Fath Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar created history by defeating the ‘invincible’ army of Himu at the Second Battle of Panipat on the 5th of November, 1556. It was indeed a momentous occasion in the annals of history. It not only re-established the Moghul dynasty on the Indian soil but also ensured its continuance for many a year to come. As a result, the Moguls ruled over this subcontinent with glory and greatness for three hundred years.
It was the greatest achievement in Akbar’s chequered life and undoubtedly one of the most decisive events in the Mogul history. It was to glorify and immortalize this historic event and also to facilitate the collection of revenue during harvest in a more systematic way that the emperor Akbar introduced Tarikh-e-Elahi from the tenth of Rabi-ul-Awal in 963 AD. It may be mentioned in this connection that from the very beginning of his reign, Akbar felt the need of introducing a uniform, scientific, workable and acceptable system of calculating days and months through a reformed calendar. With this end in view, he commissioned Amir Fathullah Shirazi, a distinguished scientist and the most famous astronomer and astrologer of the day, to make a recommendation for the proposed changes. Abul Fazal, the renowned scholar and a minister of Akbar the Great, in his scholarly work Akbar Namah gives details of the events leading to the appointment of Amir Fathullah Shirazi and the introduction of the new era under the Royal Farman of Akbar.
Abul Fazal explains that the use of the Hegira (Hijri) Era was unfair to the peasantry, because 31 lunar years were equal to 30 solar years, and the revenue was collected on the lunar years whereas the harvest was dependent on the solar ones. Abul Fazl was right because the lunar years consist of 354 days and the solar years have 365 or 366 days. Thus there was a difference of 11 or 12 days between the lunar and the solar years.
The Farman (Royal Proclamation) ran as follows :
“In this dominion adorning time and auspicious epoch, when a cycle (Qarn) of the victorious session on throne of sovereignty has elapsed, and the good day of fortune has begun to smile, a world-obeyed Farman was issued to the effect that the governors of the Imperial dominions, and the other offices of state and finance, who in accordance of their degrees and positions, are recipients of the royal favours, should know as follows :
‘Whereas the totality of His majesty’s lofty intellect is engaged in contriving that all sorts and conditions of men – who are fearfully and wonderfully made – may pass their precious days which cannot be exchanged or replaced in cheerfulness…….
Meanwhile the great officers of the court have represented to us as follows : “It is not hidden from the Inspired Kind that the object of establishing an era is that the seasons of affairs and events may be known with ease’ and no one has any occasion for alteration. Suppose, for example, someone makes a contract, or takes a favour or a loan, and the period of execution be 4 years, 4 months : unless the exact date of the beginning be known, it will be difficult, or rather impossible, to determine the date of completion. It is evident too that whenever an era has prevailed for a long time, the establishment of a new one opens the games of ease and prosperity for all mankind….
The repeated representation of this body of men, and a regard for their petitions, prevailed and were accepted, and an order was issued that the new year, which followed close on the year of accession, should be made the foundation of the Divine Era, and that the gates of joy and comfort should be opened….
Also that in the almanacs of India they (almanac writers) should enter this new era instead of their discordant eras …… and that they do away with their various eras. And whereas in the almanacs current in India the years were solar, and the months lunar, we ordered that the months of the new era should be solar……”
In introducing the Farman of Akbar of 992 AH (1584 AD), Abul Fazl makes the following remarks in his Akbar Namah : “The pillar of the founders of the Sacred Era was the learned of the age, the Plato of cycles (Alwani) Amir Fath Ullah Shirazi whose title was Azad-ud Daula. He it was who in a happy hour laid the foundation of this heavenward soaring edifice. Although the foundation (i.e. the Farman) took place in 992 AH (1584 AD) yet the position of events dates from the beginning of the sacred accession of Akbar.”
Abul Fazal further adds : “The Farman ordered that the new year which followed close on the year of accession should be made the foundation of the Divine Era and accordingly the first of Muharram (the first month of the Hijri calendar) of 963 AH being close on the occasion was also made the starting point of the year 963 of the Bengali Era. Since the month of Muharram of 963 AH coincided with the Bengali month of Baishakh, the month of Baishakh was made the first month of the Bengali Era instead of the month of Chaitra which was the first month of the Shaka Era being practiced in the then Bengal.
The first of Baishakh of 963 Bengali Era fell on the 11th April, 1556. After 457 years, we have the first of Baishakh on the April 14. The difference is very small indeed!
The question naturally arises, why there is a difference of 14 years between the Hijri and the Bangla calendars. The answer is very simple. The Islamic Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar and the Bangla calendar is a solar one. The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year. Hence the difference between the Hijri calendar and the Bangla calendar.. But the difference is almost insignificant in case of the Bangla year and the Gregorian year both of which are based on the solar years.
At the time of the introduction of the Tarikh-e-Elahi, the difference between the Gregorian and Hijri years (on which is based the present Bangla Shaal) was 1556 – 963 = 593 years, and the difference on Pahela Baishak in 1404 is also 2013 – 1420 = 593 years. This also testifies so eloquently to the fact that the Bangla Shaal corresponds to the Tarikh – Elahi introduced by Akbar the Great.
In spite of all these facts and figures some still claim inadvertently that the Bangla calendar was introduced by Shasanka, King of Bengal, to commemorate his conquest of Assam. But records testify that Shasanka, son of Maha Sengupta, conquered Benares and moved towards the Chilka Lake and never towards Assam.
Regarding the names of the days being practised in the Bengali Era it is claimed that during the reign of Akbar, each day of the month used to have a different name. As it was pretty difficult to memorize the 31 names for the 31 days of a month, Emperor Shahjahan brought it down to a weekly system in his Fashali Shan. He introduced seven different names for the seven days of the week. This was probably done through the influence of a Portuguese scholar, and the days had remarkable similarity with the Roman nomenclature being practised in Europe. The following chart will help to clarify the matter:
1. Rabi for Sun (Sunday), 2. Shome for Moon (Monday), 3. Mongol for Mars [Tuesday, or Tiwes daeg, the day of Tiw (Mars), the god of war], 4. Budh for Mercury, 5. Brihaspati for Jupiter (Thursday), 6. Shukra for Venus (Friday), 7. Shani for Saturn (Saturn).
Mention may be made in this connection that the Bangla week starts from Sunday exactly in the same way as the weeks in the Western calendars.
The months of the year were initially known as Karwadin, Ardi, Vihishu, Khordad, Teer, Amardad, Shahriar, Aban, Azur, Dai, Bahman and Iskander Miz. Nobody, however, knows for sure how and when we started naming the months as Baishakh, Jaishtya, etc. But there is no shadow of doubt that thee names were based on stars. It is presumed that the names were derived from the Shakabda, which was introduced in 78 AD to commemorate the reign of the Shaka Dynasty in this subcontinent. The star-based names were derived as follows :
1) Baishakh from the star known as Baishakha or Bishaka , 2) Jaishtya from Jaishta, 3) Ashara from Shar, 4) Sraban from Srabani, 5) Bhadra from Bhadrapada, 6) Ashin from Ashwini, 7) Kartik from Kartika, 8) Aghrayon from Aghraihon, 9) Poush from Poushya, 10) Magh from Magha, 11) Falgun from Falguni, and 12) Chaitra from Chitra stars.
A few historians claim that the first month of the Bangla year used to be Aghrayon and not Baishakh as it is today. (In the Gregorian calendar also the first month was initially March and not January).
As in the case of the Islamic calendar, the Bangla calendar did not enjoy its infancy. It was already 963 years old when it saw the light of day, because it was initially based on the Hijri calendar. To be more precise, after the completion of the first Bengali year (i.e. Tarikh-e-Elahi), it was the 964th year (as it was introduced in 963 AH) and not the 2nd year of the calendar.
The system of celebrating the first day of the year was also introduced to this subcontinent by Akbar the Great. After introducing Tarikh-e-Elahi, he abolished the hitherto practised Muslim festivals and replaced those by 14 new festivals, one of which was Nawroze or the celebration of the New Year’s Day. It was the celebration of one such Nawroze, which enabled Prince Selim (later Emperor Jehangir) to meet and fall in love with Mehrunnisa (known as Empress Nurjahan in history). It was again in one such Nawroze festival that the Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shahjahan) first came across Mumtaj Mahal, whom he immortalized through the great ‘poetry in marble’ known the world over as Taj Mahal. Had there been no Nababarsha (or Nawroze) festival, there perhaps would be no Mumtaj Mahal, and no Taj Mahal.
The writer is former Director General, Islamic Foundation.