The Glory and Glamour
Pahela Baishakh has danced her way to our doors once again. You may perceive the presence of Pahela Baishakh in the early-dawn rays of the yellowish sun, which peeps through the eastward window on the first day of the Bengali New Year. You may also see her early in the morning in red and white attire, hands embroidered with mehdi and feet soaked in alta. Pahela Baishakh signifies the majesty and legacy of our Bengali culture, making our souls twirl with the sensation of celebration. Every year Pahela Baishakh comes to us, with a whirlwind of festivities, full of grandeur and splendor. It comes with a reviving blow to our buried sense of cultural awareness and to remind us of the enriched cultural inheritance that we have been nurturing for centuries.
Though Pahela Baishakh comes to us every year with a revitalizing effect on our minds, most us actually don't know why and how this great festival came to our lives and became a very integral part of our culture. The celebration of Pahela Baishakh dates back many centuries. During the times of the Mughals, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar. Since this is a lunar calendar, the agriculture calendar doesn't correspond with the fiscal and farmers found it very difficult to pay taxes out of season. In order to restructure 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 Hijri and Bangla solar calendars. This way the new agricultural year was brought in 1584, but was dated from Akbar's ascension to the throne in 1556. This new calendar subsequently became known as the Bengali New Year.
Traditional Baishakh celebration is characterized by many sorts of merriments. In earlier times, the main event of the day was the opening of halkhata. Traders and businessmen in towns and villages closed their old account books and opened fresh ones. They would invite the customers to settle the credits, share sweetmeats and to renew their business relationships. Though this custom is not seen that much today, it is still practiced by the jewelers particularly in rural areas. Of course, many of the traditional practices of Baishakh have disappeared. In the past there were fairs arranged on the day, providing entertainment with singers and dancers staging jatra, pala gan, jarigan, baul, marefat so on and so forth. There were also stage shows of narrative plays like Laili- Mojno, Yusuf Jolekha etc. Apart from this, kite flying, bullfight, cockfight and boat racing were the hallmarks of celebration and gave utmost pleasure to the enthusiasts. Sad to say these are losing their appeal in modern times.
Although the celebration has lost its early glory, but we must agree that it now appears with new glamour and a distinct flavour. Dhaka and Chittagong are ahead in arranging Boishakhi mela on a larger scale than other places of the country. Dhaka's largest gathering takes place at Ramna batamol (under the banyan tree at Ramna) and is attended by thousands of people. Males don pyjama-panjabi while ladies in white sarees with red border throng the streets displaying their eye dazzling attire. You can also smell the aroma of savoury deshi dishes wafting in the air. Perhaps the most interesting thing to behold is the traditional breakfast scene with panta bhat and ilish in clay dishes. In a vibrant programme, Chayanot artists apostrophize Baishakh with Tagore's famous song Eso he Baishakh, eso eso (Come O Baishakh, come). Another big part of the day in Dhaka is perhaps the multihued rally brought out by enthusiasts of Charukola Institute displaying paper or wooden masks of tigers, peacocks, deers and so on. A common song floats in the air 'mela jaire, mela jaire, bashonti rong saree pore lolonara hete jaire, mela jaire (lets go to the fair, lets go to the fair, ladies are going on foot in vernal attire!). All these melas, which root deep into our identity, actually aim at bringing out the dormant Bangali within us.
In Chittagong, people with outpouring enthusiasm crowd the DC hill (Nazrul Square) early in the morning, where they sit on the earth-carved serpentine gallery in the shadowy hillside and enjoy different performances, which remind one of the ancient open-air theatres in Greece. The hill becomes jubilant and lifelike, taking on a spectacular look. Perhaps the biggest mela of the country on the occasion of the Baishakh also takes place in Chittagong at Laldighi ground, for three consecutive days where the famous Jabbarer Boli khela takes place. If you have ever gone to this mela, you may have seen how one gets lost in the huge multitude. The huge crowd is just like water current carrying away pieces of log down the river.
Pahela Baishakh also bears a historical significance in the context of Bangladesh. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani government had banned Tagore's songs. Protesting the heinous move, Chayanot launched their Pahela Baishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore's songs. Tagore marks Baishakh as a month of tempestuous winds that have a vitalizing effect, sweeping away all the ruins and remains of the past year. It is just what famous romantic poet Shelley expresses in his “Ode to the West Wind” when he says:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear oh, hear!
Let the Bangla Nababarsa 1414 plant the seed of love and humanity in our moist hearts, and guarantee the long-nurtured cultural integrity as well as ensure religious harmony by ascertaining a togetherness and universal brotherhood that we all look forward to.
Writer: Lecturer, Department of English, Leading University, Sylhet.
References: Banglapedia, Internet.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007