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custom of Haalkhaata
Pohela Boishakh is a Bangalee festival that blurs all the barriers of race, religion or wealth unttil all that is left is a singularly identifying trait of being Bangalee. The New Year comes forth with its tired old basket full of the last year's trials and agonies ready to be cast out.
There are many customs associated with the beginning of a new year. The start of the Bangla year from Boishakh had its roots back in the days when Akbar was king (1556-1609). There are many contested theories to this. One such theory suggests that this was the time when the peasants would pay their taxes to the king. Another links the harvesting of new grains. Some believe that because it was the time for realising taxes the general people must have had to suffer. Therefore it cannot be a time for festivities. It is believed that the taxes had to be paid at the same time that the farmers were bringing in the new harvest. It amounted to double the sufferings for the poor people.
Bangladesh came under Mughal rule in 1576. Akbar preferred to keep royal events in conjunction with different festivities and decided to follow the calendar year that follows the different seasons. He decided to adopt the Hijri seasons and termed it as the Fasali Season (Crop season). As a result Pohela Boishakh marked the start of the crop season.
The first day of the season is a day that promises good tidings. The day was marked by great feasts in the households of the kings, landlords and assorted noblemen. They would collect the entire year's tolls and taxes and as a result would soften the blow with the food and entertainment. There were staged dramas, recitation and singing by the bards and poets. The peasants would use this as an opportunity to voice their woes and concerns. Not that these were often listened to.
The Haalkhata was a part of the occasion where there would be a symbolic presentation of prosperity with the help of a mango branch and a pot full of water placed on a large mat. The landlords would sit and enter the new names and amounts of loan they are giving to for that particular year. Form this we get the name of Haalkhata. People would send each other greetings using a letter written on red paper or red card.
Following the Mughal era this occasion of haalkhata was still carried out only in the business community. It is a custom that still exists with many preferred customers receiving red greeting cards from their frequented shops. Respected customers are cordially invited to do business. This is especially true in case of jewellery, food and clothes stores. Haalkhata is a Farsi word meaning present times. Even a decade ago this occasion was celebrated with a lot of fanfare. But recently this trend has begun to die down. In the villages the age-old methods of doing business have changed.
Haalkhata is now synonymous with the beginning of the new fiscal year. Old mistakes are reviewed and precautions are taken. A new ledger and a new entry begins the business for the new year.
Many women still wear red-laced garod saris complemented by flowers in their hair. These saris can be found in most shops during the new year, while the rest of the year, these are rare. Such saris can be found a Doyel Silk in Mamtaz Plaza in Dhanmondi Road 10 for around 1300 taka.
The new year will see many women decked in white saris with a red border complemented by softly jingling red glass bangles. Even though what Banglar Mela offers is not quite like the traditional glass bangles but then again there is not too much of a choice in the city markets either.
By Bohemian Soul and Sultana Yasmin
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