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The 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.

By Sultana Yasmin
Translated By Ehsanur Raza Ronny


Shop talk

Cheap Glass craze
Cheap glass is very much in style now a days, in fact the material has a typical muffassil town look about it and has really hit a chord with urbane Dhaka. You will find transparent jugs and glasses, flower vases, shot glasses, teacups at posh stores like Kamranga, Jatra to name a few. Price of course varies with the size and design and starts from Tk.25 to Tk. 195. (Kamranga Address: house 30, road 42, Gulshan.)

Glass Coaster
While still on the subject of glass, a must-check out item at Kamranga is their really fascinating embossed glass coasters. These square clear glass coasters with cheery imprints will add a totally wonderful look to your table. However these are a little pricey a single piece will cost you Tk. 120.

Serving food while you are entertaining guests is now considered as a fashion statement. Wooden and bamboo trays are available at Jatra at various prices. The price starts from Tk. 250 and goes up to Tk. 400. Placement mats in colourful rickshaw-painting motifs are found in Jatra at a very reasonable price Tk. 250 to 350.

Deshi knick-knack
During Boishakh, deshi souvenirs are high on everybody's list, be it for your house or for your friend's a colourful shakh hari or shora in folk paintings, a traditional wooden toy horse or elephant in its flamboyant colours look great as gifts items. For these try out Aloha at Green road.

Nice silk bags with sequin work and adorable cane handles are available at Kamranga. They come in two sizes / shapes. The Bags will cost you Tk. 260 Tk. 390/- each. Another item that you have to check out is the jute bag for storing dirty clothes, which is yours at Tk 1600.

Garod saris interwoven with silk and velvet string were signs of class back in the days of the landlords. Festivities were marked by women dressed in this outfit to lend an air of sophistication to their stance. Benarasi and georgette were non-existent. Women folk hailing from well-off families would prefer the comfortable garod saris as their symbol of elegance.

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.

Glass bangles
Like the cat with the bell, women can be heard from a distance with the mellifluous aid of glass bangles. It's a sound that awakens the spirit of a lover. When her man presents a set it has the power to soothe the anger of a raging woman. Unfortunately these are slowly becoming part of the past. Dictates of modern fashion are starting to sideline glass bangles. Despite that, people sometimes still want to don a set of glass pieces. It may not be easy to find but do try your hand at new Market, Gausia and Old Dhaka. These places still offer a huge selection. Sometimes the boutiques also offer their own designs in glass.

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




Essentials Special

Bits on Chaitra Shankranti
The ambience is full of enthusiasm. In all parts of the country revellers are getting ready to welcome the year 1411. The day before Pohela Baishakh, the last day of the Bangla year, is called Chaitra Shankranti. Bidding farewell to the year gone by used to be a widespread event among the people of this continent. It used to be rejoiced through specific rituals, some of which have disappeared from our lifestyle, but some remain. In different parts of our continent it is still being celebrated in style. We present bits and pieces on how people celebrate the last day of Bangla year.

In north Bengal…
there are traditions of cooking a special kind of khichuri on Chaitra Shankranti. The tradition is to cook the dish on Chaitra Shankranti and eat it on Pohela Baishakh. The khichuri requires 7 types of shaak one of them have to be titaari shaak. Titaari is a bitter taste uncultivated vegetable found in the jungle and fields.

Charak utshab
Charak utshab is a festival celebrated by dhukies (drummers) all around Bangladesh and West Bengal. All through Chaitra, dhukies dance and exult on the streets and market places of villages together with the rhythm of their drums. Charak mela is arranged in this month. The festival ends on the day of Chaitra Shankranti.

Mango bites
Mango is the most popular fruit in this continent. It is eaten in many forms starting from when they are green. In some part of the continent it is a tradition among the people to start eating mango from Chaitra Shankranti. Before that they would never eat the fruit. Making of delicious aachar begins from this day. Chhaatoo, a special item made with different kinds of grains are eaten with mango chutneys on this day.

Ganga-Sagar snan
Also on the day of Chaitra Shankranti, it is a tradition among the people of Hindu religion to perform Ganga-Shagar snan (a type of holy bath) at the place where the river Ganges conjoin with the sea.

By Shahnaz Parveen




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