Dhaka, Bangladesh
Its politico-economic history

Pahela Baishakh

Its politico-economic history

The Bengali calendar is attributed by some historians to the 7th century king Shashanka, which was later modified by Mughal emperor Akbar for the purpose of tax collection. During the Mughal rule, land taxes were collected from Bengali people according to the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar was a lunar calendar, and its new year did not coincide with the solar agricultural cycles. Emperor Akbar, therefore, felt the necessity of a new calendar and asked the royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi to create a new one by combining the lunar Islamic calendar and solar Hindu calendar already in use, and this was known as Fasholi shan (harvest calendar). According to some historians, this started the Bengali calendar year. It could be Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, a Mughal governor, who first used the tradition of Punyaho as "a day for ceremonial land tax collection", and used Akbar's fiscal policy to start the Bangla calendar. According to Shamsuzzaman, "it is called Bangla san or saal, which are Arabic and Parsee words respectively. It suggests that it was introduced by a Muslim king or sultan." In contrast, according to Nitish Sengupta, its traditional name is Bangabda. The term Bangabda (Bangla year) is found too in two Shiva temples many centuries older than Akbar era, suggesting that Bengali calendar existed before Akbar's time. It is unclear, whether it was adopted by Hussain Shah or Akbar. The tradition to use the Bengali calendar may have been started by Hussain Shah before Akbar. Regardless of who adopted the Bengali calendar and the new year, it helped collect land taxes after the spring harvest based on traditional Bengali calendar, because the Islamic Hijri calendar created administrative difficulties in setting the collection date. According to some historians, the Bengali festival of Pohela Boishakh is related to the traditional Hindu New Year festival called Vaisakhi, and other names, in the rest of India on or about the same dates. Vaisakhi, also spelled Baisakhi, is observed by both Hindus and Sikhs. The new year festival in eastern and northern states of India is linked to Hindu Vikrami calendar. This calendar is named after king Vikramaditya and starts in 57 BCE. In rural Bengali communities of India, the Bengali calendar is credited to "Vikramaditya", like many other parts of India and Nepal. However, unlike these regions where it started in 57 BCE, the Bengali calendar started from 593 CE suggesting that the starting reference year was adjusted at some point which coincides with the reign of king Shashanka. The current Bengali calendar in use in the Indian states is based on the Sanskrit text Surya Siddhanta. It retains the historic Sanskrit names of the months, with the first month as Baishakh. Their calendar remains tied to the Hindu calendar system and is used to set various Bengali Hindu festivals. For Bengalis of West Bengal and other Indian states, the festival falls either on 14 or 15 April every year. In Bangladesh, however, the old Bengali calendar was modified in 1966 by a committee headed by Muhammad Shahidullah, making the first five months 31 days long, the rest 30 days each, with the month of Falgun adjusted to 31 days in every leap year. This was officially adopted by Bangladesh in 1987. Since then, the national calendar started with and the new year festival always falls on 14 April in Bangladesh. The Bengali New Year is observed as a public holiday in Bangladesh. It is celebrated by the Muslim majority and Hindu minority as well. The festival became a popular means of expressing cultural pride and heritage among the Bangladeshis. The day is marked with singing, processions, and fairs. Traditionally, businesses start this day with a new ledger, clearing out the old. Singers perform traditional songs welcoming the new year. People wear festive dress with women dressing their hair with flowers. White-red color combinations are particularly popular. People of Bangladesh prepare and enjoy varieties of traditional festive foods on Pahela Boishakh. These include panta bhat (watered rice), ilish bhaji (fried hilsa fish) and lots of special bhartas (mash). The celebrations start in Dhaka at dawn with a rendition of Rabindranath Tagore's song "Esho he Baishakh" under the banyan tree at Ramna (the Ramna Batamul). An integral part of the festivities is the Mangal Shobhajatra, a traditional colourful procession organised by the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka (Charukala). According to the history, the rudimentary step of Mangal Shobhjatra started in Jessore by Charupith, a community organization, in 1985. Later in 1989 the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka arranged this Mangal Shobhajatra with different themes. Now, the Mangal Shobhajatra is celebrated by different organizations all over the country. The Dhaka University Mangal Shobhajatra tradition started in 1989. They organized the festival to create masks and floats with at least three themes, one highlighting evil, another courage, and a third about peace. It also highlighted the pride of Bangladeshi people for their folk heritage irrespective of religion, creed, caste, gender or age. In recent years, the procession has a different theme relevant to the country's culture and politics every year. Different cultural organizations and bands also perform on this occasion and fairs celebrating Bengali culture are organized throughout the country. Other traditional events held to celebrate Pahela Boishakh include bull racing in Munshiganj, wrestling in Chittagong, boat racing, cockfights, pigeon racing. Christians, a tiny minority representing less than one percent of the country's population of 160 million, embrace the New Year with prayers and festivities. Across Bangladesh, churches hold special prayers for the well being of the nation and Christian organizations, including educational institutes, organize rallies, fair and cultural programs. The church "highly appreciates and endorses" universal festivals like Pohela Boishakh, which brings together people of all religions including indigenous people, says Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Interreligious Dialogue Commission in northern Rajshahi Diocese. "People need a platform like this to bring an end to all the differences they have. This is very important for dialogue, unity and the common good."

Share |