Amongst the most famous festivals of the Bengalis, apart from Durga Puja, Poila Baisakh scores the most.
This is celebrated on the 15th of April, according to the Gregorian calendar, and on the 1st of Baisakh or the poila as it means.
It is one day when people of all age group don new clothes and make merry keeping in mind Bengali culture and traditions. Poila Baisakh is also known as Nobo Barsho, as it means the New Year, which Poila Baisakh too means.
The Bengali Calendar
The Bengali calendar was actually revised by Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the Great Mughal Emperor, to ease the woes of tax collection, as the harvest session and taxpaying time did not match. This was a fantastic and wise decision as it amalgamated the best of both lunar and solar calendar. Initially this calendar was named as the Fasli San, which later came to be known as the Bongabdo. It was a masterstroke. The celebrations of POila Baisakh also date back to the time of Akbar only. The taxes had to be paid on the last day of the month of Chaitra, the last one before Baisakh. Thus when a feast and fares were organized for the Poila Baisakh on that day, it smoothed a lot of ruffled feathers.
This day of the Indian solar calendar and many other regional calendars followed 14 th of April as the beginning of a new year. Throughout the Indian subcontinent and wherever there is a Bengali Diaspora, this day is celebrated with great jot and lot of fanfare. It is one of those rare festivals which is celebrated by all Bengalis, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. In West Bengal and Assam, Poila Baisakh is a state holiday.
Celebrations of Poila Baisakh or Pohela Baisakh
On the day of the Poila Baisakh, people tend to have a bath early. For the Hindus, the month Baisakh is extremely auspicious and people start lot of new ventures during this time. It is a propitious date and time for people to solemnize their marriages also.
Hindu Bengalis, upon waking and bathing, visit the temples to seek divine blessings for the ensuing year. People for this day buy new clothes and accessories. This day also entails cooking up of a storm in the Bengali household, calling or going over to friends or relatives.
There is a special puja for the Bengali business community on this day. This tradition is called halkhata. This is a unique celebration where the copies of the merchants are worshipped and the auspicious sign of the Swastika is drawn on these accounting books. The shopkeepers start the new year by offering their valued patrons discounts and enticing them to buy the products.
Bengalis wear traditional dresses on this auspicious day. This includes that the ladies are mostly clad in beautiful sarees and the men wear dhoti- kurta or Kurta –Pajama.
In lot of places people start the day with traditional food like Panta Bhaat or left over rice which had been soaked in water. This is had with green chillies, pickles, dal or lentil soup and the Hilsa fry.
Sea of people can be seen in front of the Kalighat Temple, housing the Goddess kali in Kolkata can be seen, where the devotees go to seek her blessings.
Lot of people sing Rabindranath Tagore song- Esho he Baisakh, or come thee Baisakh and do a walk round the roads early in the morning on this day. This is called Prabhat Feri.This day sees a surge in revived Bengali cultural aspect, like watching the dying art form of Jatra. There are many people who are keen audience of Theatre and watch the same on the first day of the year. There are a lot of Baisakhhi fares organized, where people throng in numbers. There are jatra, palagan or the kobi gan which are basically minstrels singing ballads, Gombhira etc. the fares also sell numerous wares to attract the revelers.
Celebrations in Bangladesh
Bangladesh celebrates POila Baisakh in a major way. People singing songs take to the street from Ramona. An important part of these festivities is the procession taken out by the students and teachers of Dhaka University’s Art department from the Ramona Park. They sing on their way.
Celebrations in other countries
In other countries like Australia, USA, Canada, Uk and the UAE too Poila Baisakh is celebrated by the Bengali community with much fanfare.