Piku Mukherjee: Great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore once said-
Eso hey boisakh, eso eso
Taaposhoniswasobaaye mumurshure dao uraaye
botshorer aborjona dur hoye jaak.
The Bengali New Year celebration is popularly known as Poila Baisakh. So what does Poila Baisakh actually mean? Poila stands for ‘first’ while ‘Baisakh’ is the first month of the year. As per the Bengali calendar, it will mark the beginning of the year 1424. Many people believe that the New Year or Poila Baisakh is simply linked to the harvest festival of Baisakhi. Others, however, say that the Bengali calendar was first formed by Mughal emperor Akbar in the 15th century.
Bengalis are quickly forgetting the traditional old traditional ways of celebrating the ‘Naba Barsho’ but still them celebrated Nababarsho with traditional food and new clothes. Chaitra Sell was the beginning of this celebration.
However, people still wear new clothes, exchange sweets and pleasantries among friends and acquaintances. Younger people touch the feet of elders and seek their blessings for the coming year. Near and dear ones send gifts and greeting cards to one another other. These gifts are often handmade and based on local themes, but they may also be costly gifts from international brands, like Hallmark or Archies Greetings. Baisakh also ushers in the beginning of the new agricultural season in Bengal.
Hindus throughout Bengal celebrate the year-end or ‘Chaitra Sankranti’ with some exciting fairs and festivals, such as Gajan and Charak. Traditional Charak Mela, which includes some extreme spiritual acrobatics, is held in small and big towns in West Bengal, culminating in Latu Babu-Chhatu Babur Bazar in North Kolkata on the last day of the year, and a day later at Konnagar, the location of Bengal’s only ‘Basi Charaker Mela’. The Gajon and Charak Mela of Khanakul Arambag is also famous.
For Bengali traders and shop owners, Poila Baisakh is Haal Khata time, an auspicious day to ‘open’ the ledger. Ganesh and Lakshmi Puja are solemnized in almost all shops and business centers, and regular customers are formally invited to attend the evening party. To consumers, it may not always be something to look forward to, for Haal Khata also means settling of all outstanding debts of the preceding year. Many jewelry shops have been given discounts on purchase and also a gift of new year Bengali calendar. Recent years many big outlets like Anjali Jewelers gave awesome discount to celebrate the occasion.
The Bengali penchant for enjoying good food comes through best on Poila Baisakh. Household kitchens exude the aroma of freshly prepared Bengali delicacies, especially sweet dishes, because it’s thought to be a good omen to start the year with mishtanna, or traditional sweets such as Rosogollas, Payesh, Sandesh, Kalakand and Ras Malai. The New Year cuisine for lunch, of course, contains various preparations of fish and rice. Those who prefer to go out to eateries enjoy a variety of delights for the palate.
There is a subtle difference between the way Bangladesh and West Bengal ring in the New Year. Although Poila Baisakh is very much a part of the Hindu calendar, ‘Naba Barsho’ is a national festival for the Islamic State of Bangladesh, and a distinctly greater exuberance marks the festivities in this part of Bengal.
While it’s Poila Boishakh in West Bengal, the celebration is known as ‘Pahela Baisakh’ in Bangladesh. It’s a public holiday in Kolkata, but in Dhaka, even newspaper offices remain closed for the Bengali New Year.