The first day of the Bengali month is Pahela Baishakh and this Pahela Baishakh is deeply related to the cosmopolitan, liberal and universal spirit of Bengalis. This first Baishakh is inextricably linked with the Bengali culture, customs, traditions and ideals.
On this day of Pahela Boishakh, the procession to welcome is organized by the Fine Arts Department of Dhaka University and this procession has been accorded the status of a cultural heritage by UNESCO. Pahela Boishakh is the main festival of Bengali culture where people of all religions come together and exchange ideas, thoughts and views. This festival of Pahela Boishakh unites the entire Bengali nation and breathes life into them and this festival becomes a grand gathering. On this day Bengalis forget the pains and hardships of their old years and at the same time they try to be overwhelmed by the new touch. Every year this day opens the door to new hope and new possibilities. From time immemorial, Bengalis have been celebrating the first day of the month of Baishakh in various ways. Bengali New Year is the bearer of thousands of years of history, traditions, customs, rituals and culture. It is a universal festival of Bengalis and its significance and depth is much more in the life of Bengalis. The celebration of Pahela Baishakh started from the time of Emperor Akbar but at that time it was basically a festival of tax collection. The first public holiday was declared on the first Baishakh during the rule of the United Front government in 1954. New Year celebrations were banned during the rule of Ayub Khan but the government could not do so in the face of intense protests and a public holiday was further declared on this day in 1964. However, as a protest against the cultural oppression and exploitation of the Pakistani ruling class, the first Baishakh became a national festival in 1968 with the New Year celebrations organized by Chayanat at the base of Ramna. Although New Year's festivities are closely related to rural Bengal, the appeal of New Year's festivities has now spread beyond the village to the urban areas.
In 1989, the Institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University organized the first procession to welcome on this first Baishakh. The procession that is taken out on the morning of Pahela Boishakh beautifully reflects the traditions of Bengal. In this procession, the traditions of Bengal are highlighted by carrying various symbolic works of art identifying the Bengali culture with colourful masks and replicas of various animals. Rural life and Bangla New Year are deeply intertwined and on this day a variety of new food, sweets and cakes are made in rural areas and a flood of joy flows into the lives of the villagers. People of all ages come together on this day wearing new clothes and there is a sense of brotherhood and responsibility towards each other. This first Boishakh also adds a new dimension and new momentum in the field of trade and commerce. Merchants close old year accounts and celebrate Halkhata and distribute sweets. This day is made memorable and admirable in the life of Bengalis by organizing various cultural competitions. Bengalis as well as small ethnic groups celebrate the Bengali New Year with great enthusiasm and they make this day a memorable day in their lives. Bengali New Year celebrations are attended by people of all ages irrespective of religion and caste and this creates a sense of universal brotherhood, non-communal consciousness and secularism. Children, teenagers and women wear traditional clothes and go to the fair on the first day of Boishakh and on this day they eat a variety of traditional food and cakes including panta-ilish..
A unique attraction of Bengali New Year is Baishakhi Mela. Although this fair has not been celebrated since the arrival of covid-19 pandemic, its position is rooted to be very deep in the heart of Bengalis. The fair of Pahela Boishakh has become universal fair and various cultures of ancient Bengal such as puppet show, bioscope, merry-go-round and snake charming are organized in this fair. A variety of cottage products, and various works of art made of clay and bamboo are presented at this Baishakhi fair, which is the bearer of Bengali culture. Different types of utensils made of bamboo and different types of toys made of clay are presented in this Baishakhi fair Pahela Boishakh comes back every year to celebrate the ancient tradition of Bengalis and Bengalis welcome this day with utmost sincerity. Forgetting the frustrations and hardships of the old years, the entire Bengali nation celebrates this day with the hope of something new in the new year all over the country. Bengali New Year is a festival that creates mutual bonds, brotherhood, co-operation, friendship and love among Bengalis. It has become a national festival of Bengalis and at the same time has become an integral part of the national spirit of Bengalis and an essential part of Bengali identity. It frees us from all kinds of superstitions, orthodoxy and misinterpretation and teaches us secularism. This Bengali New Year is a great proof of the rich culture that we have. Through this, children and teenagers can get to know the Bengali culture and traditions and a special kind of brotherhood and strong bond is formed between them. Bengali New Year makes us eager to learn and know the true human values hidden among us in a new way. The Bengali New Year is not limited to just one event, it has a multidimensional aspect and it is a symbol of national spirit. It teaches humanism and creates in us a mentality of how to help others and how to uphold one's own culture and keep one's head high in the world. But we have to keep this festival free from all kinds of cultural aggression and it must be universal and we have to continue it. Hopefully we will be able to celebrate this day again once the end of corona epidemic.
The writer is Assistant Professor, B A F Shaheen College Kurmitola, Dhaka Cantonment.