Bengali New Year or ‘Poila Boishakh’ initiates the first month of the Bengali calendar. Based on Surya Siddhanta, the Hindu Vedic solar calendar, this day is celebrated on the first day of the Bengali month of Boishakh. This auspicious day is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm across West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh. This occasion is marked by gaiety, merriment, exchanging gifts and wishes and a fresh beginning. Initiated by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, this day shares historical significance along with distinct Bengali traditions, culture and customs that have evolved with time. The articles assigned in this chapter discusses various aspects of the Bengali New Year and the history, traditions and celebrations associated with it.
Poila Boishakh or Nobo Borsho is the celebration of Bengali New Year- which marks the first day of the Bengali calendar. The new calendar was initially known as Tarikh-e-Elahi and was introduced on 10 or 11 March 1584 by the 3rd Mughal Emperor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. He introduced it to glorify and immortalize all the historical events and also to facilitate the collection of revenue during that period. The system of celebrating Poila Baisakh or Bengali New Year was also instigated by Akbar the great. This day is still celebrated as a national holiday. Traditions & Customs Bengali New Year signifies a new beginning for all the Bengalis. Wearing new dresses, decorating homes, worshiping Gods, exchanging sweets and gifts etc are the general ways of celebrating this festival. Panjika, the Hindu astrological almanac is another vital part of this occasion which every Bengali wish to own during this time. It is amongst the most popular annual books published in India as it is a handy reference to determine the most auspicious times for the hindu rituals, festivals, celebrations, and pursuits of various sorts including marriage, undertaking travels, etc. "Hal-Khata” Time The “Hal-Khata” tradition is another important element for all the businessmen and shopkeepers. It is the accounts books of the traders which begins from the first day of Baisakh after offering puja to the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi and Ganesha. Pujas are solemnized in almost all shops and business centers, and regular customers are formally invited to attend the evening party. Hal-Khata also carries a message for the customers indeed which says them to clear out all the outstanding dues of the preceding year. Places Celebrating “Poila Boishakh” This festival carries with it a lot of customs and traditions. Bengalis generally acknowledge this festival very significantly. Bangladesh, West Bengal along with Assam, Jharkhand and Orissa are the common areas who observe this festival joyfully. But Bengalis living outside Bengal had spread this festival enormously. Social Networking sites like Facebook has also helped to unroll the traditions of Poila Boishakh. Enthusiastic people of West Bengal celebrate the eve of Nobo Borsho as Chaitra-Sankranti bidding farewell to the past year. Songs, dance, games besides reciting of poems are organized in various parts of the West Bengal to mark the occasion. Fairs and cultural programmes are very common forms of entertainment in this festival. This festival is celebrated with great grandeur and colours in Dhaka along with other parts of Bangladesh. This carnival gets started through a welcome song by “Rabindranath Tagore”- “Eso he Boishakh”- specially written for this occasion. But the most important part of the festivities in Dhaka is the "Mangal Subhojatra" - a traditional colourful procession organised by the students of Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University. This event carries various themes relevant to the country’s cultures and traditions. Global Celebrations of Poila Boishakh Apart from Bengal, Poila Boishakh is also celebrated by the Bengali community living in United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia etc. Today, Poila Boishakh celebrations also mark a day of cultural unity without distinction between class and religious affiliations. This way people are celebrating this festival globally. In 2013, the Secretary of United States, John Kerry wished all Bengali-speaking people around the world “Subho Noboborsho!” wishing them happiness and prosperity on behalf of President Barack Obama and the American people. London also celebrates this festival with huge pomp and show. All day long cultural programmes are arranged along with a fair. The Boishakhi Mela in London is also another great attraction which happens to be the largest Bengali celebration to grace any other city in the world. This mela is about to enter its 16th year of celebration this year. In Australia, the Bangla new year is also celebrated in cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra through Boishakhi Melas (fairs) where people gather to celebrate the culture of Bengalis through dances, fashion shows, stalls of art, music, clothing, food, etc. This festival is celebrated grandly in Australia whose details are shared by an Indian residing there for about twenty years. The Bengali community in United Kingdom also celebrates this festive moment with a street festival there remembering all their age old customs and traditions. They organize a Mela which is actually the largest open air Asian festival in Europe as well as the second-largest street festival in the UK attracting over 80,000 visitors from around the UK. Designed to showcase Bangladeshi talent in the arts, music and culture, the event features a parade, music and dance performances, food stalls and family-friendly activities. Bengalis greet their acquaintances saying “Subho NoboBorsho” along with sweets and gifts. They start their day touching the feet of their elders and worshiping God to have a happy and prosperous new year ahead.