Poila Baisakh - Bengali New Year
Poila Baisakh - Bengali New Year
It is that time of the year when Bengalis greet you with 'Subho Nobo Borsho' and a plate of sweets. It is the Bengali New Year or Poila Baisak.
Poila Baisakh is the first day of Baisakh, the first month of the Bengali calendar. So, in essence celebrating the first day of the year sets the tone for the whole year, by starting afresh and upholding traditions.
For if the first day goes well the whole year will be prosperous. Baisakh is also the month when Bengal's favourite personality, Nobel Laureate Bengali Poet and Writer, Rabindranath Tagore was born - on 25th Baisakh. So, this month is of immense importance to the Bengalis.
History or Origin
The Bengali New Year traces its roots back to the Mughal era. The Mughals found it difficult to collect taxes because of the difference in the lunar Hijri calendar and the crop harvests followed the solar cycle.
To remedy this, Emperor Akbar asked that the Hindu calendar and the Muslim lunar calendar be combined to formulate a harvest calendar or fosholi shon.
This harvest calendar started around 14-15 April and turned into the Bengali calendar. The Bengali year is known as Bangabad. This 15th of April will mark the beginning of the 1428th year of the Bengali calendar.
The formula for calculating the calendar was as given below:
Islamic year of Akbar's crowning (963) + current Gregorian solar year (2021) - Gregorian solar year of Akbar's crowning (1556).
963+2021-1556 = 1428
This year was 1428.
It is believed that Murshid Quli Khan, the ruler of Murshidabad, the Mughal Capital of Bengal first started this festival.
Poila Baisakh Traditions
The day starts on a positive note by dressing in new clothes and a puja at home with offerings of sweets to the gods and goddesses. The puja elements include a 'mangal ghot' with mango leaves, a Swastik application in red kumkum, and a 'kulo' used for separating impurities from rice grains.
Next, you seek the blessings of the elders of the house by touching their feet. The house has been cleaned and dusted before the New Year and decked up with new furnishings.
People go on a Prabhat feri or an early morning procession singing songs like "esho hey Baisakh esho esho" written by Rabindranath Tagore. The song literally means come Baisakh come, ushering in the new year.
After these neighbourhood processions, it is time for food, adda and shopping. Next is the Bengalis favourite breakfast luchi or Puri and aloor dum (Bengali version of dum aloo) along’with jalebi, Rabri and sondesh or some other bengali sweet.
The Business Omen
Poila Baisakh is that time of the year when Bengali businessmen and shopkeepers open their ledger for the New Year with a red traditional notebook called 'halkhata’. Bengalis also visit jewellery shops and buy gold to begin the year on an auspicious note and usher in Lakshmi. Shopping is not restricted to gold but also extends to any kind of shopping specially saris and groceries.
The Food & Festivity
Traveling to new places or meeting up with your friends and family for a gala lunch is part of this festival.
This day is reserved for a true Bengali meal with an elaborate menu of 10-15 Bengali delicacies like
- steamed rice or pulao
- 2-3 different kinds of fries like begun bhaja (fried brinjal), aloo bhaja ( thinly sliced fried potatoes), kumro bhaja ( fried pumpkin slices), posto bora (poppy seed fritters),
- 2-3 vegetable curries like the iconic shukto ( a bittersweet curry of unripe banana and other vegetables), potol er dorma (a parmal dish) , aloo Posto (potato poppy seeds curry);
- along with numerous fish and mutton delicacies like Chingri malaikari ( jumbo prawn dish), shorshe ilish (Hilda cooked in mustard), mutton kosha ( a typical Bengali mutton curry)
The meal ends with a sweet and sour chutney made with mango, pineapple or a simple tomato one, followed by papad and dessert like misti doi and payesh.
After the gala meal and heated intellectual discussions it is time for the afternoon siesta, which will freshen you up for the first sunset of the year.
The Cultural Events
The evening is filled with cultural events of song, dance, plays, recitals in a family or neighbourhood gathering. This is usually accompanied by exquisite singara (samosa) and chops (pakora or fritters) along with chai and coffee. And of course there are sweets for guests and visitors.
This is how Bengalis celebrate the New Year or Nobo Borsho which falls between 13-15th April.
Subho Nobo Borsho (Happy New Year) to all of you.