Pahela Baishakh is the first day of Bengali Year. It is celebrated with great festivities in both Bangladesh and west Bengal. In Bangladesh, it is a national holiday. According to the Bangladeshi calendar, Pahela Baishakh falls on April 14.
During the Mughal rule, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar. But farmers would face a lot of problems because the agricultural Year does not coincide with the fiscal. So, the Mughal emperor Akbar ordered a reform of the calendar. Accordingly, Fatehullah Shirazi formulated dthe Bengali Year (Bangabda) in 1584 AD. Celebrations of Pahela Baishakh started from then on.
The main event of the day was to open a Halkhata or new book of accounts. The traders and businessmen used to invite their customers to share sweets and renew their business relationship. Punya was another financial affair of the day that was connected with the closing of land revenue accounts. Besides organizing Baishakhi fairs, the events of the day included entertainment programme like jatra, Palagan, Gambhira, Gazir gan etc, and narratice plays like Laily-Majnu, Yusuf-Julekha and Radha-Krishna- Puppet shows and merry-go-round were other attraction. Besides, kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshigonj used to be very colourful events.
Many old festivals connected with Pahela Baishakh have disappeared in course of time. With the abolition of zamindari system, the punya disappeared. Kiteflying, bull racing, horse races, bullfights, cookfights, boat racing, flying pigeons etc, which used to be popular events of Pahela Baishakh in the past have now become almost extinct.
The celebration of Pahela Baishakh now a day includes financial activities, cultural functions, traditional events and special supplements and programmes of print and electronic media.
Businessmen of all communities observe the day with a great degree of solemnity. In villages, towns and cities, traders and businessmen close their old account books and open new ones.The is popularly known as Halkhata. Hindus daub the account books with Sindur for good luck. Besides, all the businessmen entertain their customers with sweets.
Different socio-cultural organizations arrange cultural functions to celebrate the day. In Dhaka, Ctihayanat artists open the day under the Banyan tree at Ramna Park with Tagore’s famous song Eso he Baishakh, Eso eso (come O Baishakh come). A similar ceremony welcoming the New Year is also held at the institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University. Besides, all over the country, the day is celebrated with colourful functions.
The traditional events of Pahela Baishakh include Panta-Hilsa (Soaked rice with fried fish), Baishakhi mela, Bali khela (wrestling), Merry-go-round, puppet shows, wearing traditional dresses etc. besides, on this very day, people try their best to behave well with their neighbours.
News papers bring out special supplements to celebrate the day. There are also special programmes on radio and television. These media programmes emphasize on traditional and cultural heritage of the events of the day.
The Pakistan Government had banned Tagore’s songs. Protesting this move, Chhayanat started their Pahela Baishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore’s song in 1965. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972, it became a national festival and an integral part of the people’s cultural heritage.
Pahela Baishakh reminds us our customs and traditions. Our history and heritage, that is why, it has a universal appeal to us. Consequently, we celebrate the day every year with flamboyant festivities.