The genesis of Bangla Calendar

Kazi Liakat Hossain
Come, Come, O Baishakh, Come. With your severe hot breath, Blow away all that is frail

We celebrate Pahela Baishakh, Bangla New Year’s day.

Everything under the sun looks gay and cheerful and colourful. As we celebrate Pahela Baishakh after the advent of spring, we are reminded that the Babylonians who were in fact the first observer of a New Year about (4000) four thousand years ago. Celebrations of the new year are the oldest of all holidays.

There is little doubt that the Bangla Calendar that we follow today, was introduced by the muslims in this subcontinent more than thousand miles away. What is more, the Bangla Saal was introduced not by any Bangalee but by a non-Bangalee in whose grandfather’s vein flowed the blood of both Chengis Khan and Taimurlong. What is popularly known as Bangla saal ‘today saw the light of day through an ordinance promulgated by Akbar the great, the renowned grand son of Zahiruddin Mohammad Babar. When mother and father were descendents of Chengis Khan a Mongolian great warrior and Taimurlong respectively.

Since the month of Muharram coincided with the Bangalee month of Baishakh in 963 A.H. The month of Baishakh in Bengal was made the first month of the Bangali Era instead of the month of Chaitra which was the first month of Shaka Era being practised in the then Bengal.

It is an irony of fate that a few orthodox Muslims in our country, shrouded in sheer ignorance, look down upon this Pahela Baishakh festival simply because they in advertently consider it to be a festival of non-mulsim origin. The months of the new Bengali Era (or Tarikhe-Elahi) were initially known as Karwadin, Ardi, Vihisa, Khordad, Teer, Amardad, Shariar, Aban, Azar, Dai, Baham and Iskander.

Nobody knows for sure how and when we started following the months as Baishakh, Jaishtha etc. It is presumed that those months based on the names of the Star, were derived for the Shakabda which was introduced in 78 A.D. to commemorate the reign of Shaka dynasty in this Sub-continent. The star based names of the months were derived as follows:

Baishakh from the star known as Baishakha, Jaisthaya from Jaistha, Ashar from Shar, Sraban from Srabani, Bhadra from Bhadrapada, Ashwin from Ashwani, Kartik from Kartika, Agrahyen from Agraihan, Poush from Poushya, Magh from Magha, Falgun from Falguni and Chaitra from Chitra stars. As we mentioned earlier the system of celebrating Nababarsha or Pahela Baishakh (first day of Baishakh) was introduced by Emperor Akbar the Great. The whole process started sometime in the 6th century but drew special attention when the Mughal Emperor Akbar started the Bengali Calendar year, on March 10, 1585 on the advice of some of his courtiers. Baishakh, as the first month of Bangla Calendar, however came into effect from March 16, 1586 – the day Akbar ascended the throne. Later this concept of the Bangali years quickly spread throughout the Mughal Empire, particularly in the rural areas of Bengal. Bengali peasants also used Baishakh as the month to start their next cultivation and fields were generally ploughed during the period mid-April to mid-May. Baishakh is a month during boy-hood every body had always greatly enjoyed this festival.

To enjoy this Pahela Baishakh, I think everybody will sign and say, “Would that I were young again”!

It is a period of the year, which heralds the arrival of summer of severe dust-storm, dark skies, in the northwest and violent nor-westers. I have always admired this period as a symbol of reawakening. It is as if, nature takes her broom and cleans all dirt and filth out of her environment. One feels the change in air, There is heat, humid condition, fierce storm, rain and then freshness all around us. The first of Baishakh (Pahela Baishakh) has now evolved its own cultural connotations. On that date businessmen, particularly in the villages most importantly within the Hindu community open special ledger book (“Haal Khata, in a colloquial language in some districts particularly in Munshigonj, Bikrampur, it is called Gadi Shaeed” bound in red cloth for maintaining accounts. The whole process is called initiating the “Haal Khata”. Customers (the invitees, guests) on that day are welcomed in their respective shops and are offered different kinds of sweets. On this day in every house rich food is cooked and served to the family members.

Pahela Baishakh is also associated with melas in some rural areas particularly in Bikrampur it is also called “Goloya” (Fair) filled with local agricultural products, potteries, handicrafts, masks, kites, ballons, toys, flutes and whistles of all kinds for the children.

A statistical data reports say that nearly two hundred to two hundred and fifty fairs (melas) organised throughout Bangladesh. On this occasion, either on the first day of Baishakh or in its first week many urban centers including the city of Dhaka, the holding of book fairs, exchange of books, particularly books of poetry as gifts mark the day.

This reflects the sentimental aspect of the Bangalee psyche. In the last few years younger people, particularly students have also initiated the vogue of exchanging greeting cards, gifts, flowers and sweets. What a lovely way to start the year. In recent times, there has also been the revival of fun-parades, more on the lines of what is normally done in cases of carnivals abroad.

This parade is normally organised by students of the (IFA) Institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University. The parade is led by the Mask-wearing participants, while thousands of people, some carrying small children on their shoulders join in this Gala festival. Most women put on red and white saries, which have become kind of new year symbol and wear garlands of flowers.

Many have their faces painted. Men wear Panjabis or Kurtas, which has also become a universal new year dress for men.

Our cultural heritage and identity as a Bangalee Nation has been strongly held by a renowned cultural group “Chhayanat” has spread (Tagore songs) Rabindra Shangeet in every nook and corner of Bangladesh.

Despite stormy aspects of the season, we Bangalees cheerfully look forward to welcoming the first day Baishakh, this year as in earlier years. Pahela Baishakh happens to be unique in that it is participated in by all.

But it is an irony of fate that a few years back flood, Sidr and Aila has paralysed our economy followed by heavy crisis in essential commodities which has made the essential consumers goods’ price rocket high. Because of this, general people look very pale and gloomy.

The prices of essential goods shall have to be brought down at any cost.

Power, Gas, Water supply should be implemented very urgently.

In Bangladesh, the Bangla new year is celebrated on 14, April. In Sri-Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Combodia and Thailand, People celebrate their new year around the same time. It is interesting that their new year festivities too coincide with April.

new nation

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