Friday, April 1, 2011

Pohela Boishakh - The Bengali New Year

Pohela Boishakh is the first day of Bengali New Year. It is celebrated in Bangladesh, west Bengal, Assam, Tripura and also the whole world. It coincides with the Bengali New Year's Days of numerous Southern Asian calendars. It connects all ethnic Bengalis irrespective of religious and regional differences. In Bangladesh, it is a national holiday and in India, West Bengal and Assam it is a public (state) holiday. According to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy, Pohela Boishakh is usually celebrated on the 14th April. Bengali
New Year or Pohela Boishakh is generally known as “Nobo-borso”. Here “Nobo” means new and “Borso” means year.

The Bengali calendar is based on the Surya Siddhanta and it is closely tied with the Hindu Vedic solar calendar. As with many other variants of the Hindu solar calendar, the Bengali calendar commences in mid-April of the Gregorian year. The first day of the Bengali year therefore coincides with the mid-April New Year in Sri Lanka, Assam, Manipur, Burma, Cambodia, Kerala, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Mithila and Thailand. Under the Mughals, all agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar. The Hijri calendar is a purely lunar calendar but it does not coincide with the harvest. For this reason, farmers were hard-pressed to pay taxes out of season. In order to streamline tax collection, the Mughal Emperor Akbar ordered a reform of the calendar.

According to the Fatehullah Shirazi (A renowned scholar and astronomer), formulated the Bengali year on the basis of the Hijri lunar and Hindu solar calendars. The new agricultural year was first introduced on 10th or 11th March 1584, but it was dated from Akbar's ascension to the throne in 1556. Then the New Year became known as “Bangla Year”, which generally known as “Bonggabdo”. Celebrations of Pohela Boishakh started from Akbar's reign (1556). It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of the Bengali Year (last day of Choitro). On the next day of the New Year (Pohela Boishakh), landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. The main event of the day was to open a new book of accounts or fresh accounts. Which generally known as “Halkhata”.

Pohela Boishakh marks the start day of the agricultural season. Usually on Pohela Boishakh, people bath early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. Most of women and girls wear “Sari”, which color is mixed up with red and white and adorn themselves with Churi, Ful and Tip and most of the man and boys wear “Panjabi”, Pajama, Lungi, Dhuti and Kurta, which color is also mixed up with red and white. They spend much of the day visiting relatives, friends, and neighbors and going to fair. Special foods are prepared to entertain guests. Many townspeople start the day with the traditional breakfast of “Panta Bhat” (rice soaked in water), green chilies, onion, and fried Hilsa fish. This is one rural festival that has become enormously big in the cities, especially in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Boishakhi fairs are arranged in many parts of the country. Traditional handicrafts, cosmetics, agricultural products, toys, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold at these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment, with cockfights, bull races, horse races, bullfights, boat racing and flying pigeons. Jatra (traditional plays), pala gan, jarigan, sarigan, kobigan, gazir gan, alkap gan and gambhira gan are also entertained in this fair. They present folk songs as well as baul, bhatiali, murshidi and marfati songs. Narrative plays like Laila-Majnu, Yusuf-Zulekha and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of Boishakhi fairs are puppet shows and merry-go-rounds. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshiganj used to be very colorful events of Pohela Boishakh.

Observance of Pohela Boishakh has become popular in the cities. The most colorful New Year's Day festival takes place in Dhaka. Early in the morning, large number of people gathers under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise. After the sunshine people gather under the banyan tree at Ramna Park where Chhayanat artists open the day with Rabindranath Tagore's famous song, ” Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho”. Here “Esho” means come and “he Boishakh” means new year. Institute of Fine Arts (University of Dhaka) is also held a similar ceremony welcoming the New Year. Students and teachers of the institute take out a colorful procession and parade round the campus. Social and cultural organizations celebrate the day with cultural programmes. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programmes on radio and television. Prior to this day, special discounts are available on furniture, clothes, electronics, shopping and various deals. Special line of sarees, usually cottons, and white sarees with red print/embroidery is sold before this day as everyone dresses up for this day. Jasmine flowers are also a huge sale for this event which adorns the women's hair.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts three different ethnic minority groups come together to merge their observance with Pohela Boishakh. Sangrai of Marma people, Biju of Chakma people and Boisuk of Tripura people have come together as Boi-Sa-Bi, a day of a wide variety of festivities that is observed on the last day of Choitro (13 April). The day is a public holiday in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Pohela Boishakh is considered to be an auspicious time for marriages in Kolkata. People wear new clothes and go about socializing. Choitro (the last month of the previous year), is the month of hectic activities and frantic purchases. Garment traders organize a Choitro sale and sell the garments with heavy discounts. This day being auspicious, new businesses and new ventures are started. The “Mahurat” is performed, marking the beginning of new ventures. Pohela Boishakh is the beginning of all business activities in Bengal. The Bengali Hindu traders purchase new accounting book. The accounting in the “halkhata” begins only after offering puja. Mantras are chanted and Hindu swastikas are drawn on the accounting book by the priests. Long queues of devotees are seen in front of the Kalighat temple from late night. Devotees offer puja to receive the blessings of the almighty.

Pohela Boishakh is the day for cultural programmes. Young ladies clad in white Saris with red borders and men clad in Dhuti and Kurta take part in the “Probhat Pheri” processions early in the morning to welcome the first day of the year. Various fairs are held in West Bengal for Pohela Boishakh. The most famous and popular of these is Bangla Sangit Mela, held at Nandan-Rabindra Sadan ground. This fair is conducted by the Government of West Bengal.

In Australia, the Bengali New Year is celebrated in various cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra through Boishakhi fairs, where people gather to celebrate the culture Bengalis through dances, fashion shows, stalls of art, music, clothing, food etc. But the largest celebrations of the Bangla New Year are held on Sydney. Besides this Sweden and United Kingdom also celebrated the Bengali New Year. The Bengali community in the United Kingdom celebrates the Bengali New Year with a street festival in London. It is also the largest Asian festival in Europe and the largest Bengali festival outside of West Bengal.

The historical importance of Pohela Boishakh in the Bangladeshi context may be dated from the observance of the day by Chhayanat in 1965. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani Government had banned poems written by Rabindranath Tagore (the most famous poet and writer in Bengali literature). Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore's song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement and an integral part of the people's cultural heritage. Later, in the mid- 1980s the Institute of Fine Arts added color to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade.

Today Pohela Boishakh is a national holiday of Bangladesh and public holiday of Kolkata and West Bengal. It is also a major cultural day of whole Bengali and they spend this day with nice celebration.


  1. This is an excellent information of Pohela Boishakh. Thanks for your hard work.

  2. Pohela Boishak is a historical day for all Bengali.On this day women wear white sharee with red.Men wear Panjabee and Paijama.

  3. I am so excited about Pohela Boishakh.

  4. On this day businessmen open Halkhata and they collect money from their client.

  5. 14 April is really a memorable day for Bangladeshi. I feel so proud about it.

  6. I'm waiting the greatest bangle festival "Pohela boishak"................

  7. love boishakh its really cool

  8. I feel strongly learning the topic, however I need to learn more on this topic.
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  9. Pride of Bengalis ! Joy Bangla:)
    Pride of Bengalis ! Joy Bangla:)

  10. পহেলা বৈশাখ [Pohela Boishakh] : আমাদের বাঙালীদের সেরা উৎসব...
    Its the only Festival that cuts across religious n regional divide and connects all Bengalis around the world.
    Proud to be a Bengali.

  11. Pohela Boishakh is the first day of Bangla New year. In this day little children get up early in the morning and put their best dress and enjoy the day.

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