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Bengali New Year, or, Pohela Boishakh as traditionally called by the community members is the first day of Bengali Calendar. In the Indian states, the festival is usually celebrated on 14th or 15th of April. This festival is widely celebrated in the states like West Bengal, Tripura, parts of Assam, and in other parts of the country by people of Bengali heritage, irrespective of their religious faith. In Bangladesh, the festival is observed as a public holiday, a means for people to express their cultural pride and heritage for when they resisted the Pakistani rule in the 1950s and 1960s.
The festival date of Bangla Noboborsho is set according to the Lunisolar Bengali calendar as the first day in the first month of Baishakh. This is why the festival mostly falls on 14th April every year, accordingly to the Gregorian calendar. Bengali New Year 2020 will be celebrated on 14th April.
Historians believe that the Bengali Calendar can be dated back to the Mughal emperor, Akbar, who modified the calendar set by King Shashanka in the 7th century. The purpose of this calendar was to help regulate yearly tax collection by the Kingsmen.
As history goes, during the Mughal rule, land taxes were collected from the people by following the Islamic Hijri calendar. However, since this calendar was based on the Moon’s movement, and that New Year did not coincide with the solar agricultural cycles, King Akbar asked his royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi. A new calendar was then created by combining the Lunar Islamic calendar and Solar Hindu calendar, which then came to be known as Fashola Shan (the harvest calendar).
Celebrations of the festival
Following traditions, business starts for the day, by entering accounts in a new ledger, clearing out the old one and balancing accounts to repay any loans/debts. This custom has been followed since Akbar’s reign. Under his rule, it was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of Choitro, before the New Year Day. In villages, towns, and cities, traders and businessmen would conclude their old account books and prepare new ones. They would invite their customers to share sweets, as a way to renew their business with them. This tradition is still practiced by jewelers.
The festivities of the occasion include people singing, participating in parades and fairs. Singers perform traditional songs, welcoming the New Year. An occasion means dressing up and wearing new clothes. Some women put white-red color combination flowers in their hair. Women dress in white saris with red borders, while men tend to wear dhoti and kurta.
A common celebration among the Bengali community members in India and across the border in Bangladesh is ushering the festival with Tagore's musical invocation, Rabindra Sangeet; Esho Hey Baisakh Esho Esho (Come Baisakh, Come O Come!). In Kolkata, the state’s film town, Tollygunge, celebrates the New Year by screening Bengali movies. This is a traditional part of Pahela Baisakh in Tollywood (Bengal’s center of filmmaking).
Bengalis prepare and enjoy varieties of traditional foods as part of the celebrations. Some of these delicacies include panta bhat (watered rice), ilish bhaji (fried hilsa fish) and lots of special bhartas.
In Kolkata, the festival, and often even the entire month of Boishakh is considered to be an auspicious time for marriage. Prayers are offered to Goddess Kali for the well-being and prosperity of the family.
The festival is also considered to be auspicious for those interested in starting a new business or a new venture.