Marking the end of the last month of ‘Chaitra’ in the Bengali Calendar, Poila Boishakh or the Bengali New Year is not just another holiday in the calendar for the Bengalis. It marks as much of a beginning as it marks an end. According to the Panjika *the Bengali year-book, so to say)* — the ‘Nabo Borsho’ (new year) is marked on 15th of April this year and all of West Bengal is already preparing for it. By Shubhanjana Das
Poila Boishakh has a superbly amusing history and shows the inclusivity ingrained in the Bengali community. Back in the 15th century, when Mughals used to reign in Bengal, Emperor Akbar, in order to make the collection of agricultural taxes simpler, combined the Islamic lunar calendar and the Hindu solar calendar so that the farmers don’t have to pay out of season. So, the end of ‘Chaitra’ month marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year.
If you find yourself in West Bengal during the Bengali New Year, you will hear Rabindra Sangeet blaring everywhere and people decked up in the mandatory new set of clothes that are often exchanged as gifts among family and friends. During the evening, people visit their local shops for the ‘hall khata’, or the new accounts book by traders are opened. After the Ganesh and Lakshmi puja, the traders invite the customers for the evening ceremony (which undoubtedly involves lots of traditional Bengali sweets) and clear the due debts of the year gone by.
As for the food, Poila Boishakh smells of luchi, alu bhaja, polao, kosha mangsho, and all kinds of fish that the season offers in every Bengali household on both sides of the border. But, the real showstoppers are the range of sweets that will be laid out in front of the family members as well as the guests, starting from sandesh to rosogolla, chomchom to ledikeni, and of course, the mishti doi that makes all of Bengal go weak on the knees. If it’s Poila Boishakh, there’s no saying ‘no’ to sweets.
How People Should Celebrate Poila Boishakh Abroad?
If you’re a Bengali staying abroad during Poila Boishakh and feeling major FOMO, we get you. It’s not easy being away from the ‘amej’ of Bengal when it comes together to mark the beginning of another year in all pomp and glory. We know Bengal doesn’t shy away from its traditional celebrations. But, buying yourself a new set of clothes, making food at home (following your family’s recipe, of course), calling your friends over (Bengali or not), and arranging all the Bengali sweets that you possibly can — is one way to get over the FOMO and experience a different feeling of home away from home.
What Happens in Bengal?
Bengal decks up in its finest, most traditional form during two very special occasions — during Poila Boishakh and Durga Pujo and it’s hard not to be mesmerised by how each and every Bengali feels connected to their community and comes together in the celebrations. While Poila Boishakh is a national holiday in Bangladesh, it is a public holiday in West Bengal. In Kolkata, you are most likely to find half of the city’s population at Nandan, Calcutta Town hall, New Market, or Maidan, after the family luncheon, of course. The cultural celebrations held at almost every neighbourhood are a reminder of how rich West Bengal is in terms of culture and its enthusiasm to hold up its history and cherish its roots. It can’t be that Tagore’s Esho He Boishakh isn’t playing in the neighbourhood club, while men and women take to the streets in brand new panjaabi and dhuti and sari for doing rounds of the local shops.