Pohela Boishakh History, Origin, Description, Definition, Aspects & Activities

Pohela Boishakh History - Bangla Noboborsho Celebration

Pohela Boishakh History, Origin, Description, Definition, Aspects & Activities

Pohela Boishakh History - Bangla Noboborsho Celebration

Name: Pohela (Paw-hay-laa) Boishakh/Baish

Date of the Year: April 14

Culture: Bengali / Bangla

Location: India and Bangladesh

Definition & Description of Pohela Baishakh:

Bengali New Year (Bengali: নববর্ষ Nôbobôrsho) or Poyela Boishakh (পহেলা বৈশাখ Pôhela Boishakh or পয়লা বৈশাখ Pôela Boishakh) is the first day of the Bengali calendar, celebrated in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, and in Bengali communities in Assam ,Tripura and Odisha and all over India as well where the Bengali community arises . It coincides with the New Year’s Days of numerous Southern Asian calendars.

In Bengali, Pohela stands for ‘first’ and Baisakh is first month of Bengali calendar

Poila Boishakh connects all ethnic Bengalis irrespective of religious and regional differences. In India, in West Bengal and Assam, it is a public (state) holiday and is publicly celebrated in mid-April. In Bangladesh, it is a national holiday celebrated around 14 April according to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy.

Bengali New Year is referred to in Bengali as “New Year” (Bengali: নববর্ষ Nôbobôrsho, from Sanskrit Nava(new)varṣa(year)) or “First of Boishakh” (Bengali: পহেলা বৈশাখ Pôhela Boishakh or পয়লা বৈশাখ Pôela Boishakh). Nobo means new and Borsho means year.

Poila Boishakh connects all ethnic Bengalis irrespective of religious and regional differences. In India, in West Bengal and Assam, it is a public (state) holiday and is publicly celebrated in mid-April. In Bangladesh, it is a national holiday celebrated around 14 April according to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy.

Boishakh/Baishakh is the first of the Bengali months where Pohela simply means “first”. The term “Pohela Boishakh” therefore, stands for the first day of the Bengali year and naturally refers to the festivity attached to this day as well. The celebration itself is called “Borsho Boron Utsab” or “Boishakhi Utsab” (the gala of Boishakh) which is held to welcome the Nobo Borsho (New Year).

It is one celebration that goes beyond geographical borders as the Bengali New Year is celebrated in the West Bengal of India as well as in Bangladesh, making it the biggest cultural festival that has survived the last few centuries where Bengalis of all walks of life come together to make it colorful, bright and joyous.

Origin & History of Pohela Boishakh:

The story of the origin has a few versions, however, they all go back to one particular Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great and the tax colleting process under his reign (1556-1609). Several hundred years ago, the economy almost entirely depended on agricultural productions. In Bengal, the agriculture necessarily revolved around its six seasons. Under the Mughals, tax was collected on the basis of Arabic or Hijri year that did not exactly go hand in hand with the seasonal cycle of this region. For instance, when it was time for the landowners to collect taxes, the peasants would still be waiting to reap their products from the fields.

This way, following a lunar calendar that hijri year was based upon, proved inconvenient for all the parties involved. Realizing the urgency of reformation in the existing year system, the Baadshah (emperor) gave one of the many renowned scholars of his court, Fatelluah Shiraji the responsibility to make the necessary amendments. The new calendar was designed keeping the nature of all six seasons, their duration and contribution to the agriculture in mind. Some scholars argue that Pohela Boishakh was anything but a reason for festivity for the peasants who comprised the majority of the population when they had to pay off their taxes on the last day of Chaitra/ Choitro, the month before Boishakh.

Besides, the landlords, to collect the taxes, often subjected the grassroot people to physical force. Such circumstances were most unlikely to leave people in a mood for festivity by the time the Pohela Boishakh was knocking on their doors. Despite having enough reasons for it to be the contrary, Pohela Boishakh was a time for celebration. To avoid any serious rebellion, Baadshah Akbar introduced the masterfully crafted custom of the New Year celebration that took place right after the tax-paying day. The amusements and feasts that used to be arranged helped to smoothen the harshness of the tax paying and sow the hopes for a better year among all.

As mentioned earlier, the celebration of Bengali New Year, Pohela Boishakh, takes place both in West Bengal and Bangladesh. But, Pohela Boishakh in Bangladesh did not receive a collective form until 1965. During the growing movement for an independent state from Pakistan that began by the end of the 1940s and continued until the independence in 1971, the former Pakistani Government implemented many policies that were somewhat modified versions of the British “Divide and Rule” principle.

In other words, those policies were meant to differentiate a Bengali Muslim from others and avoid a strong, joint movement for independence. As a continuation to such steps, the Pakistani government banned poems by the Noble winning Bengali author, Shree Rabindranath Tagore. Then, Chhayanaut, the only major Fine Arts institution of the time designed their cultural show for Pohela Boishakh to be a means of protest. The Pohela Boishakh that takes place under the Banyan tree of Ramna Park in Dhaka ever since was to open with Boishakhi songs by Tagore.

This way, Pohela Boishakh became one with the nationalist notions of the Bengali people who resided in the East Pakistan, known as Bangladesh today. The fine Arts Institute (CharuKala Institute) of Dhaka University enhanced the attraction of the day in the late 1980s by adding Boishakhi Parade (Shobha Jatra) so that a growing participation and acceptance is ensured. Soon, an attempt by a few hundred people to uphold the Bengali traditions and unify Bengalis while doing it, transformed into a national event.

In the West Bengal, Bengali New Year celebration has ties to religious values as well. The entire month of Boishakh is considered auspicious. Therefore, the first day by itself is reason enough for festivity. For the Hindu, the day begins with Puja (religious ritual) followed by cultural shows. Because of its being considered auspicious, Boishakh is the month when most Hindu weddings take place in both Bengals.     

Aspects and Activities of Pohela Boishakh:

In Bangladesh, the day begins before the break of dawn when crowd gathers in Ramna Park for the Cultural show held by Chhayanat every year. Women mainly wear white Shari with red border. Since Boishakh brings spring, women adorn their hair with flowers and wear colorful churi (bangles) that symbolizes the many colors and renewed life in nature. On the other hand, men mainly wear traditional Panjabi with Paayjama, Lungi or Dhuti/Dhoti.

  • Boishakhi Parade (Mongol Shova jatra): Boishakhi Mongol Shobha Jatra is one of the biggest attractions of the day. Very early in the morning, the rally starts from the CharuKala Institute of Dhaka University.
  • Boishakhi Fair (Mela): It is arranged all over the country and continues for at least a week. There are a wide range of products and activities that make the fair an attraction to all age groups. From home accessories to anything and everything that speaks Bengali authenticity, find their way to here. One of the fun aspects of the Boishakhi Mela is the joy ride like the Merry-Go-Round and Ferris wheel. The ones seen in this fair are different in that these are much smaller with a simpler structure made out of wood and bamboo and lacking engines to run them. In stead, two or more men stand beside these rides to push.
  • Aalpona: In the front yard and staircases, miniature Aalponas or Rangolies, traditional designs, are drawn using bright colors like red, green, blue and yellow as well as powdered rice. Drawing gigantic Aalponas in the main streets and walls all nightlong is one fun activity where both male and female participates.  
  • Haalkhata: It is the ritual of closing the old Ledger and opening a new one with new entries on Pohela Boishakh. Traders involved in gold, clothing or food business send out invitations to old customers and entertain them with sweets.
  • Sports:  Rural sports such as Nouka Baich (boat race), Kite flying, Bull Racing, and flying pigeons are among the more popular ones.

Cultural Activities of Pohela Boishakh:

Folk songs such as Palagan, kavigan, Jarigan, Gambhira gan, Gazirgan, baul, marfati, murshidi and bhatiali songs are staged. So are Jatra (one kind of plays) and other form of Bengali performing arts.


Pohela Boishakh in Kolkata

In Kolkata, Pohela Boishakh (and indeed the entire month of Boishakh) is considered to be an auspicious time for marriages. These days people wear new clothes and go about socialising. Choitro, the last month of the previous year, is the month of hectic activities and frantic purchases. Garment traders organise a Choitro sale and sell the garments with heavy discounts.

Pohela Boishakh is the day for cultural programmes. Prayers are offered for the well-being and prosperity of the family. 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.

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 স্বস্তিক shostik (“Hindu swastika”) 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.

On Pohela Boishakh various fairs are held in West Bengal. The most famous of these is Bangla Sangit Mela, held at Nandan-Rabindra Sadan ground. This fair is conducted by the Government of West Bengal.

Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka

Students of Charukala (Fine Arts) Institute, Dhaka University preparing for Pohela Boishakh

Colorful celebration of Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka.

New Year’s festivities are closely linked with rural life in Bengal. Usually on Pohela Boishakh, the home is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned; people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. They spend much of the day visiting relatives, friends and neighbours. Special foods are prepared to entertain guests. This is one rural festival that has become enormously big in the cities, especially in Dhaka.

Boishakhi fairs are arranged in many parts of the country. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold at these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers and dancers staging jatra (traditional plays), pala gan, kobigan, jarigan, gambhira gan, gazir gan and alkap gan. They present folk songs as well as baul, marfati, murshidi and bhatiali songs. Narrative plays like Laila-Majnu, Yusuf-Zulekha and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of these fairs are puppet shows and merry-go-rounds.

Many old festivals connected with New Year’s Day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the punya connected with the closing of land revenue accounts has disappeared. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshiganj used to be very colourful events. Other popular village games and sports were horse races, bullfights, cockfights, flying pigeons, and boat racing. Some festivals, however, continue to be observed; for example, bali (wrestling) in Chittagong and gambhira in Rajshahi are still popular events.

Observance of Pohela Boishakh has become popular in the cities. Early in the morning, people gather under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise. Artists present songs to usher in the new year. People from all walks of life wear traditional Bengali attire: young women wear white saris with red borders, and adorn themselves with churi bangles, ful flowers, and tip (bindis). Men wear white paejama (pants) or lungi(dhoti/dhuti) (long skirt) and kurta (tunic). Many townspeople start the day with the traditional breakfast of panta bhat (rice soaked in water), green chillies, onion, and fried hilsa fish.

Panta Ilish – a traditional platter of leftover rice soaked in water with fried Hilsa, supplemented with dried fish (Shutki), pickles (Achar), lentils (dal), green chillies and onion – a popular dish for the Pohela Boishakh festival.

The most colourful New Year’s Day festival takes place in Dhaka. Large numbers of people gather early in the morning under the banyan tree at Ramna Park where Chhayanat artists open the day with Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song, এসো, হে বৈশাখ, এসো এসো Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho (Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come). A similar ceremony welcoming the new year is also held at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. Students and teachers of the institute take out a colourful procession and parade round the campus. Social and cultural organisations celebrate the day with cultural programmes. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programmes on radio and television.

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 colour to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade.

Today, Pohela Boishakh celebrations also mark a day of cultural unity without distinction between class or religious affiliations. Of the major holidays celebrated in Bangladesh, only Pohela Boishakh comes without any preexisting expectations (specific religious identity, culture of gift-giving, etc.). Unlike holidays like Eid ul-Fitr, where dressing up in lavish clothes has become a norm, or Christmas where exchanging gifts has become an integral part of the holiday, Pohela Boishakh is really about celebrating the simpler, rural roots of the Bengal. As a result, more people can participate in the festivities together without the burden of having to reveal one’s class, religion, or financial capacity.

In Chittagong Hill Tracts

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

Pohela Boishakh Celebration in Australia

Largest gathering of Bangladeshis in Australia: Boishakhi Mela at the Sydney Olympic Park

In Australia, the Bangla new year is celebrated in various cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra through Boishakhi Melas (fairs) where people gather to celebrate the culture Bengalis through dances, fashion shows, stalls of art, music, clothing, food etc. However the largest celebration for the Bangla new year in Australia is the Sydney Boishakhi Mela which was traditionally held at the Burwood Girls High School but from 2006 has been held at the Sydney Olympic Park. It attracts large crowds and is a very anticipated event on the Australian Bengali community calendar.

Pohela Boishakh Celebration in Sweden

The festival is also celebrated in Sweden with great enthusiasm.

Traditional Bangladeshi dance performance in the Pohela Boishakh 1419 celebrations event will be organised by Bangladesh Students Association, Sweden.

Pohela Boishakh Celebration in UK

The Bengali community in the United Kingdom celebrate the Bengali new year with a street festival in London. It is the largest Asian festival in Europe and the largest Bengali festival outside of Bangladesh.

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Pohela Boishakh 1419 Festival Celebration Events, Programmes, Mela, Fashion Shows & Concerts

Pohela Boishakh 1419 Programs Events Festival Concert Mela

Pohela Boishakh 1419 Festival Events, Programmes & Celebration

Pohela Boishakh 1419 Programs Events Festival Concert Mela

Mongol Shova Jatra

The Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) of Dhaka University is a major hub of Baishakhi celebration. As the Bangla new-year is very near, the faculty transforms into a centre of Baishakh festivities.

With students racing against the clock to meet the deadlines, the Faculty vibrates in colour and life.

The Mongol Shobha Jatra (new-year parade) by students and teachers of Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) of Dhaka University is a major attraction on Pahela Baishakh morning in Dhaka.

The well decorated parade with large colour clad replicas of birds and animals based on folk motifs from traditional folklores of Bangladesh is a signature event of Baishakhi celebrations.

With Pahela Baishakh only a day away students of FFA are racing towards finishing their last minute preparations to greet the Bangla New year 1419.

Mongol Shobha Jatra is a costly affair, the replicas featured at the colourful parade costs a lot of money. The collection of funds for the event begins with students selling masks, paintings, traditional pottery and several other items which they prepare specially for the Baishakhi celebrations. Anyone can buy the item from the FFA campus premises.

This year’s Mongol Shobha will feature six huge replicas. And like every year the students will paint the walls of FFA marking Pahela Baishakh. This year the Mongol Shobha Jatra will go around Rupushi Bangla Hotel, Doyel Chattar and Shahid Minar and then return to FFA.

Boishakhi festival at Hotel Sonargaon

The Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel will arrange a traditional mela (fair) at its lobby lounge on April 14-16 on the occasion of

Pohela Boishakh 1419 Festival at Hotel Sonargaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh

the Bengali New Year 1419. The fair will be ornamented with a number of colourful stalls offering Bangladeshi handicrafts, cloths, souvenirs and snacks, said a press release. The hotel will also offer various food stalls including chatpati, fuchka, sugar cane juice, mango bhorta and mixed fruit cocktail on the occasion.

Like every year, during 14-16 April, the hotel’s Café Bazar restaurant will offer a buffet lunch and dinner of Bangali style ‘pantha elish’ along with ‘shutki’ and all kinds of bhorta (smash) and chutney for Tk 2500 (all inclusive) per person and Tk 1250 (all inclusive) for children up to 12 years, the news release said.

During the fair, a group of young artistes will enthrall the guests with their astounding rhythms of dance and music. The guests will also enjoy the tantalising and splendid delicacies of different regions of Bangladesh.


Radisson welcomes Bangla New Year 1419

The most colourful festival for every Bangali is the Bangla New Year. To observe the occasion, Radisson Blu Water Garden Hotel Dhaka will be holding special programmes from April 12 till April 14.

On April 12-13, Water Garden Brasserie of Radisson Blu Water Hotel Dhaka will serve unique Bangalee delicacies for dinner. On the very day of Pohela Boishakh, Water Garden Brasserie will serve guests with extensive Deshi lunch and dinner buffet of sumptuous local delicacies.

The menu includes all time favourites “panta illish”, “panta bhat” along with “Shutki Bhorta”. Pohela Baishakh special menu will also cover assorted “bhortas” like “chingri Bhorta,”begun Bhorta” and aloo bhorta”. The salad bar will offer different kinds of Bangladeshi salads like “Bengali Mixed Salad”, “Tomato and Coriander kashundi” and other favorites.

Main dish corner will be adorned with “chicken and potato chokka”, “rui fish fry”, “bhoona khichuri”, roasted pigeon and other special items as well. Local sweet treats like “mishti doi”, “roshogolla, “jorda” along with other sweet delicacies will be found on the menu.





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