Pohela Boishakh - Dr. Mokdum Azam Mushrafi
Pahela Boishakh is the very first day of a Bangla new year, Bonggabdo. In fact it is the first day of the first Bangla month called Boishakh. The word Pohela meaning first. There are six seasons those which bring a significant change in the natural environment and in the country lives of the people every year round. The weather, the colour of natural surrounding, the smell of the air, the clouds in the sky, the behaviour of the birds, the variety of crops, fruits and flowers all those transforms from one beauty to another. We call this cycle as “Shororitu”. The season cycle runs by coupling the Bangla months in six pairs. The Boishakh and Joishtha makes “Grisha Kal”(Summer), Asar and Shrabon makes “Borsha kal”(Rainy season), Vaddro and Ashshin makes “Sharat kal”(Autumn), Kartik and Agrahon makes “Hemonto kal”(Harvesting season), Poush and Magh makes “Sheet Kal”(Winter). The new years’ day is very special in the life of Bangali (Bengali) people in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and various part of the world where Bangali peoples lives. Now it has achieved an official national status in Bangladesh, state official status in West Bengal and also global status worldwide. The emotions of the Bangali people are intimately attached to this special day.
Let me paint a peoples’ picture of the Pehela Boishakh which is imprinted in my beloved boyhood memories and early teenage years’ nostalgia. I grew up in a small township of Northern part of Bangladesh, named Domar. It is the last upazilla of Nilphamari Zilla adjacent to Coochbihar Zilla of West Bengal. This is a scar line of the incision which separated “Akhanda Bangladesh” when British had to leave India after the WWII. That political incision also made a permanent painful scar on the chest of out family. My cousins live on the other side of the line. They are at the same time West Bangali and Indian.
I remember, a little booklet, generally pocket size, known as “Bangla Panjika”. It is usually printed on brownish newsprint paper in black ink. The cover was light pink. I have seen, every business cupboard and person, who was able read, had this little essential booklet on their shelf at home or at their business places. They were two kinds. One is according to the Hindu matter orientated and another one was named “Mohammadi Pocket Panjika” with Muslim matters. Those had the matter of religious festival dates in both types. In Hindu Panjika Hindu festivals and events were placed in details and in Muslim Panjika the Muslim festivals andevents were in details. The Panjika was full with astrological calculations, forecasts, lucky dates, forbidden days. Before chalking out a day or days for any event, consultation of this Panjika was a must. It is used for the wedding, akika, annyoprashon, Griho probesh, initiation of harvesting, Nobanno, inauguration of a business and so on. Prior to taking any worthy steps, major or minor in life, a consultation of Panjika was a must thing do by all. The Pahela boishakh brings a new edition of the Panjika for the New Year.
Couple of my six uncles had business establishment in the business district of the small town. One had a sort of smaller version of IGA type of supermarket business and other uncle had a clothing merchant establishment. They used to sell both the retail and wholesale. The smaller business people used to buy bulk of commodity mostly on credit, only to pay back after doing their sell in the remote villages.
A special ceremony “Halkhata” meaning, the opening of a new business ledger books ceremony on the first day of the New Year was vital. On the last day of Chaitra in the winter morning, Shatish da, a famous sweet maker would come to our house. He would bring his all necessary gears. He would make makeshift Chula(Oven) on the middle yard. He would bring huge concave steel pots for the deep frying of Jilapi, Puri, Luchi. Big copper made “deks” (cooking pots) for making thick sugar syrup to soak Jilapi, Kalojam, Lalmon, Sanar Jilapi, Bundia and Roshgolla. Also he will bring large size of spoons and strainers with long handles. Imagine as a boy how one would soak in the curiosity, charged energy flows of excitement and the restless wait for a plat of such delicious food to test and consume. We are 9 brothers and sisters would join the party of, 8 cousin brothers and sisters from one uncle and 7 cousin brothers and sisters from another uncle. Other cousin brothers and sisters from just next locality would join us as well. Everything was on a huge scale at all the time. That was the norm, that was the combined way of life at that glorious point of time.
However, the arrangement would run through the night. The kerosene hachaks (compressor lights) lit the “angeena” (midyard) of the house. The full on life was full of joys and excitements at home. Next day the party will move to the business district. The front area of the business premises will be enclosed with colourful “Shamiyana” (Cloth made roof and wall) using bamboo supports. The business premises will be decorated with colourful premade fabrics and with all hand made decorative by cutting coloured fine papers. We everyone seems to had artistic skills of scissors learnt spontaneously to express their individual craftsmanship and sense of beauty. The table and chair will be placed under the Shamiyana.
In the early misty winter morning sweets will be brought to the business premises. My uncle and his staff will greet the invited customers at the entrance. A “Milad” a group prayer and blessing session will be held to start the New Year. The brand new ledger books will be blessed for good luck and success through the New Year. Invited customers and all will have sweets and chat around for a while. The “Sarker” their own business accountant, will place his special chair and desk before the exit of the “Shamiyana”. The brand new ledger books were made of special kind of strong paper pages. They were of different sizes and shapes according to their purpose of use. The pages were pre-folded and then again unfolded length-wise to make vertical lines, instead of using rulers. The covers of the ledgers necessarily were made of “Lalshalu”, blood red cotton fabric. On the exit, the customers will pay the debts in full to clear the old book of last year to start afresh. There will be “Pan-Shupari” (Betel leaf and betel nut) on a shiny “Kasha Dabor “(Brass pot) and “Thala” (Plat). Everyone will eat Pan-Shupari” and a “paner bota” (stalk of Betel leaf) will be dipped gently in to the “Chun” pot (Calcium) and will waive good buy. The guests will come and go thoroughout the day, until the evening guests will be arrived.
Pahela Boishakh is not only a special day on the Bangla calendar; it is a very important point of cyclic renewal of Bangali life in all the sense. It is a new dawn after a deep reflection of the yesteryears life at the end of the gone by year. It is a refresher process for the entire population at the same time frame.
The Ceremonies and festivities are the combined expression of joy of life. They would shine a pure joy and the radiant happiness on the faces of the members of the community. The spontaneity of togetherness, the open arm embracing of all, the free flow of sharing and giving had a heavenly flavour. It was certainly divine.
“Boishakhi Mela” (the funfair) is the open book story of the joyous mood of the Bangali people. The People of all ages swim in this river of elation. Men, women, children, youngsters all join a common festivity in a very pure happy environment. We offspring of the nature enjoy on the backdrop of the brilliant colours, the refreshing nature, the blue sky, floating cotton-like clouds.
Music gives the language to the joy and expresses them passionately. The visual colour mixes with the colour of music and fills every heart with over pouring happiness. The Baul, Murshidi, Bhawaiya, Bhatiali speaks the language of unwritten tressure in the soul of ours. The stalls are open under the sky. Handicrafts are bought and sold. The items of day to day use marketed for everyone. Fabrics, jewellery, toys, dolls, blacksmith articles, plough, fishing gears, bamboo crafts, timber furniture and items, woven matts, embroidered quilts, pottery, hand made Kharam (footwear) are sold and bought. Country music instrument such as dotara, ektara, dhol, tal, mandira, Kasha (Amalgam of brass) utensils also can be bought. Food stalls sell delicious items for people of any age and taste. The sweets, savouries, cereals (Chira), muri-murki-naru-moya, satu. Gurer shondesh, Burir Chul (candy floss), Lathi lozenges (Lolly pop), Ice cream, Tea, coffee, lachcha (Yoghurt drink) are plenty in supply. Kite flying is a part of the Pahela Boishak festivity. Kite fight competition is an exciting fun.
Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura population majorly are rural dwellers. Hence, in the current age of sweeping sky culture many aspects of Banglali life had little changes. The picture I painted above and the time I left 40 years ago, I believe, still holds the same worm joyous heart before gradually transforming to else in the long time to come.
Historically Bangla calendar derived from Hindu Vedic solar calendar, which was based on Surya Siddharta. An estimation of the starting of Bangla calendar was 14 April 594 according to Julian and Preleptic Gregorian Calender. Later Emperor Akbar introduced a revised version as Fasli san(Harvest Calender) from 1584 which was actually calculated from 1846. In Bangladesh, the last changes done by the Bangla Academy in Pakistani time. Because of the above reasons many more other nations and ethnic people in the world also start their new years on the same day of Pahela Boishakh. They are Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mithela, Manipur, Orissa, Kerala and Punjab.
This cultural event of Pahela Boishakh is the mark of our self identity amongst the world community as a whole. This event high lights our core characteristics as a good old Bengali nation. We Bangali people are a branch of a common tree in this subcontinent. There is commonness in the anthropological ancestry so as in the cultural heritage. We developed our distinct characteristic as the time shaped us. In the past, various invaders left their impression which moulded Bangalis to today’s form and identity. We are an amalgam nation. That’s why there are many links remains with other populations surrounding us. Though each of those population have their own distinct ways to observe the Pohela Boishakh, there is a subtle under-flowing stream of similitude can be felt. In fact the development to a nation-hood had common situations at that time when the populations once walked together. This is an ongoing process. The long gone past reminds us that the far future will evolve the new form, which will be inevitable. In fact, we are the inhabitant of the same planet- Earth.
Melbourne 28 March 2012
firstname.lastname@example.org. The author is a poet and a writer.