With the first rays of the morning sun, the nation, after two long years, is about to usher in Pahela Baishakh, the first day of the Bangla New Year and the biggest secular holiday for Bangladeshis.
This time it will be observed with the characteristic dynamism, unlike the low-key celebration of the previous two years.
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As in the pre-Covid days, the festivities will begin early in the morning with people from all walks of life donning the traditional dress of this joyous celebration. Men in colorful panjabis, women in saris and children in bright outfits will once again be able to join the cultural program at Ramna Batamul where Chhayanaut will host the day.
Revelers will also gather at the traditional Baishakhi Mela – a fair where all sorts of traditional crafts, toys and other items will be bought and sold. It is an integral part of the celebration of the first day of the Bengali New Year in Dhaka and the rest of the country.
Mangal Shobhajatra, a procession seeking the welfare of all, will depart from the Institute of Fine Arts in the morning. Businesses will open their halkhata (sales books) to start a whole new business year.
Memories of the past two years are still very fresh, which makes this year’s celebration even more special.
“The severity of the pandemic had shrunk everything. The past two years have been very painful for us,” says Chhayanaut president Sanjida Khatun, explaining how Covid-19 has forced her organization to curtail traditional celebrations.
For the past six decades, Chhayanaut has taken the lead in organizing the Bengali New Year welcome program. He was unable to organize the event in 1971 during the country’s liberation war. The last two celebrations of Pahela Baishakh were observed on a small scale and online to adhere to government health protocols to curb the spread of the virus.
Marking the first day of the Bangla Baishakh month as the New Year has its roots in the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1609). According to one of the many opinions about the origin of the Bengali New Year, it was the time of year when farmers paid taxes to the emperor. Pahela Baishakh marked the start of the harvest season.
But with the tumultuous events of the following years, Pahela Baishakh also began to have some political importance. In 1967, it was Chhayanaut who organized his Pahela Baishakh programs to protest the blatant suppression of Bangalee culture by the then Pakistani government.
After independence in 1971, the festival has become a symbol of the country’s nationalist movement as well as an integral part of the cultural heritage and identity of the people.
Unique to Pahela Baishakh is the Mongolian Shobhajatra from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. This event, recognized by Unesco, will also be held this time after a two-year break and all preparations have already been completed.
“Due to the pandemic, the rhythm of our lives has been lost,” says Professor Nisar Hossain, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. This year’s Shobhajatra theme is “Nirmal” (pure) which has been invoked to purify the soul.”
He also mentions that this year’s procession will start from the TSC and end in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s residence.
Although the daily Covid positivity rate reached less than one percent, the organizers, as a precaution, announced that social distancing would be maintained during Shobhajatra.
Cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuff points out that the sudden rise in religious fanaticism lends special significance to this year’s Pahela Baishakh, which is celebrated by all, regardless of religion.
“This year’s celebration is the most important because this time we are faced with the big question of our Bangalee nationality. We have also encountered obstacles. It is disturbing that in recent times the so-called practitioners of the religion have created unfavorable situation in various educational institutions. In order to defeat this evil power, this year’s celebration should be even more lively,” says Yousuff, also a freedom fighter, theater director and filmmaker.
Golam Quddus, president of the Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, said: “We are going to have a double festival this time, because Pahela Baishakh coincided with Ramadan. The Bangalees will now celebrate religion and culture together. It’s not contradictory at all.
However, part of the population tries to mislead people for political reasons, he said.
Being a public holiday, many social, political and cultural organizations have organized elaborate events to celebrate the New Year.
The Flag Girl founder Priota Ifthekhar said she was looking forward to Pahela Baishakh. “I am very excited to celebrate Pahela Baishakh after two years. It is part of our culture, our heritage and now it is very safe to celebrate since we are vaccinated and also receive our booster dose”, adds- she.