New Year celebrations may have in January for the people around the world. But people in many parts of India are gearing up to celebrate regional new years with equal zeal and enthusiasm. Bengalis not just in West Bengal, Tripura and the surrounding areas, but around the globe will welcome their new year — 1425, this year on April 15. Also known as Poila Baishak or Pohela Boishakh, the new year or Naba Barsha is marked on the first day in the month of Baishak, according to the lunisolar calendar. Thus, the grand festival coincides with the other regional festivals like Bohag Bihu in Assam, Vishu in Kerala and Puthandu in Tamil Nadu.
The festival is widely celebrated in neighbouring Bangladesh as well, marking it one of the biggest event and the only secular festival in the country.
History of Bengali New Year
What many celebrating the festival may not know that the Bengali calendar is one of its kind as was introduced by the Mughal Empire, Emperor Akbar to be specific. The Bengali calendar is a unique amalgamation of lunar Islamic calendar and solar Hindu calendar. During the early days of Mughal ruling, revenues were largely dependent on agriculture. The Islamic Hijri calendar did not coincide with the seasons and the harvest time, which was apt for collecting taxes.
Hence, the emperor asked the royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi to merge the two and make a harvest calendar, which is sometimes referred to as Fasholi shan. It facilitated tax collection after the spring harvest based on the traditional Bengali calendar, the first day.
In fact, the year of the Bengali New Year is also dependent on a key event in Akbar’s life — his coronation. When his astronomer created the new calendar, he devised a formula to determine the year. The (Hijri year of Akbar’s coronation, that is, 963) + (the current Gregorian year) – (the Gregorian year of his coronation, that is, 1556). To put it numerically, this year it was be: 963 + 2018 – 1556 = 1425, the new Bengali year that will start this year.
However, some historians also believe that this calendar is linked to Hindu Vikrami calendar or the solar calendar as it coincides with the first month of Baishak. Although, one can’t be sure of that since in rest of India, the Vikrami calendar starts in 57 BCE, the Bengali calendar starts from 593 CE.
Celebrations of Bengali New Year
Like every other new year, Bengali families clean their house and decorate them with alpana. At the entrance of the main gate, people put up garlands with mango leaves. Wearing new clothes and having sumptuous meals with sweets Bengalis welcome their new year.
For the Bengali business community, the day is of utmost importance as they begin the new year by praying to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi to ask for a blessing to ensure prosperity and success. They visit the temple on this day to bless the ledger books also known as haal khata. Also, water-filled earthen pots, topped up with green coconut and mango leaves are put up at the gate of shops and godowns.