Pohela Boishakh – Reason for lasting legacy

Staff Correspondent
Thursday, April 12th, 2018


 

Boishakh 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.

 

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.

 

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).

 

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 taxpaying 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.

 

Mongol Shovajatra features large colourful masks, various animal-shaped carnival floats, and replicas of birds, butterflies, charka, traditional dolls and other motifs of Bangladeshi culture.

 

Charupath, a Jessore-based cultural organisation, organised Mongol Shovajatra for the first time.

 

The decision of inscribing Mongol Shovajatra on Unesco’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was taken on November 30, 2016, at the 11th session of the intergovernmental committee on intangible cultural heritage, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 

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.). 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.

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