The Noboborsho, Bangla New Year, most likely dates back to Emperor Akbar's ascension to the throne on March 16, 1586, although the calendar for the same was introduced a year ago on March 10. Clearly, the celebration of the Pahela Baishakh cannot be more than a little over 400 years' old. But the emperor ordered the calendar for a practical purpose -revenue collection to be sure. It was done in order to facilitate the process of revenue collection from a largely agrarian society depending on the most opportune time following the annual harvest.
However, in the business circle the emphasis was more on the Sangkranti, the last day of the last month of the year. Traders worth their name arranged halkhata, settlement of all dues entered in a register for unpaid business transactions during the entire year. They invited their clients to attend the halkhata where all arrears were paid up and the invitees were treated to sumptuous dishes of sweetmeats, curds and fruits. The tradition still holds but only up to a level. The custom is no longer as wide as it were, say 50 years ago.
The shopkeeper-clients relations have transformed radically and the commercial concerns have been replaced by as advanced a mode as online shopping where the trader and customer do not even have to see each other face to face or pay in cash. Deferred payment for commodities is very rare even where the electronic transactions are yet to get going.
So the Chaitrasangkranti was in a way a prelude to the New Year. The idea is that the people, free from the past year's financial burden, could now set on a new journey of life. Such was the governing motive behind welcoming the Pahela Baishakh with hopes and newer possibilities. The inspiration is still at work but by this time socio-political realities have brought about unprecedented changes in the Bangla-speaking people's psyche. Bengal is divided now -rather whimsically by an Englishman named Radcliffe - into East Pakistan later emerging as sovereign Bangladesh and Paschim Banga (West Bengal), a state of India.
The two share many things in common but their journey will be on courses vastly different from one another. Again, the urban-rural divide plays a part in the celebration of the PahelaBaishakh. There is no mistaking that the common root does still maintain a shared character of the occasion in rural areas where fairs are held in designated places. But gone are the days when village people looked forward to the annual fairs of their localities where they could procure most of their farming and household implements. Sure enough, handicrafts and products made by the artisan class dominated the list of commodities on display.
It was a most joyous and exciting occasion for children who got the chance of selecting clay dolls, bamboo flutes, balloons, kites, knives for peeling green mangoes. The other attraction was varieties of sweetmeats they could treat themselves to. Fairs are still held in villages but children are smarter now. They are no longer fascinated with clay dolls and bamboo flutes; rather plastic dolls, cars, flying birds, aeroplanes, toy pistols and guns -many of them capable of manoeuvring when powered by batteries -capture their attention. Rural economy has suffered enormously on this account.
In contrast, the urban celebration of the PahelaBaishakh has become more colourful and festive. The reason is simple. Ever since the celebration of Rabindranath Thakur's centenary in 1962 in defiance of the Pakistani diktat, the Bangalees felt inspired to celebrate the Bangaleeness in myriad forms and ways. A cultural organisation Chhayanaut was born and it led the way by arranging a musical function under the banyan tree of Ramna Park. For years, this was the epitome of celebration of the day.
Following this, other cultural organisations have come up to organise musical soirees. Without poetry recitation, dance and songs, the celebration cannot be imagined. Mongol shovajatra (a colourful symbolic procession wishing everyone well) adds to the festive mood. What is remarkable is the gradual evolution of the Bangalee people through exploration of their cultural moorings. Here is a long and never-ending quest for a cultural identity -one that complements and tempers the political one.
Through the celebration of the Bangla New year and the Ekushey February -both secular in character as against religious festivals - the nation has demonstrated an elevated spirit of social synthesis and unity. A people draws its strength from its culture in order to exert a sobering influence on negative politics and social and moral aberrations. Under the influence of sleazy and cheap entertainment from beyond the border, the young generation is likely to get derailed.
Exposed to aesthetically heightened celebrations like the Ekushey and the Nobonorsho, the young ones have a chance to discover how rich the nation's culture is. Rabindranath's song, "Esho he Baishakh, esho esho" (Come O Baishakh, come) sets the tone of the day's celebration. Nabanno (harvest celebration, Sharodutsab (Autumn celebration) are two more such occasions that can be celebrated nationwide.
The New Year's Day is also the time for renewal. With the Spring handing its many splendours over to the tumultuous Kalabaishakhi, life's contrasting shades could not be captured better. The call is for rejection of the old and obsolete and embarking on a fresh beginning for the nation. Let everyone respond to the call.
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