M. Mizanur Rahman :
Pahela Baishakh is traditionally the most ebullient festival in the life of Bangalee people who get together irrespective of caste or creed and turn out happily with colourful dress with festive outlook. Though the weather that this Baishakh wears on overcast cloudy sky with a symbol of a ferocious storm called 'Kal- Boshekhi Jhor', the Bengali people waive it like a simple air.
The beginning of Pahela Baishakh gives us a focal point of pleasant enthusiasm of festivity of an auspicious time to carry ensuing days, months for a year new irrespective of social, economic, and political diversities of our people until the next Pahela Baishakh arrives at our door. Before we conceive our enormous dreams of creative works on different programmes materialised time flies like air. Yet we are not disheartened or disappointed in hoping the better future. This is what our struggle for existence. We are that people who fight to fit ourselves and achieve rights.
For ages immemorial Bangalee people are basically the lovers of nature. Their waves of air naturally appear rhythmically poetic. It is evident from their age-old customs and traditions. Ritually some customs and traditions of different religious communities differ among one another to some extent. But in their festivities we often find communal harmony. It appears from their sentiment and emotion, as they are the sons and daughters of nature itself. Nature takes them as if on its lap and brings them up on its swinging cradle like the mother herself. That is what the reason why Bangalee people usually called the land where they live as the motherland.
It is very difficult to ascertain when Bangalees have started living on cultivation. Naturally the people of Bengal used to live on cultivating their land sowing seed of foodstuff and reaping them during the harvesting season. These soft-hearted people coexist with the aliens who were allowed to trade on their soil and bartered their harvested fruits whatsoever long before the urbanisation and industrial revolution took place like other nations who boost mostly on agro-economy. Beside their foodgrains like rice, wheat, barley etc. Bangalees used to cultivate vegetables, spices and engaged themselves in developing fishery and livestock in support of agriculture. Earlier tools and appliances were not as developed as nowadays. Farmers had to eam their living on farming by strenuous but hard labour. Yet after the lot of scientific development of farming the farmers have to adopt planning objectives and best possible techniques and scientific knowledge about cultivation of crops, pattern of cropping, and economic use of land, fertiliser, seeds and pesticides.
No, there were no such developments earlier but natural bounties were abundant. In those days Bangalee people had their fisheries, poultry and livestock in plenty. There were no dearths of clothes also. They used to weave clothes in their homemade handloom. The land of Bengal used to give forth enormous agricultural products. Naturally Bangalees were so affluent that they could export surplus agricultural products to farflung countries like Southeast Asia, Middleeastern and African counties beyond Indian peninsula meeting out all local demands. The French traveller Francois Bernier had given the vivid accounts of it in details in his book 'Travels in Mogul Empire'.
Most probably Bangalees fixed Pahela Baishakh as the first day of Bengali New Year on account of its harvesting season of the year. Historically it is stated that Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) of Mughal empire while extending his suzerainty over Bengal simply ordered his General Todarmal to exact taxes or revenue from Bangalees in cash or kind during the Bengali harvesting period on very soft terms and conditions, so that his subjects would have the easy time to pay revenues. After Todarmal won Gujrat in 1574, Emperor Akbar appointed him as his Revenue Secretary. Later Todarmal won the battle of Bengal in 1576 and was made the Subedar of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa by the emperor. During this period the emperor ordered to survey the entire area under his suzerainty and introduced a new system of eaming revenue that remained in force for some considerable period of his reign. It has been assumed that the emperor Akbar might have introduced the above-mentioned Bengali day of festival. That might not be the fact. The Bangalee people who are apt to take advantage of all auspicious moments to celebrate the time of their choice with joys at heart. The event of 'Punyah' of the zamindars of those days could not signify such joyous moments, because the collection of revenues in the name of 'Punyah' by zamindars were mostly extortion exerting their muscle power over the teeming farmers under their heels could hardly be termed as the celebration of Pahela Baishakh by the people in joyous mood.
However on Pahela Baishakh, with an auspicious outlook, closing their business accounts of the previous year for opening a new red-ledger called 'Khero Khata', the Bangalee businessmen start a fresh the ongoing business transaction. A few days before Pahela Baishakh, concerned businessmen would send colourful cards inviting their customers with sweet words to attend their business place. The customers also used to repay their dues, if any, on that day to keep mutual relations with respectful reciprocity. This is what maintenance of good relation between the businessman and the customer since early times. Maintaining good-will and confidence is always a pre-requisite for every goods business.
On the auspicious day of Pahela Baishakh we all realise this in attending business places being entertained with sweetmeats and sweet words of the host businessmen. This has become an age-old Bangalee custom. It's really commendable. Throughout Bangladesh and also in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura of India including all of its surrounding villages this sort of celebration of Pahela Baishakh is in vogue till now.
So this legendary festival gives a pleasant look among the Bangalee people with a pledge of composite communal harmony. In spite of the hottest summer season intermingled with sudden change of sky-being overwhelmed with cloudy but grayish colour wrapping the shining sun by the cyclonic storm that tempts all over the horizon, but the Bangalee people remain undaunted and face it. They have been enjoying this hard time with a high morale since long unknown period. Even those Bangalees migrated abroad and living around the world celebrate Pahela Baishakh also with similar customary ebullience and enthusiasm.
The urban Bangalee people, specially in Dhaka, commemorate 'Bangaliana' by taking Panta Bhat (watered rice) with pieces of fried hilsa fish and slices of aubergine at Romna Botomul (root of the banyan tree), Dhaka, in the big fair of Pahela Baishakh.
Most of the cultural organisations like Chhayanant, Bangla Academy, Shishu academy. Nazrul Academy and others used to present Tagore's and Nazrul's seasonal songs in Bengali and stage dance drama on this occasion.
Tradesmen of different colourful toys, flutes, balloons and handicrafts crowd here and sell their items to the fascinated children. The people of almost all classes throng here to enjoy the occasion with fedstive mood. The Botomul, as it were, resounds welcoming this great festival.
"Esho hey Baishakh, Esho, Esho, Taposho Nishshasho Baye ....
(Come O Baishakh ! Come and breathe out of devotee's fragrant air ... )
The young girls having dressed with red-bordered yellow sari and red or white flowers set in bun within the tuft of their coiled hairs seem to have always been the additional attraction of the fair.
And young boys wear colourful long boutique Punjabi and payjama that give no less attraction adding to festival's seemingly graceful but enthralling ambience. Professor Muntasir Mamun in his book, "The Festivals of Bangladesh' described, "The most important function of Baishakh and the first day of Baishakh is the fair. The New Year, fairs of our country are also nothing but the changed forms of the oldest 'seasonal festivities' and 'agricultural festivals' of Bangladesh."
All festivities bear pleasure of heart. So our Pahela Baiskah festival overcoming such hottest summer brings to us blissful pleasure of our heart no matter what agonies lie ahead. Let our great Bangladesh, with its enduring and ardent people live in heavenly bliss from the first day of Baishakh for good enternally. Let us recollect a few lines of our National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam on this sacred occasion.
"Let us sing of them/
who brought forth on earth/
the fruits of their toil.
Their hardiest labour that contributed basket-full of fruits and flowers/
as offerings for earth ....
Let us sing of them. "