Baishakh through the lens of rural economy

14 April 2022
Baishakh through the lens of rural economy

Md Joynul Abedin :
Bangladesh is a land of festivity. Series of national, religious, social and cultural festivals take place throughout the year here in this country. People just love to celebrate any occasion. Among all these festivals Pahela Baishakh is undoubtedly the most colourful fiesta.
As it is not connected to any particular religion, people of all sects, religions, gender and economic classes celebrate it with great enthusiasm. Like all other festivals celebration of Pahela Baishakh has an association with economic activity.
In fact this is a festival which is deeply rooted with the rural economy of Bangladesh. Once celebration of Bangla Nababarsha was based only on the lives of villagers, but now with the progress made by the people of all professions a large group of progressive middle class people has emerged with the capability to spend more on the occasion in the urban areas.
And the people of rural Bangladesh have a long tradition to try their level best to cook good food items, buy and wear new clothes and spend quality time with their friends and family members on the first day of Bangla calendar year. Usually they keep a budget for the celebration of this day. Currently their economic ability has improved as well. Nowadays they also purchase sari, salwar kameez, punjabi, fatua, children's attires and shoes as they go for shopping with family members ahead of Bangla Nababarsha.
Pahela Baishakh gives an air of gaiety through the fairs held in the village areas. These fairs turn into a great platform for the traders and artisans to exhibit and sell their products. Artistes and entertainers perform music, games and jatrapala to entertain the mass audience and earn something for their family members. Besides, halkhata, the most awaited programme of Bangali traders and shopkeepers, is arranged during this part of the year which boosts their income. Thus Pahela Baishakh brings a remarkable change in our rural economy.
Celebration of Pahela Baishakh had become an integral part of Bangali life since its beginning. The practice was initiated by Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar. At that time landlords (Jamindar), on behalf of the emperor, used to collect tax of the year from tenants on the last day of Choitro, the last month of Bangla calendar. And the next day, on the first day of Baishakh, the landlords used to open new books of account, widely called as 'halkhata', for the New Year by distributing sweetmeats among the tenants.
Emperor Akbar introduced Bangla calendar year to facilitate the farmers. And he chose this time for collecting tax as he knew that during this period of the year the mass farmers had money in their hands after selling their crops. With the passage of time the trend of collecting land tax had gone and a new practice of arranging halkhata had begun.
The mass people of Bangladesh observe Pahela Baishakh with utmost passion and enthusiasm. On the big day they usually rise early in the morning. Before going to visit Baishakhimela(fair) they take breakfast and wear their best dresses. Men and women of all ages, particularly the children, find great joy in visiting the fair. The things that can attract people of all ages are exhibited and sold there. The fair is a great boon to the traders as well.
Our cottage industries find a way to exhibit their products through these fairs as they give impetus to rural art and craft. Traders of all sorts of things come to the Baishakhi fair from far and near. Rural artisans and craftsmen make many useful things at home ahead of Pahela Baishakh beside their regular business to reap a mentionable amount of their annual earnings from the fair. The artisans, weavers and farmers come with their goods.
Fancy goods, wooden toys, clay made dolls, toys and pots, ribbons, whistles, flutes, cosmetics, sweetmeat, fishes, furniture, household necessities made by cane, bamboo and iron, utensils etc. are displayed and sold in the fairs. Young boys buy kites, whistles, and other traditional toys while the young girls spend money for bangles, cosmetics, dolls and toys. Thus different village professionals like farmers, potters, sweetmeat traders, blacksmiths, fishermen, and carpenters pass a busy time ahead of Pahela Baishakh as they find the occasion as a great opportunity to earn money by selling their products.
Besides these people, some other professions also get revitalized and the professionals can make a buck from Baishakhi fairs. Circus party, puppet show, bioscope, nagordolas and magicians, who build their tents in the village fairs, increase the joy and enthusiasm of the people. All of these keep the villagers spell-bound till the end of the fair.
The people also wait for this annual event with great hope as they earn a handsome amount of money from there. Besides handicrafts and pottery sold in cities and villages bring happiness for the rural craftsmen and craftswomen. Let alone other items, only the sale of shanki (earthen plate) generates a handsome amount due to increasing demand by the revelers for taking pantabhat (soaked rice). Sale of flowers in cities and smalls towns has been in vogue on Pahela Baishakh for the past several years. Thus the flower cultivators do a good business as well ahead of Bangla Nababarsha.
The main economic affair of rural Bangladesh during PahelaBaishakh is halkhata. Local businesses are based on credit sales throughout the year and the payment of all dues that turns huge at the end of a year is associated with the opening of halkhata or new book of accounts.
The traders and shopkeepers have a custom of cleaning their shops in the last month of Bangla calendar after a year-long sale. They invite their customers to renew their business relationships clearing their dues on the first day of the New Year. The traders and shopkeepers also entertain their customers with sweets, jilapi and others snacks for refreshment. As this is an ancient practice, businessmen consider it as an important event in their trade. For many small and big traders, the halkhata celebration even marks the beginning of the new financial year with divine blessings.
Albeit urban traders sometimes overlook this financial tradition but the practice is observed with due seriousness and cordiality in our rural areas. A close relationship between the shopkeepers and customers exists in Bangladesh's villages and suburbs. Bangali farmers have an intimate connection with the celebration of halkhata.
Traders purchase agricultural products from the farmers while farmers need to buy some other grocery items from the shopkeepers. Besides, farmers often do not have enough money to buy seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides during their planting season. As a result they procure these goods from the shopkeepers based on credit and they pay off their dues to the shopkeepers after selling their crops. Businessmen can make a good profit through these dealings. Throughout the year, both parties engage in a series of such dealings with a view to benefitting each other. Thus on the first day of Bangla New Year, traders and shopkeepers renew their relationships with these customers by closing their old account book and opening a new one.
The urban celebration of Pahela Baishakh has added a new dimension to the overall celebration of Bangla Nababarsha in the last few decades. As rural manufacturers supply products to urban traders, urban celebration benefits the rural traders as well. Rural economy is the heart of Bangladesh's financial system. When village economy gets benefitted, it ultimately energizes Bangladesh and ensures its overall economic development. Thus the celebration of Pahela Baishakh is significant not only for highlighting our rich cultural heritage but also for giving life to the rural economic activities.

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