Pahela Baishakh

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Pahela Baishakh
পহেলা বৈশাখ
Mangal Shobhajatra in Dhaka.jpg
Pahela Baishakh celebration in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Official namePahela Baishakh / পহেলা বৈশাখ
Also calledBangla Noboborsho / বাংলা নববর্ষ[1]
Observed byBengalis
TypeSocial, cultural and national festival in Bangladesh and a religious festival in parts of India.
CelebrationsMongol Shobhajatra (processions), Baishakhi Mela (fair), gift-giving, visiting relatives and friends, songs, dance
Related toSouth and Southeast Asian solar New Year
Part of a series on
Montage of Bengal.jpg

Pahela Baishakh (Bengali: পহেলা বৈশাখ, meaning: first of Baishakh) or Bangla Noboborsho (Bengali: বাংলা নববর্ষ, meaning: Bengali New Year) is the first day of Bengali calendar. It is celebrated on 14 April as a national holiday in Bangladesh and on 14 or 15 April in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and parts of Assam and Odisha by people of Bengali heritage, irrespective of their religious faith.[2]

The festival date is set according to the solar Bengali calendar as the first day of its first month Baishakh.[3] It therefore almost always falls on or about 14 April every year on the Gregorian calendar.[3] The same day is observed elsewhere as the traditional solar new year and a harvest festival by Hindus and Sikhs, and is known by other names such as Vaisakhi in central and north India, Vishu in Kerala and Puthandu in Tamil Nadu.[4][5][6]

The festival is celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. The traditional greeting is "Shubho Noboborsho" (শুভ নববর্ষ, lit. "Happy New Year"). The festive Mangal Shobhajatra is organized in Bangladesh since 1989. In 2016, the UNESCO declared this festivity organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka as a cultural heritage of humanity.[7]


In Bengali, the word pahela (Bengali: পহেলা) means ‘first’ and Baishakh (Bengali: বৈশাখ) is the first month of the Bengali calendar.[3] The New Year is referred to in Bengali as Noboborsho (Bengali: নববর্ষ).[5]

Mughal Emperor Akbar first introduced the Bengali New Year and official Bengali calendar to ease the tax collection process.


Mughal origins theory[edit]

Historically the starting of the Bengali calendar is attributed to the 6th century CE Gaur king, Shashanka[8][9][10] on 12 to 14 April in 594 CE, which was later modified by Mughal emperor Akbar for the purpose of tax collection [11]. During the Mughal rule, land taxes were collected from Bengali people according to the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar was a lunar calendar, and its new year did not coincide with the solar agricultural cycles, creating problems during tax collection. So Akbar asked the royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi to create a revised calendar using the solar Hindu calendar already in use, and this was known as Fasholi shan (harvest calendar). According to some historians, this started the Bengali calendar.[11][12] According to Shamsuzzaman, "it is called Bangla san or saal, which are Arabic and Persian words respectively, suggests that it was introduced by a Muslim king or sultan."[8]

Hindu origins theory[edit]

According to some historianss, the Bengali festival of Pahela Baishakh is related to the traditional Hindu New Year festival called Vaisakhi, and other names, in the rest of India on or about the same dates.[5][13][14][15] Vaisakhi, also spelled Baisakhi, is observed by both Hindus and Sikhs.[6]

The new year festival in eastern and northern states of India is linked to Hindu Vikrami calendar. This calendar is named after king Vikramaditya and starts in 57 BCE.[16][clarification needed] In rural Bengali communities of India, the Bengali calendar is credited to "Bikromaditto", like many other parts of India and Nepal. However, unlike these regions where it starts in 57 BCE, the Bengali calendar starts from 593 CE suggesting that the starting reference year was adjusted at some point [17][18], which coinsides with the reign of king Shashanka[19].

According to Sengupta, its traditional name is Bongabdo.[10][20] The term Bongabdo (Bangla year) is found too in two Shiva temples many centuries older than Akbar era, suggesting that Bengali calendar existed well before Akbar's time.[10] Despite arguments over who adopted the Bengali calendar and the new year, states Sengupta, it helped collect land taxes after the spring harvest based on traditional Bengali calendar, because the Islamic Hijri calendar created administrative difficulties in setting the collection date.[10]

Contemporary usage[edit]

In Bangladesh, the old Bengali calendar was modified in 1966 by a committee headed by Muhammad Shahidullah, making the first five months 31 days long, rest 30 days each, with the month of Falgun adjusted to 31 days in every leap year.[11] This was officially adopted by Bangladesh in 1987. Since then, the national calendar starts with and the new year festival always falls on 14 April in Bangladesh.[11]

In India, however, the current Bengali calendar in use is based on the Sanskrit text Surya Siddhanta.[11] Their calendar remains tied to the Hindu calendar system and is used to set the various Bengali Hindu festivals. For Bengalis of West Bengal and other Indian states, the festival falls either on 14 or 15 April every year.[11]


Mongol Shobhajatra at Pahela Baishakh in Bangladesh. UNESCO recognises Mongol Shobhajatra as cultural heritage.[21]

The Bengali New Year is observed as a public holiday in Bangladesh. It is celebrated across religious boundaries by its Muslim majority and Hindu minority.[22] According to Willem van Schendel and Henk Schulte Nordholt, the festival became a popular means of expressing cultural pride and heritage among the Bangladeshi as they resisted Pakistani rule in the 1950s and 1960s.[23]

The day is marked with singing, processions, fairs, alpana and rangoli. Traditionally, businesses start this day with a new ledger, clearing out the old. Singers perform traditional songs welcoming the new year. People enjoy classical jatra plays. People wear festive dress with women decking their hair with flowers. White-red color combinations are particularly popular.[24]

People of Bangladesh prepare and enjoy varieties of traditional festive foods on Pahela Baishakh. These include panta bhat (watered rice), ilish bhaji (fried hilsa fish) and lots of special bhartas (mash).[25][24]

In recent years, the procession has a different theme relevant to the country's culture and politics every year. Different cultural organizations and bands also perform on this occasion and fairs celebrating Bengali culture are organized throughout the country. Other traditional events held to celebrate Pahela Baishakh include bull racing in Munshiganj, wrestling in Chittagong, boat racing, cockfights, pigeon racing.[26]


Students of Charukola (Fine Arts) Institute, Dhaka University preparing masks for Pohela Baishakh
Colourful celebration of Pahela Baishakh in Dhaka

The celebrations start in Dhaka at dawn with a rendition of Rabindranath Tagore's song "Esho He Baishakh" by Chhayanaut under the banyan tree at Ramna Park (the Ramna Botmul). Over the years, the event has become one of the largest events celebrated in Bangladesh on a National level. The key colors for the event is red and white. An integral part of the festivities is the Mangal Shobhajatra, a traditional colourful procession organised by the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka (Charukala). According to the history, the rudimentary step of Mongol Shobhjatra was started in Jessore by Charupith, a community organization, in 1985. Later in 1989 the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka arranged this Mangal Shobhajatra with different motives and themes. Now, the Mangal Shobhajatra is celebrated by different organization in all over the country and in different styles.[27]

The Dhaka University Mongol Shobhajatra tradition started in 1989 when students used the procession to overcome their frustration with the military rule. They organized the festival to create masks and floats with at least three theme, one highlighting evil, another courage, and a third about peace.[7] It also highlighted the pride of Bangladeshi people for their folk heritage irrespective of religion, creed, caste, gender or age.[7]


Pahela Baishakh celebrations in Chittagong involves similar traditions of that in Dhaka. The students of the fine arts institute of University Of Chittagong brings the Mongol Shobhajatra procession in the city, followed by daylong cultural activities.[28]

At DC hill & CRB, a range of cultural programmes are held by different socio-cultural and educational organisations of the city, like Sangeet Bhaban, a renowned musical institution of the city. The Shammilito Pahela Baishakh Udjapon Parishad holds a two-day function at the hill premises to observe the festival, starting with Rabindra Sangeet recitations in the morning. In the late afternoon, through evening, Chaitra Sangkranti programme is held to bid a farewell to the previous year.[28]

At the Chittagong Shilpakala Academy, different folk cultures, music, dances, puppet shows are displayed.[28]


Pahela Baishakh festive meal

Bengali people of India have historically celebrated Pahela Baishakh, and it is an official regional holiday in its states of West Bengal and Tripura.[29]

Like the new year day in the rest of India, Bengali families clean their house and decorate them with alpana (rangoli). In the center of the alpana color pattern, they place an earthen pot, filled with water, capped with mango leaves and marked with auspicious Hindu red and white swastika sign.[29] Ganesha – the god of auspicious beginnings, and Lakshmi – the goddess of prosperity and wealth are remembered. Many people visit the nearby river to say their prayers and take a ritual bath.[29]

Notable events of West Bengal include the early morning cultural processions called Prabhat Pheri. These processions see dance troupes and children dressed up with floats, displaying their performance arts to songs of Rabindra Nath Tagore.[30]

Tripura and northeast India[edit]

Pahela Baishakh is a state holiday in Tripura. People wear new clothes and start the day by visiting Hindu temples. The day marks the traditional accounting new year for merchants.[31][32] The Hindu Bengalis perform Kumari puja and Ganesha puja, youngsters visit elders to seek their blessings, and women put red sindoor (vermilion) on each other's head as a mark of good wishes.[32] Festive foods such as confectionery and sweets are purchased and distributed as gifts to friends and family members.[32]

The festival is also observed by the Bengali communities in other eastern states such as Assam.[33]

West Bengal[edit]

Pahela Baishakh has been the traditional New Year festival in the West Bengal state.[5] The festival falls on 14 or 15 April, as West Bengal follows its traditional Bengali calendar, which adjusts for solar cycle differently than the one used in Bangladesh where the festival falls on 14 April.[34]

Bengalis mark the day by taking a dip in rivers, then praying to Lakshmi and Ganesha. Traders start a new accounting year.[35] Opening the accounting books is called Hal Khata. Some open the first page by drawing the Hindu symbol of auspiciousness called swastika.[36] Some shopkeepers print goddess calendars with their address, and distribute them to their clients. In some regions, festivities begin a few days before, with music and dance performances,[36] in addition with the rallies of Mangal Shobhajatra, witnessed in the streets of Kolkata.

Celebration in other countries[edit]

In Banglatown, an area located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets - the most concentrated Bangladeshi area outside of Bangladesh, the Boishakhi Mela was founded. It is celebrated a few months after the Bengali New Year so that the celebration can take place during a summers day. It is the largest Asian festival in Europe and the second-largest street festival in the United Kingdom.

Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta in Canada celebrates its Heritage Festival (Bengali New Year) in a colorful manner along with other organizations. Bengali people in Calgary celebrate the day with traditional food, dress, and with Bengali culture.[37][38] The Bangabandhu Council of Australia also hosts a Pahela Baishakh event at the Sydney Olympic Park.[39]

Related festivals[edit]

The Pahela Baishakh new year day is celebrated elsewhere in South Asia but called by other names. For example, it is called Vaisakhi by Hindus and Sikhs in north and central India, which too marks the solar new year.[40][41][4] The same day every year is also the new year for many Buddhist communities in parts of southeast Asia such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, likely an influence of their shared culture in the 1st millennium CE.[4]

However, this is not the universal new year for all Hindus. For some, such as those in and near Gujarat, the new year festivities coincide with the five day Diwali festival. For others, the new year falls on Ugadi and Gudi Padwa, which falls a few weeks before Puthandu.[4]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Nubras Samayeen; Sharif Imon (2016). Kapila D. Silva and Amita Sinha (ed.). Cultural Landscapes of South Asia: Studies in Heritage Conservation and Management. Taylor & Francis. pp. 159–160. ISBN 978-1-317-36592-1.
  2. ^ Kapila D. Silva; Amita Sinha (2016). Cultural Landscapes of South Asia: Studies in Heritage Conservation and Management. Taylor & Francis. pp. 159–162. ISBN 978-1-317-36592-1.
  3. ^ a b c Kapila D. Silva; Amita Sinha (2016). Cultural Landscapes of South Asia: Studies in Heritage Conservation and Management. Taylor & Francis. pp. 161–168. ISBN 978-1-317-36592-1., Quote: "Poyla Boishakh is celebrated on the first day of Baishakh, the first month of the Bengali calendar. It falls on 15 April in the Gregorian calendar, and it coincides with similar Vedic calendar-based New Year celebrations (...)"
  4. ^ a b c d Karen Pechilis; Selva J. Raj (2013). South Asian Religions: Tradition and Today. Routledge. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-415-44851-2.
  5. ^ a b c d William D. Crump (2014). Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide. McFarland. p. 113114. ISBN 978-0-7864-9545-0., Quote: "Nabo Barsho ("New Year"). Hindu New Year festival in West Bengal State, observed on the first day of the month of Vaisakha or Baisakh (corresponds to mid-April). New Year's Day is known as Pahela Baishakh (First of Baishakh)."Karen Pechilis; Selva J. Raj (2013). South Asian Religions: Tradition and Today. Routledge. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-415-44851-2.
  6. ^ a b Robin Rinehart (2004). Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. ABC-CLIO. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-57607-905-8.
  7. ^ a b c Mangal Shobhajatra on Pahela Boishakh, UNESCO
  8. ^ a b Guhathakurta, Meghna; Schendel, Willem van (2013). The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9780822353188.
  9. ^ Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India, ISBN 0203443454
  10. ^ a b c d Nitish K. Sengupta (2011). Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib. Penguin Books India. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-0-14-341678-4.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Kunal Chakrabarti; Shubhra Chakrabarti (2013). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis. Scarecrow. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-8108-8024-5.
  12. ^ "Pahela Boishakh". Banglapedia. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. 2015.
  13. ^ Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. pp. 135–137. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.Constance Brissenden (2000). Vancouver and Victoria: A Colourguide. Lorimer. pp. 200–. ISBN 978-0-88780-520-2.
  14. ^ Edain McCoy (2002). Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals for the Rites of Spring. Llewellyn. p. xiv. ISBN 978-0-7387-0082-3.
  15. ^ Aruna Thaker; Arlene Barton (2012). Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics. John Wiley & Sons. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-118-35046-1.
  16. ^ Eleanor Nesbitt (2016). Sikhism: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 122, 142. ISBN 978-0-19-874557-0.
  17. ^ Morton Klass (1978). From Field to Factory: Community Structure and Industrialization in West Bengal. University Press of America. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0-7618-0420-8.
  18. ^ Ralph W. Nicholas (2003). Fruits of Worship: Practical Religion in Bengal. Orient Blackswan. pp. 13–23. ISBN 978-81-8028-006-1.
  19. ^ Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India, ISBN 0203443454
  20. ^ Syed Ashraf Ali, Bangabda, National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh
  21. ^ Mangal Shobhajatraon Pahela Baishakh
  22. ^ Kapila D. Silva; Amita Sinha (2016). Cultural Landscapes of South Asia: Studies in Heritage\n" Conservation and Management. Taylor & Francis. pp. 159–168. ISBN 978-1-317-36592-1.
  23. ^ Willem van Schendel; Henk Schulte Nordholt (2001). Time Matters: Global and Local Time in Asian Societies. VU University\n\t" Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-90-5383-745-0.
  24. ^ a b Meghna Guhathakurta; Willem van Schendel (2013). The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. pp. 17–21. ISBN 978-0-8223-9567-6.
  25. ^ Vishweshwaraiah Prakash; Olga Martin-Belloso; Larry Keener; et al., eds. (2016). Regulating Safety of Traditional and Ethnic Foods. Elsevier Science. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-12-800620-7.
  26. ^ "Nobo Borsho and Pahela Boishakh: The Past and the Present". The Daily Star. 14 April 2013.
  27. ^ মঙ্গল শোভাযাত্রা (Non-English source)
  28. ^ a b c Chakraborty, Pranabesh. "Chittagong set to welcome Bangla New Year". The Daily Star. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  29. ^ a b c William D. Crump (2014). Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide. McFarland. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-7864-9545-0.
  30. ^ 'Poila Baisakh' celebrated in West Bengal, Press Trust of India (15 April 2015)
  31. ^ Pahela Baisakh celebrated in Tripura, Bangladesh News (15 April 2014)
  32. ^ a b c Tripura people observed Pahela Baishakh, Financial Express (14 April 2016)
  33. ^ Celebrating New Year all year long!, The Statesman, 29 December 2016
  34. ^ Kunal Chakrabarti; Shubhra Chakrabarti (2013). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis. Scarecrow. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-8108-8024-5.
  35. ^ US Secretary of State John Kerry sends 'Poila Baisakh' greetings to Bengalis, Press Trust of India, NDTV (12 April 2013)
  36. ^ a b CR Park throbs with Bengali way of life, Snehal, The Hindustan Times (11 August 2016)
  37. ^ "Naba Barsha in Bengal". Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  38. ^
  39. ^ "BOISHAKHI MELA". Boishakhi Mela. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  40. ^ "BBC - Religion: Hinduism - Vaisakhi". BBC. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  41. ^ Crump, William D. (2014), Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide, MacFarland, page 114

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