Poila Baisakh, or the Bengali New Year is celebrated with utmost pomp and grandeur in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Falling on April 15 this year, the festival is linked to the harvest of Baisakhi.
‘Poila Baisakh’ literally translates into the first month of the Bengali calendar. If you happen to be in Bengal during this time, you’ll hear people greet each other with ‘Shubho Nabhobarsho’ and recitals of Tagore’s songs playing everywhere.
The preparations for Poila Baisakh start right from the final month of the Bengali calendar, Chaitra. Year-end fairs, heavy discounts on lifestyle items and people flocking to Kolkata’s Kalighat Kali Temple is the usual scene. The houses are re-painted, cleaned and on the morning of the new year, people assemble to see the sun rise for an auspicious start.
The main event called Prabhat Pheri is a procession that sees Bengali women in their traditional garad saris and men in their traditional dhoti and kurta performing folk songs and dances. For breakfast, there’s a simple dish of soaked rice with fried fish, green chillies and onion, while all the other meals are heavy Bengali preparations.
A common tradition called ‘Haalkhata’ is also carried out during this time. It is basically opening of new accounts, since the new year is considered auspicious to start new ventures and to clear old debts and loans.
A government initiative called the Bangla Sangit Mela is a fair where you can catch plays and theatrical performances, as well as folk performances of Murshidi, Bhatiali and Baul.
These fairs include several stalls that sell traditional clothing and handicrafts, including tussar silk suits, handmade diaries, kantha dupattas, Shantiniketan handbags and paintings by local artists. Apart from Bengal, the communities in Orissa, Tripura, Jharkhand and Assam celebrate Poila Baisakh as well. Abroad, the Bengali diaspora celebrate Poila Baisakh in countries like the UK and Australia.