The celebration of Poila Boishakh as the Bengali New Year has a rich history dating back centuries

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Mongol Yatra Bangladesh Deputy High Commission Kolkata 1426
Mongol Yatra Bangladesh Deputy High Commission Kolkata 1426
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Azadi Ka Amrit Mahoutsav

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The celebration of Poila Boishakh as the Bengali New Year has a rich history dating back centuries. Here’s an overview of its historical context and evolution:

  1. Origins: The Bengali calendar, also known as the Bangla calendar or Bangabda, traces its origins to the Gupta Empire in ancient India, specifically during the reign of Emperor Vikramaditya. The Bengali calendar is a solar calendar based on the Surya Siddhanta, an ancient astronomical treatise.
  2. Sanskrit Influence: The Bengali calendar was further refined during the medieval period with significant Sanskrit influence. The starting point of the calendar, the era of the calendar known as the “Bangla San” or “Bangabda,” is believed to have begun in 593 CE during the reign of King Shashanka of Bengal.
  3. Poila Boishakh Significance: Poila Boishakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year, holds cultural and historical significance for Bengalis. It marks the beginning of the agricultural season and is celebrated with joyous festivities, cultural programs, and traditional rituals.
  4. Traditions and Customs: On Poila Boishakh, people wake up early, bathe, and dress in new clothes. They visit temples to seek blessings from the gods and goddesses for prosperity and success in the new year. Traditional sweets like “pitha” and “bhapa doi” are prepared and shared with family and friends. Artisans and traders often start new accounting books (known as “Halkhata”) on this day.
  5. Cultural Revival: During the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century, Poila Boishakh celebrations experienced a revival. Prominent Bengali intellectuals and cultural figures, such as Rabindranath Tagore, played a significant role in promoting the cultural significance of the Bengali New Year.
  6. Modern Celebrations: In contemporary times, Poila Boishakh is celebrated with great pomp and splendor not only in West Bengal, India but also in Bangladesh and among Bengali communities worldwide. Cultural programs, music and dance performances, traditional fairs (known as “Boishakhi Mela”), and processions are organized to celebrate the occasion.
  7. Symbolism: Poila Boishakh represents not only the beginning of the agricultural season but also the spirit of renewal, cultural identity, and solidarity among the Bengali community. It serves as a time for reflection, celebration, and the reaffirmation of cultural heritage.

While Bengali New Year Poila Boishakh has tremendous importance in Bangladesh’s cultural heritage too, apart from the celebration across Bangladesh with cultural festival a special people procession observed called the “Mongol Shobhajatra”, often referred to simply as “Mongoljatra,” has its roots in the cultural and social movements of Bangladesh. Here’s a comprehensive overview of its history:

  1. Origins (1989): The tradition of Mongol Shobhajatra began in 1989 in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. It was initiated by students and faculty members of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka (formerly known as Bangladesh University of Fine Arts) as a form of protest against social injustices, political oppression, and cultural repression.
  2. Symbolism: The name “Mongol Shobhajatra” roughly translates to “procession of wellbeing” or “march for good fortune.” The procession symbolizes the spirit of unity, resilience, and the triumph of good over evil.
  3. Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh): The Mongol Shobhajatra is celebrated annually on the first day of the Bengali calendar, known as Pohela Boishakh, which usually falls on April 14 or 15. Pohela Boishakh marks the beginning of the Bengali New Year and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and festivity across Bangladesh and among Bengali communities worldwide.
  4. Evolution: Over the years, the Mongol Shobhajatra has evolved into a grand procession featuring colorful masks, floats, and performances representing various themes such as cultural heritage, environmental conservation, social justice, and national pride.
  5. Recognition: In 2016, UNESCO recognized the Mongol Shobhajatra as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, acknowledging its significance in promoting cultural diversity, social cohesion, and the preservation of cultural heritage.
  6. Participation: The Mongol Shobhajatra is not limited to students and artists; people from all walks of life participate in the procession, including teachers, activists, cultural enthusiasts, and members of civil society. It serves as a platform for collective expression and solidarity.
  7. Cultural Significance: Beyond its protest origins, the Mongol Shobhajatra has become an integral part of the Bengali New Year celebrations, reflecting the spirit of resilience, hope, and optimism among the Bangladeshi people.
  8. Continued Tradition: Despite challenges and changes in the socio-political landscape of Bangladesh, the tradition of Mongol Shobhajatra continues to thrive, serving as a symbol of unity, cultural identity, and the aspirations for a better future.

Overall, the Mongol Shobhajatra is not just a procession; it’s a manifestation of the collective spirit and resilience of the Bangladeshi people, celebrating their culture, heritage, and vision for a brighter tomorrow.

The Mongol Shobhajatra is primarily celebrated in Bangladesh, where it originated. However, its influence has spread beyond Bangladesh’s borders due to the diaspora of Bengali communities around the world.

While the main celebrations and the grand procession of Mongol Shobhajatra are predominantly observed in Bangladesh, Bengali communities in other countries also partake in various forms of cultural festivities to mark the Bengali New Year, which may include elements inspired by the Mongol Shobhajatra tradition.

Exact numbers regarding how many countries celebrate the Mongol Shobhajatra specifically are not readily available. However, Bengali communities in countries such as India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and many others often celebrate Pohela Boishakh, the Bengali New Year, in their own ways, which may include aspects of the Mongol Shobhajatra tradition.

In Kolkata, the capital city of the Indian state of West Bengal, the Bengali New Year, known as “Poila Boishakh,” is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor. While the term “Mongoljatra” specifically refers to the procession in Bangladesh, Kolkata also celebrates the spirit of the Bengali New Year with colorful festivities.

In Kolkata, Poila Boishakh celebrations often include cultural events, music and dance performances, traditional Bengali food stalls, and various cultural programs organized by different groups and organizations. People dress in traditional attire, participate in traditional rituals, and visit temples to seek blessings for the new year.

While there might not be a direct equivalent to the Mongol Shobhajatra procession as seen in Bangladesh, the spirit of unity, resilience, and cultural pride is evident in the way Kolkata celebrates Poila Boishakh. Various cultural organizations and community groups may organize processions or cultural events that showcase Bengali heritage and traditions.

Overall, while the celebration of Poila Boishakh in Kolkata may differ in some aspects from the festivities in Bangladesh, it still reflects the vibrancy and richness of Bengali culture and serves as a moment of joy and renewal for the community.

The celebration of Poila Boishakh as the Bengali New Year is deeply rooted in history, tradition, and cultural pride, reflecting the enduring spirit of the Bengali people across generations.

It is the responsibility of the new generation to keep the fire alive for the great cultural heritage of Bengal and take it further to new heights globally.

About Post Author

Editor Desk

Antara Tripathy M.Sc., B.Ed. by qualification and bring 15 years of media reporting experience.. Coverred many illustarted events like, G20, ICC,MCCI,British High Commission, Bangladesh etc. She took over from the founder Editor of IBG NEWS Suman Munshi (15/Mar/2012- 09/Aug/2018 and October 2020 to 13 June 2023).
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