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Bengali People Culture and Origins of Bengali New Year

Interview Summary: The culture of the Bengali people

This interview delves into the culture of the Bengali people. Being one of the largest ethnic groups in the world, the Bengali traditions extend to millions of people, however, their influence is felt primarily in Bangladesh. Bengali New Year is one of the most symbolic and well-known manifestations of the Bengali culture. As the interviewee stated, it is better known in its original nomenclature as Pahela Baishakh.

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It is a national festival that is celebrated annually on April 14 in Bangladesh. The interesting aspect of the holiday is that it is not specific to a particular religion. Representatives of all faiths and religions are welcome to engage in celebration. The respondent recalls the celebration of the holiday in 2018, when her Bengali Muslim friends congratulated the Hindu Bengalis who were dancing near them. Not only did the Hindu reciprocate the welcoming attitude, but they also proceeded to get acquainted with the Muslim group. This interaction exemplifies how Pahela Baishakh remarkable is since it is the only national event, which transcends the boundaries of group identities.

During the interview, it was established that Pahela Baishakh has major importance to the Bangladeshis, with many customary rituals performed. For instance, families prepare masks and floats, symbolizing evil, courage, strength, and peace. The celebration begins early morning, with people participating in songs and rallies. On April 15, the Bengali give each other sweets as gifts. Specific cuisine is served as festive food, which includes watered rice, panta ilish, and different pastes.

The interview also disclosed the significance of the Bengali New Year to the world’s cultural history. The middle of the 20th century was marked by the Bangladeshis’ resistance to Pakistan. Pahela Baishakh was seen as a national expression of pride and culture among the Bengali. As an acknowledgment of its role in the foreign struggle, UNESCO recognized the Bengali New Year as a cultural heritage of humanity.

Overall, the interviewee noted that the Pahela Baishakh reflects the pride of the Bengali people. Despite the majority of population following Islam, Bangladeshis also have large numbers of Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. Yet Bengali New Year is a festival that unites all people irrespective of their religion, gender, and ethnicity. It shows a high degree of acceptance to the groups that are not dominant in society, as well as highlights the diversity of views of the Bengali people.

Interview Review: The origins of the Bengali New Year

The questions asked in this interview pertained to the origins of the Bengali New Year. As it became apparent, there is no single theory describing its roots. Until the 16th century, the Bengali people lived according to the Islamic lunar calendar. It created difficulties for farmers, as the tax collection was not synchronized with the natural agricultural cycles. The introduction of a new Bengali calendar alleviated tax payments to farmers. Subsequently, Emperor Akbar marked the change in the system measuring time by declaring a festivity on the first day of each consecutive year.

According to the interviewee, another explanation points to the mentions of the Bengali calendar’s chronology in the temples preceding Emperor Akbar by centuries. With these findings in mind, it is viable to suggest that the ancient calendar was taken and presented as the Bengali. At any rate, Pahela Baishakh is an essential Bengali holiday that has counterparts in other countries. For example, similar festivities occur in Indian states, specifically, in Odisha, Tripura, and Assam. In Indian states, the festival is named Poyla Boishakh, and it is also accompanied by music and dances. Bengali Indian families also add the traditional Indian alpana to house decoration, thus underscoring the national specific of the holiday.

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The respondent posits a link between tax collection during Akbar’s rule and the traditions associated with the start of a new year in Bangladesh. It is customary to pay off debts on the last day of the passing year. The first day of a new year is favored for new beginnings. Whether it is a wedding day, a new business contract being singed, or an enterprise being set up, all initiatives undertaken on this day are believed to be fruitful and long-lasting. Businesses open new accounting books as a homage to Pahela Baishakh origin.

Altogether, Bengali New Year signifies the people’s respect for their history. The respondent remembers a conversation he had had with a participant of the festival in 2020 who claimed to associate Pahela Baishakh with pride of the valiant struggle of the Bengalis against the Pakistani rule. Moreover, the Indian Bengalis chose to add national and Hindu elements to their version of Bengali New Year, also using the Hindu variation of swastika in decorations. In contrast, the Bengalis purposefully do not affiliate Pahela Baishakh with religion, thus simultaneously avoiding communication difficulties and praising their historic achievements.

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