April 14, 2022
DHAKA – With the first rays of the morning sun, the nation, after two long years, is set to usher in Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla New Year and the biggest secular festival for Bangladeshis.
This time it will be observed with the characteristic vibrancy, unlike the low-key celebration of the previous two years.
Like in pre-Covid days, festivities will start early in the morning with people from all walks of life donning the traditional attire of this joyous celebration. Men in colourful panjabis, women in saris and children in bright clothes will once more be able to join the cultural programme at Ramna Batamul where Chhayanaut will welcome the day.
The revellers will also gather at the traditional Baishakhi Mela — a fair where all kinds of traditional handicrafts, toys and other items will be bought and sold. It is an integral part of the celebration of the first day of the Bangla New Year in Dhaka and the rest of the country.
Mangal Shobhajatra, a procession seeking the wellbeing of all, will start from the Institute of Fine Arts in the morning. Businesses will open their halkhata (sales books) to start a brand new business year.
“The severity of the pandemic had shrunk everything. The last two years have been very painful for us,” said Chhayanaut President Sanjida Khatun, explaining how Covid-19 forced her organisation to scale back traditional celebrations.
For the last six decades Chhayanaut has taken the lead in organising the programme to welcome the Bangla new year. It could not hold the event in 1971 during the country’s Liberation War. The last two celebrations of Pahela Baishakh were observed on a small scale and online to comply with the government’s Covid-19 health protocols.
In 1967, Chhayanaut organised its Pahela Baishakh programmes in protest of the then Pakistan government’s blatant suppression of Bangalee culture.
After independence in 1971, the festival became a symbol of the country’s nationalist movement as well as an integral part of people’s cultural heritage and identity.
The Mangal Shobhajatra of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Dhaka University is an element unique to Pahela Baishakh. This event, recognised by Unesco, is also going to be held this time after a break of two years and all preparations have been completed.
“Due to the pandemic, the rhythm in our lives has been lost,” said Prof Nisar Hossain, dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. This year’s Shobhajatra theme is ‘Nirmal’ (pure) which has been called upon to cleanse the soul.”
Although the daily Covid positivity rate has reached less than one percent, organisers have announced that social distancing will be maintained during the Shobhajatra.
Cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuff pointed out that the sudden rise of religious bigotry lends special significance to this year’s Pahela Baishakh, which is celebrated by everyone irrespective of religion.
“This year’s celebration is most important because this time we are facing the big question of our Bangalee nationality. It is worrying that in recent times, so-called practitioners of religion have created an adverse situation in various educational institutions. In order to defeat this evil, this year’s celebration should be even livelier,” said Yousuff, also a freedom fighter, theatre director, and filmmaker.
Golam Quddus, president of the Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, said, “We are going to have a double festival this time as Pahela Baishakh has coincided with Ramadan. Bangalees will now celebrate religion and culture together. This is not contradictory at all.”
However, a section of people is trying to mislead people for the sake of politics, he said.
Founder of The Flag Girl, Priota Ifthekhar said she is eagerly waiting to celebrate Pahela Baishakh after two years. “This is part of our culture, our heritage and now it is quite safe to celebrate since we are vaccinated and are also getting our booster doses.”