The exuberance over celebration of the Pahela Baishakh, the New Year's day on the Bangla calendar, is unmistakable. But the emotion and passion that go into making the occasion are short-lived for the educated class in particular. Dates and months on the Bangla calendar are seldom used and remembered by the educated urbanites. Yet the majority of them try to prove themselves to be the true champions of Bangaleeness by donning punjabees and paijamas and sharis and salwar kameej made especially for the occasion. The other opulent but unthinking demonstration is to eat panta (overnight soaked rice) with hilsha fish in earthen dish at times in public.
So far as the dress code is concerned, the preference for traditional flowing attire consisting punjabi and shari gives the Bangalees their true identity. In the name of artistic motif, though, an overdose at times takes it to the extreme on the point of bizarre. The panta with hilsha phenomenon is a cultural aberration that has been encouraged by certain quarters with an ulterior motive. A recent phenomenon, the hype with hilsha should better be dumped into history's dungeon.
Of all the New Year celebrations, those of the Bangalees and some tribal people are very artistic, colourful and aesthetically pleasing. The Bangalees have their traditional year-end halkhata (closing account of the departing year), a function organised by business community for customers or clients. The latter pay all their arrears on the day and are lavishly treated with sweetmeat and other mouth-watering foods by traders. A social bond is thus forged beyond the commercial transactions. Tribal people celebrate their Baishabi, Biju etc; even more elaborately.
The Pahela Baishakh then appears with all its lustre, sound and smell embedded in the cultural mooring of the people known distinctly as the Bangalees. In the vast rural areas, it was the time for fairs. Beginning with the Sangkranti (yearend) day, fairs were held one after another in different villages. Sure enough, not all of these fairs drew people from places far and wide but some famous one certainly did. A few of them enjoyed reputation for their specialities such as circus or doll dance or 'charak' (a barbed wire hook penetrated in the skin near the spine and rotated from a dangling bamoo at a great height).
The fairs were particularly important for rural economy. It was the time when the agrarian society bolstered by the sales proceed from post-harvest crops planned for acquiring many of their household tools and implements along with dress for members of their families. The point is that the Pahela Baishakh was so closely intertwined with the lives of farmers that the two could not be separated from each other. In keeping with the time for regeneration, children also tried their hands on their highly desirable implements or instruments such as knives used for peeling green mangoes and flutes or two-string musical instrument (dotara) or mini drum (dhol).
The rural setting of yesteryears is no longer there. Rural transformation in favour of consumerism has taken away the yearning for once small wonders. Today, nothing less than battery-run miniature cars, dolls and like-alike revolver or pistols can satisfy children even in villages. As for children of the not well-to-do families, though, the plastic versions of such toys without battery are the only resort.
The presence of modern gadgets along with smart phone and cable TV in villages has brought about a phenomenal change in the psyche of young population there. They are not easily satisfied now. Consumerism has cast an irresistible spell on them and the village fairs are no longer the centre of their attraction. Rather, they visit cell phone stores in nearby towns or even the cities in order to procure one of their choices.
The older generation may get nostalgic about the wonder of small things but the young ones could not care less. Their attachment to culture is not close enough now. Like their urban counterparts they also do not feel the inner urge like their forefathers to immerse in the ethos of Bangaleeness.
It is exactly against such a socio-cultural backdrop that the Chhayanaut began its journey on redefining the celebration of the Pahela Baishakh. It has got its inspiration from Rabindranath Thakur who introduced Barshabaron (welcome to New Year) in Shantiniketan. In fact, the inaugural song sung at the Chhayanaut's first ever Nababarsha Udjapan (celebration of New Year) was a piece of Rabindrasangeet. Until now the same tradition has been maintained at the cultural organisation's celebration of the day under the Ramna Batomool. An addition of the mangol shobhajatra (procession for national well-being), now a Unesco-declared global heritage, has made the spectacle colourful, at times satirical, and yet distinctively true to the artistic creation of the soil.
Other cultural organisations have taken the cue from the Chhayanaut to welcome Baishakh. This was necessary for more than one reason. The function at Ramna draws more people than it can accommodate. Dispersal of crowds through many such functions held at different places of the city has proved good both for the organisers and the audiences. Now welcoming the Pahela Baishakh through musical soirees and other arrangements like dance and recitation in the capital, other cities and towns along with villages can add a new dimension to the country's cultural journey.
A cultural pursuit like this can also be a tool to fight the influences of alien culture. So dissemination of healthy cultural traits will be decisive in arresting social degeneration and psychic aberration. The Pahela Baishakh's lessons should be fostered all through the year in order to inspire the young generation to return to their cultural mooring.