Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
The Bengali month of Baishakh falls on the Gregorian calendar month of April. Usually it comes with a bang testifying to English poet T. S. Eliot's famous phrase "April is the cruellest month". Storms during Baishakh raze to the ground many kaccha houses and trees across the country. Electric poles are uprooted and transformers burst in many places of the country plunging many areas into darkness for several nights. Hail storms, together with heavy showers, hit standing crop plants in the fields in many places of the country.
Bengalis in Bangladesh, ignoring whims of nature, welcome and celebrate the Pahela Baishakh with traditional festivities like village and urban fairs, boat races and colourful street shows in towns and cities. Despite destructive features of Kal-Baishakhi as the cyclonic storm is called, the Bengali New Year is welcomed and celebrated every year by one and all with new hopes of welfare, peace, prosperity, progress and good wishes for all irrespective of colour and creed. Service-holders and pensioners have been given Baishakhi allowances to celebrate the day. Delicious foods are cooked and eaten in almost every house. People are seen wearing new colourful clothes. Everyone greets one another in the Bengali New Year.
The Bengali New Year was initiated by Mughal Emperor Akbar with his ascension to the throne in Gregorian calendar year 1556 AD. There exist many contradictory opinions about the Bengali New Year. To end these controversies, famed astronomer Dr. Meghnath Shaha had proposed a reform of the Bengali calendar (Panjika) throughout the Subcontinent in 1952. In 1963, scholar Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah led a committee and proposed a reform of the Bengali calendar (Panjika) in the then East Pakistan basing it on solar months in lieu of the earlier lunar ones as per the reforms proposed by Dr. Meghnath Shaha.
After 1971 independence, the Bangladesh government accepted the proposals of 'Shahidullah Committee' and gave importance to the reform of the Bengali calendar. At last in the fiscal year 1988-1989, instruction was given to reform the Bengali calendar as per the 'Shahidullah Committee' proposals. But there remained some complexities and lack of transparency regarding some related issues together with the leap year one. As a result, in 1994, the 'Bengali Calendar Reform Committee' of Bangla Academy fixed April 14 as the 1st of Baishakh, the beginning month of Bengali calendar year as per the 'Shahidullah Committee' proposal. In this new calendar, Bengali traditions and cultures were taken into account.
It has been proved that the present official Bengali calendar is highly scientific. It has been universally accepted by the historians that Emperor Akbar ascended the throne in Gregorian calendar year 1556 which was Hijri year 963. This Hijri year is considered as the first of Bengali Year. Now the running Gregorian calendar year is 2017; if we subtract from this the year in which Emperor Akbar ascended the throne, we get 461 years. Now if we add these 461 years to the years 963 which was the Hijri year equivalent of 1556 Gregorian calendar year in which Emperor Akbar ascended the throne we easily get (461+963) 1424 years. Arithmetically it is 2017-1556 = 461 years + 963 Hijri years = 1424 Bengali years.
The Jukta Front (United Front) government had declared Gregorian calendar's April 14, 1954 (Bengali year 1361) as public holiday for the first time in the then East Pakistan in observance of Bengali New Year's day. The practice still officially continues in Bangladesh and people follow it with due gaiety.
The Bengalis of West Bengal, however, follow the traditional Panjika (calendar) and observe Pahela Baishakh which may or may not fall on Gregorian calendar's April 14. As a result, the same Bengali yearly and seasonal festivals are observed on different days in Bangladesh and West Bengal although both the peoples share the common mother tongue - Bengali. That is why the most scientifically-framed Bengali calendar and the Bengali New Year are yet to achieve universal acceptance in this modern age of science. The scholars of West Bengal may be held responsible for this as the present reformed Bengali calendar was framed as per the scientific calendar reforms proposals of Dr. Meghnath Shaha. Afterwards, the Indian government ascertained April 14 of Gregorian calendar year as the 1st of Baishakh as per the recommendations of Dr. S.P. Pande committee that modified some parts of Dr. Meghnath Shaha's proposals.
Even after this, the scientific view of April 14 of the Gregorian calendar year is yet to be accepted as Pahela Baishakh in West Bengal. It is alleged that West Bengal's scholars and government are helpless at the hands of the traditional Panjika-makers' syndicate there which is very powerful. The syndicate allegedly make huge profits by printing and selling Panjika in the traditional (unscientific and old) form.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.