Pahela Baishakh, one of the main festivals of our age-old culture, is becoming more and more popular among the mass people. The festival has been getting a remarkable economic dimension marked with a rise in shopping and festivity with the increasing financial ability to spend on celebration, entertainment and shopping of the people.
As Pahela Baishakh is associated with the cultural root of Bangalis over the years, they celebrate the occasion overcoming the differences created among them due to various reasons. In villages, towns and cities, traders close their old accounts and open new ones. They usually invite their customers to share sweets and renew their business relationship with their customers. All over the country people enjoy fairs and festivals. Many kinds of traditional handicrafts, toys, pithas (handmade cakes), special kinds of food stuffs, sweets, potteries, bangles, pitchers and cane products are the main exhibits in these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment. Singers and dancers perform and actors stage Jatra pala. Besides, shows featuring Pala gan, Kobigan, Jarigan, Gambhira, Gazir Gan and Alkap Gan are arranged there. Artistes present folk songs as well as Baul, Marfati, Murshidi and Bhatiali songs. The famous kite flying in Old Dhaka, bull racing in Munshiganj, and wrestling (Jobbarer Boli Khela) in Chittagong still attract attention in Baishakhi Melas (fairs) just as much as cockfights, pigeon racing, boat racing and other time-tested entertainments do.
Celebrations of Pahela Baishakh started from Mughal Emperor Akbar’s reign. In that time, landlords (Jamindar) on behalf of the emperor used to collect tax of the year from tenant in the last day of Choitro, the last month of Bangla calendar. And the next day they used to open new books of account, widely called as ‘Halkhata’, for the New Year by distributing sweetmeats among the tenants on the first day of Baishakh. In Bangladesh the day is celebrated on April 14 of Gregorian year according to the officially amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy.
Several hundred years ago, the economy was almost entirely dependent on agricultural productions. In Bangladesh, the agriculture necessarily revolved around its six seasons. At the beginning of the Mughal period, tax was collected on the basis of Arabic or Hijri year which did not exactly go hand in hand with the seasonal cycle of this region. For instance, when it was time for the landowners to collect taxes, the peasants would still be waiting to reap their crops from the fields. This way, following a lunar calendar based on that Hijri year proved inconvenient for all the stakeholders involved. Realising the urgency of reformation in the existing year system, the emperor gave one of the renowned scholars of his court, Fatelluah Shiraji, the responsibility to make the necessary amendments. The new calendar was designed keeping the nature of all six seasons, their duration and contribution to the agriculture in mind.
Some scholars argue that Pahela Baishakh was anything but a reason of festivity for the peasants who comprised the majority of the population when they had to pay off their taxes on the last day of Choitro, the month before Baishakh.
With the rapid growth of urbanisation in Bangladesh, the economic growth has also had beneficial impacts on local industries and employment opportunities.
The middle class emerged with purchasing capacity to spend on entertainment and shopping for comfort and luxury. At present days the fashion, food, handicrafts and handmade toy industries all eagerly wait for Pahela Baishakh. It transcends into the regular retail stores and Baishakhi fairs throughout the country. Sarees, salwar kameez, punjabi, fatua, children’s attires and shoes are widely sold as the people of all classes go for shopping ahead of Noboborso.
This national festival creates opportunity for corporate sector to promote their brands and products. They sponsor a lot of open air concerts, Baishakhi fairs and similar events in the cities as it takes their brands closer to the consumers.
The fashion houses embrace Pahela Baishakh as a special event of great importance. Beginning modestly with men's and women's wear for Pahela Baishakh it has now become a multi-billion taka industry. Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh (FEAB) has set a sales target of Tk. 1700 crore this year, which is Tk. 200 crore higher than the last year. This amount accounts for sale of brand items of popular fashion houses. Besides these, there are small fashion shops which also expect brisk sales. The craze for wearing New Year’s dress is not confined to Dhaka, it becomes ubiquitous all over the country. Even small upazilla towns are no exception in this regard.
Business based on Pahela Baishakh has brought smiles on the faces of other sellers and manufacturers. Handicrafts and pottery sold in cities and villages bring happiness to craftsmen and craftswomen. Let alone other items, only the sale of shanki (earthen plate) generates a handsome amount for being in high demand by the revellers for taking panta bhat. The traditional pithas, which are on the verge of extinction, are also resurrected with great fervour on Pahela Baishakh. Sale of flowers in Dhaka and other major cities has been in vogue for the past several years. On Pahela Baishakh the sale of flowers goes up exponentially. This year the flower vendors have fixed a target of selling flowers worth of Tk. 600-700 million. Jewellery made of clay and wood along with glass bangles are in high demand as well. Metal and wooden ornaments did not lag behind. Though ornaments of various materials have been sold in shops, a large number of female vendors sell their products sitting on the footpaths at various places in Dhaka. Similar scenes have been seen in towns outside the capital. Ever since some people included Hilsha fish (though it has no relation with Pahela Baishakh) as an ingredient to take with panta bhat as a part of ‘recent tradition’, its price has started to increase in many folds because of some unscrupulous traders. Gradually the celebration of Pahela Baishakh is creating a significant impact on our economy. Last year celebration of Bangla New Year 1423 created a massive market of more than Tk. 87,000 crore.
Experts and businessmen hope that Pahela Baishakh will be the biggest occasion for the economy of Bangladesh in the near future.
It’s a matter of great regret that though we are very much concerned about the economic aspects of Pahela Baishakh, but we hardly care about our culture. Songs of other languages from other countries are played in the Baishakhi programmes. Our traditional Jatra pala, Kobigaan, Baul gaan are replaced by exotic songs. Many of us wear our traditional dresses only on the day of the festival. Pahela Baishakh reminds us of our Bangali culture and affirms the identity of Bangladeshi nation. Culture is the totality of values, belief, lifestyle, cuisine, behaviour, etiquette of the people of a society. It is being changed rapidly as a result of technological advancement and globalisation in the recent decades. The capitalistic approach signifies deterioration of own culture, values and norms, as well as the emergence of a borderless world. One society is influenced by the consumption habits of other societies. These influences are becoming more and more powerful. With different satellite television channels, Bangladeshi people are getting accustomed to Indian and Western culture through movies, music, dramas, and cartoons. Unfortunately our private sectors followed the capitalistic approach only to make a quick buck. Respective governments had no long-term initiative to practice and spread our own culture throughout the world. We have around one crore of immigrants in different countries of the world. We could use them as our cultural ambassadors to practice Bangali culture and show the beauty of it to the citizens of other countries. But it didn’t happen. They have no attachment with our culture except arranging a few special events on the occasion of some special days. We could easily create a situation through which our expatriates would gladly practice and spread our very culture to the world. It could remove their identity crisis and detachment with the roots. We couldn’t understand the importance of economy of culture. There are cultural products which have demands in the global market. Instead of capitalising our affluent cultural heritage, a large portion of young generation and females are blindly following the culture of other countries. If we fail to attract them towards our rich culture and heritage, our future will be in jeopardy. And for doing this, we have to take inspiration from the celebration of Pahela Baishakh and extend this practice further with a view to following the basic tenets of our culture for the other days of the year as well and spread it throughout the world.