Poila Baisakh marks the beginning of the New Year in the month of Baisakhi according to the Bengali calendar. It is celebrated in both West Bengal and Bangladesh with much enthusiasm.
Pahela Baisakhi is the first month of the calendar and is a time filled with hope, new beginnings and good food. Since olden times, which were led by farming schedules, the day also was the aftermath of the annual spring harvest festival. Hence, it is marked by a festive air with the bounty of food offered as thanksgiving.
In rural areas in West Bengal and in large parts of Bangladesh, community festivals are organised. There is dancing and singing and craft displays on the day of celebration. Rabindra sangeet is sung by children in many community celebrations. Fairs or melas, offering crafts and textiles for sale, folk dances, music performances and food stalls, are often packed with visitors on the day.
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For many, Poila Baisakh begins with a ritual bath in the morning on the riverfront. The day is marked by many of the elements that characterise folk and homespun art. Homes are decorated with alpona, the traditional floor patterns with floral and vine motifs in large circular forms. The middle of the alpona is often highlighted with a small earthen pot filled with water and vermillion marks and mango leaves as an auspicious symbol. In many homes, where traditional pujas are performed, the blessings of the Hindu deity of good beginnings, Ganesha and the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi are invoked.
The temple areas of Kalighat, Belur and Dakshineshwar in Kolkata will see worshippers pouring in on Naba Barsha for blessings, offering hibiscus garlands as crimson floral tributes. Poila Baisakh is also marked in Santiniketan with Rabindra sangeet and cultural performances.
The New Year is also auspicious for retailers and traders. Across Kolkata and elsewhere, you can spot traders opening new account ledgers or books called hal khata in Bengali. Shopkeepers invoke the blessings of Ganesha and Lakshmi in their shopfronts as they settle down to opening their fresh accounts of the year.
The Naba Barsha menu is laden with seasonal vegetables, the ubiquitous fish and unbeatable sweets for dessert. Across Kolkata, restaurants will rustle up special Naba Barsha meals.
If you are in these parts, do spend your day at community festivities, shop at the mela and do not forget to tuck into a hearty meal to ring in the Poila Baisakh.