The majority of people I know will know about a few New Year celebrations. There’s THE New Year (you know, the one where you end up somewhere in London looking at fireworks and travel “free” on the underground but it’s not really because you have a monthly travelcard); there’s the Chinese New Year (this is the year of the Dragon) and, possibly, the Islamic calendar, generally owing to Ramadan (this is 1433 according to the Islamic calendar).
Today, 14 April, marks the start of the Bengali New Year, 1419. It is generally celebrated by Bengali speaking people across the world, predominantly in Bangladesh and India (specifically in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura). Of course, Bengalis abroad will celebrate too – I’ve been to many a “Boishakhi Mela” (“Boishakh” being the month and “Mela” meaning Fair) in London in my time! In fact, the “Pohela Boishakh” (Pohela mean first) mela in London is believed to be the largest Asian festival in Europe and the largest Bengali festival outside of Bangladesh and West Bengal.
So where did the calendar come from and why? The calendar itself is based on a combination of the Hindu solar calendar and Islamic Hijri calendar. There are two generally accepted hypotheses surrounding its history.
The first is that the calendar started with the year 1 during the reign of King Shoshangko in ancient Bengal, who ruled approximately between 590 and 625 CE.
The other is that the Mughal Emperor Akbar (yes…my namesake) created the Bengali calendar for tax collection purposes. Land and agricultural taxes were collected according to the Islamic Hijri calendar which, of course, is a lunar calendar. This didn’t work so well for the agricultural year. Akbar’s astronomer, Fatehullah Shirazi, started work on a new calendar based on the Islamic Hijri and Hindu solar calendar. It is believed that instead of starting at 1, Akbar jump-started the calendar with the (then) Hijri year.
The Boishakhi Mela this year will be taking place in Tower Hamlets in May, so get yourselves out there if you can.
In the meantime, Shubho Noboborosho (Happy New Year) to all!