Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Choitro Shonkranti

Subah Shaheen

Since the Mughal period, us Bengalis have our very own calendar which begins on the first day of Boishakh or Pohela boishakh and ends on the last day of Choitro, popularly referred to as Choitro Shonkranti. Choitro Shonkranti is the last day of the Bengali calendar and a time of great celebration for the Bengali community worldwide. On this day, people bid goodbye to the old year and enthusiastically wait to welcome the new one. Choitro Shonkranti celebrations are popularly referred to as, ‘‘Borsho Boron,’’ celebrations because they are aimed at welcoming the new year with all its associated new beginnings.  

Choitro Shonkranti falls on the 13th of April each year and is an age old festival of rural Bengal. Bangladesh is a multi-religious country and though festivals bring together people from all walks of life, due to the religious significance of the day for certain groups, the way people celebrate the day differs. However, on the whole, Choitro Shonkranti is a day when celebrations are widespread throughout the nation and the energy exhaled is palpable.
Historical Importance
Emperor Akbar made the Bengali calendar to make tax collection easier. Previously, a lunar calendar was followed which did not complement the harvest system causing the farmers to face severe difficulty in paying taxes. The new calendar introduced was a solar one and made life a lot easier for the taxpaying citizens as it corresponded with the agricultural cycle. Akbar ordered all dues to be settled by the last day of Choitro and the businessmen would lock away their ‘’halkhatas’’ or financial records book on that day. Choitro Shonkranti would thus signify an end to the taxpaying year by the people of Bengal and North India; the landlords would distribute sweets to their tenants and an air of festivity would spread throughout. Fairs and events would be organized by the villagers and the hardworking peasants would finally have the freedom to enjoy themselves. The day was also celebrated as a harvest festival in rural areas as rabi crops were ready for reaping. Though the calendar currently followed in Bangladesh has been slightly altered by ex president H M. Ershad, the day continues to be as monumental to the Bengali culture as it had been in the time of the Mughals.

Religious Significance

The sun enters Pisces sign on Choitro Shonkranti and is considered a very auspicious day for Hindus and a significant one for Buddhists. In Bangladesh, Buddhists get an optional holiday on this occasion as it corresponds with their religious calendar while Hindus consider the day favorable for religious activities such as deity worship, fasting, meditation, pilgrimage, holy bath etc. Prayers for wisdom, peace and good luck for the upcoming year are organized with the hope that all misfortune and ill luck will end with the current one. Charity is thought to be most highly rewarded on the day and so is done wholeheartedly by the religious community. Food, apparel and money are donated to the less fortunate who find their lives made brighter due to the special occasion.

Celebration in the cities
On this joyous occasion, men and women adorn themselves in bright traditional outfits and the fairer sex often put on color coordinated jewelry as well. Radio stations play songs based on this theme and several articles and television shows are produced as a tribute to this glorious part of Bengali culture.  The history and heritage of Bangladesh is celebrated with grandeur and excitement on the occasion of Choitro Shonkranti.  ‘’Rabindrasangeet,’’ fills the air of Dhanmondi’s ‘’Rabindra Sarobar,’’ and other cultural centers. Under the guidance of eminent Tagore singer Rezwana Chowdhury Banya, a special cultural program is organized on Choitro Shonkranti as well as Pohela Baishakh almost every year. The occasion of these back to back celebrations allows artisans the opportunity to display their talent as well. Streets, buildings and public places are decorated, especially using the traditional ‘’alpona.’’ Dhaka University’s Charukola becomes a place of interest as the art students create colorful masterpieces every year on this special occasion. Kite flying festivals and other cultural competitions are organized as well to mark the significant day.

Celebration in the villages
With that being said, the true extent of the grandeur of Choitro Shonkranti is actually felt in the rural areas of Bangladesh. In the cities, Pohela Boishakh still towers over Choitro Shonkranti in terms of importance but in the villages, both these aspects of our culture are celebrated with equal vigor. That is perhaps because Choitro Shonkranti is primarily a harvesting festival and the joy of a fresh harvest is most strongly felt in the villages by the people who have toiled day and night for the crops to grow properly. This day symbolizes success and safety to the rural population and everyone goes all out to celebrate. Fairs are arranged where people create special handicrafts to be sold and various forms of entertainment ranging from snake charmers to ‘’jatra,’’ or theater performances fill the day with happiness and excitement. Special food items are made on the occasion such as fish cooked in banana leaf, pumpkin tarts etc, and the whole family feasts together amid cheerful conversations and a relaxing sense of serenity. The excitement of celebration infuses temporarily into the simplicity of rural life and Choitro Shonkranti continues to be a source of great festivity to the villagers, holding true to its centuries-old position.

The conclusion of any matter is a time for personal reflection and philosophical musing. Choitro Shonkranti, being the end of the year, unites us Bengalis by a unanimous feeling and blankets over us the need to reflect on the past and create resolutions for the future. In Bangladesh, a committee has been formed to supervise the activities that take place on this special day. The celebrations and the festivities all symbolize the importance of the occasion of Choitro Shonkranti, when we bid adieu to the previous year and hope that we will have even more experiences to be grateful for by the time this special day returns to us the following year.

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