Pohela Boishakh, also known as the first day of the Bengali calendar, is a holiday rarely celebrated outside the Bangladeshi community. On April 11, Baruch’s Bangladesh Student Association managed to change that with Boishakhi Night, an event that used live music, live dancing and traditional foods to bring Bangladeshi culture to Baruch.
Before the main festivities, the day began with BSA’s free henna tabling. Students of varying cultures and ethnicities gathered to have the plant-derived dye, often used before weddings and other major festivities, applied to their hands and arms in elaborate patterns.
“We are trying to make Baruch students aware of Bengali culture by showing what Bengali culture looks like,” said Mobinur Rahman, a computer information systems major and president of BSA. “It’s a traditional thing for Bengali people, during weddings or during the regular day. Western people who are not Bengali do not get to experience it [henna]. So we are giving a chance to Baruch students, Bengali or not Bengali, to feel how it is to be Bengali.”
Later that night, BSA hosted the main festivities in the multipurpose room, though the Bangladeshi New Year did not officially begin until April 14, which commenced year 1423 of the Bengali calendar. Based on the solar year, it was originally introduced on March 10-11, 1584.
Attendees were greeted with an array of Bangladeshi food, including pakora (a fritter), pita bread, chicken lollipop, which is a chicken winglet where the meat is cut loose from the bone and pushed down a stick, Bangladeshi trail mix and chai lattes.
“We do not have a lot of Bengali culture going on here. Most of them [Bengalis] grow up here or are born here so they do not know much about the culture,” said Ahmed Shakir, a vocalist for The Feringhees, the only active Bangladeshi rock band in the United States and one of Boishakhi Night’s many performers. “My band and I try to bring the old stuff we have in our culture, such as old tunes so that they know the things we had before and so that we can mix it with the new things.”
The mass popularity of Pohela Boishakh originated from rural fairs, which provided an outlet for traders and artisans, but has now evolved to become “the most colorful festival of Bangladesh,” according to BSA.
“The purpose of Bengali New Years comes from the Mughal Empire. The king wanted to start taxation during a time of year that was easier for people to pay off the money. Before the first day of the year you have to pay off everything that you owe, all the money you have to pay to other people,” explained Lamia Aesha, a finance major and member of BSA.
“The first day of the year is a sort of celebration where everyone comes together to celebrate and eat sweets. Even now if you were to go to Bangladesh, any stores or farms try to make sure they pay off all their dues before Pohela Boishakh so that the day is joyous for them. It has become a national festival for Bangladesh,” Aesha added.