“Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho. Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come”
– Rabindranath Tagore
Growing up in a home filled with the rich culture of my Muslim and Bengali heritage, I was fortunate enough to take part in multiple New Year celebrations. Every year, April 14 celebrates the arrival of the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh, part of a unique calendar system determined by the seasons. It’s one of my favorite holidays, filled with a blend of colorful traditions and communal reflection. My relatives back home in Bangladesh celebrated the holiday with elaborate festivities that include going around town visiting family and friends, dressing up in traditional garb, and attending parades showcasing talented Bengali artists and performers. Here in America, the celebrations are not quite as elaborate but the traditions are kept alive within the Bengali community. Here are three things that are always a must in my home:
- Punjabis and Red and White Saris
During the holidays, we typically show off the snazziest fashion trends from South Asia. On Pohela Boishakh, however, it’s customary for women to wear simple traditional white saris rimmed with red and for men to don the Punjabi. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, my friends and I exchange saris as gifts so they’re extra special!
2. Panta Bhat and Illish Maas
There’s no end to the delicious savory and sweet treats on this day but a simple dish of Panta Bhat (rice soaked in water and salt) and Illish Maas (fried Hilsa fish) are staple meals to share with the family. It goes really well with pickled Mango Achar! This type of food is a reminder of our agricultural roots and the sustenance provided by the natural world around us.
- Reading Rabindranath Tagore
My love of literature stems from a heritage that places significant value on the arts. Bengalis boast an array of writers, poets, artists, and performers, most notably poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- western author to be awarded the Nobel Prize. On this day the Daiyan family revisits his timeless song, “Esho, he Boishakh”, by doing a reading as a family and reflecting on the words that pay tribute to the earth.
Pohela Boishak is a celebration of Bengali roots and culture, unblemished by modernity. It asks that no matter where we are, we should seek to gather, reflect, and marvel at the coming of a promising New Year. Today I encourage you to celebrate Bengali culture with me by reading Yasmin’s Hammer, a beautiful moving story set in Bangladesh with illustrations that capture the sights and smells that engulf you as you walk the streets of my country.
As we say in Bengali, Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year)!
Mitul Daiyan is a former LEE & LOW intern who recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.
Further Reading: Check out these great children’s books about Bangladesh!
by Ann Malaspina, illus. by Doug Chayka
Yasmin works at a brickyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but dreams of going to school. One night she has an idea–a secret plan that will bring her one step closer to making her dream a reality.
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank
by Paula Yoo, illus. by Jamel Akib
A picture book biography of Muhammad Yunus, who created the innovative concept of microlending to help eradicate extreme poverty in his country of Bangladesh. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work.