How to Celebrate Bengali New Year during the Lockdown
I bet many of you are wondering how to celebrate Bengali New Year during the lockdown with social distancing and all it implies. While public gatherings will be missed, we can still keep the significance of Bengali New Year alive. The Indian Rose today will give you a few tips on how to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing, while respecting the lockdown, safe and at home!
We will first talk about what is Bengali New Year, then see how to celebrate Bengali New Year during the lockdown.
History of Bengali New Year
Before we see how to celebrate Bengali New Year during the lockdown, let’s see what is the history of Bengali New Year.
The history of Bengali New Year has to do with the establishment of the Bengali calendar. The Bengali calendar was introduced by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1556 to make land tax collection easier. It was named “Fosholi Shon”, which means crop year, as the calendar was deeply linked to agricultural work and crop collection. The Bengali calendar is basically a combination of the lunar Islamic calendar and the solar Hindu calendar. Later on, people began to call it simply “Bangla or Bengali calendar. Bengali New Year corresponds to the first day of the Begali calendar. The history of the Bengali New Year is centuries-long, and its celebrations are a magnificent example of Bengali cultural heritage.
While their Durga Puja celebrations are famous worldwide, Bengali New Year is slowly gaining fame abroad thanks to the Bengali New Year celebrations by the Bengali communities living outside of India and Bangladesh. Bengali New Year is all about joyful celebrations, but how to celebrate Bengali New Year at home and safe, during the current restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic? We’ll see how in a moment!
What is Bengali New Year Called?
Bengali New Year is the English name for what is popularly called Pohela Boishakh in Bengali.“Pohela” stands for first and “Boishakh” stands for the first month of the Bengali calendar. Alternatively, Bengali New Year is also called Nabo Barsho, which simply means “new year”.
Pohela Boishakh is celebrated in mid-April every year. Bengali people wish each other on this prosperous day by saying “Shubho Nabo Barsho”, which means Happy New Year in English. The celebration of Bengali New Year however, is much more than wishing each other happy new year, and can last for weeks, especially in Dhaka and Kolkata. This year’s Bengali New Year celebrations have been canceled due to social distancing.
Significance of Bengali New Year
Before digging into how to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing, it is important to remember the significance of Bengali New Year. Pohela Boishakh is the beginning of the financial year for Bengali business communities. On this day some people buy valuables such as clothes and jewelry, as this is said to be an auspicious day. Bengalis wear traditional clothes, Hindus go to the temple and worship Lord Ganesha and Lakshmi, and everybody enjoys a variety of Bengali delicacies on this auspicious day. However, the significance of Bengali New Year is first and foremost related to the celebration of Bengali culture, regardless of religion and social status. Let’s now see how to celebrate Bengali New Year.
How to Celebrate Bengali New Year?
Bengali New Year day starts with house cleaning. Homes are then decorated with fresh flowers, and beautiful rangolis are drawn at the entrance. Bengali New Year rangolis are called “Alpana” and are made with colored rice. An earthen pot is positioned in the center of their rangoli.
For many people, Bengali New Year celebrations begin a week before new year day. Concerts and traditional dances shows are held in the main cities of Bangladesh and West Bengal. On new year’s day thousands of people gather irrespective of color, caste, religion, and sex. In Kolkata, many join a Prabhat Pheri (early morning gathering and procession) to welcome the new year. People then take a holy dip in a nearby river. It is a tradition which many follow every year as it is said to wash away all their sins. Many Hindus go to the temple to worship their gods, especially Ganesha and Lakshmi. Then everybody enjoys traditional Bengali food at home. The main cities of Bangladesh – Dhaka and Chittagong – see lots of colorful processions and traditional performances. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore is homaged with songs and poetry readings, while art students of Dhaka University organise a procession representing a different aspect of Bangla folk heritage every year.
This is how to celebrate Bengali New Year, when everything is fine. Obviously, due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, all public celebrations have been called off. That means no concerts, no students procession, no Prabhat Pheri, no temple, and no performances. But you can still make Bengali New Year special and celebrate in lots of nice ways. The internet and our tips will help you celebrate Bengali New Year safe and at home.
How to Celebrate Bengali New Year in a Time of Social Distancing
The key to celebrating Bengali New Year during Coronavirus (COVID-19) is staying home and staying safe. That’s by far the most important thing. Gatherings, large and small, would contribute to spreading the virus, and nobody wants that.
So how can we keep the festive mood alive? Here are a few tips that’ll allow you to celebrate Bengali New Year during the lockdown.
Some ideas for the days ahead of Bengali New Year
While online shopping is to be avoided, as delivery of essential items is prioritised, you can always wear a beautiful outfit you bought earlier on. Alternatively, you can either sew your own Bengali New Year outfit, or simply update an old one. It is easy enough to add a homemade decoration to an old item and make it look new and special. Bengali New Year celebrations during the lockdown will feel a bit more special this way.
Make your own Bengali traditional sweets
That’s not an easy task, but be brave and make your own Bengali New Year sweets. Roshogolla, Mishti Doi, Sandesh… Try it ahead of time and master your patissier skills!
Since you are home, this year you can paint the most beautiful alpana ever. You’ll find lots of good tutorials on Youtube. This is an essential part of how to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing.
On new year’s day:
Take a ritual bath (at home)
It won’t be the same as taking it in the river with others, but still you can wake up and take a purifying bath at home and make it a symbol of a fresh start for the year ahead. You’ll feel rejuvenated and relaxed.
Clean your home
That’s a great way to start the year, having a clean, tidy, beautiful home. That will make it for a more pleasant lockdown too. So why not doing something useful while celebrating Bengali New Year during the lockdown?
While having a priest is to be avoided, you can make puja at home and worship an icon of Lakshmi and Ganesh.
Make yourself beautiful at home – Traditional Bengali makeup tutorial
You can still look at your best. Try out this Bengali makeup tutorial, you will have fun and look stunning!
Please don’t forget to dress up and look your best to celebrate Bengali New Year at home and safe. Do it for yourself, your family, and others you will video call.
Use Whats App to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing
Update to a Bengali New Year whatsapp status, and send all of your contacts a Bengali New Year whatsapp message. A simple Shubho Nabobarsho will suffice, but adding something related to the current coronavirus outbreak will be nice too. Do not write anything negative, a few words of encouragement will be welcomed by everyone.
Post a picture on social media
People can feel closer together during the lockdown thanks to social media. Let’s all post a picture of Bengali New Year celebration during the lockdown on social media. We can show our dress, makeup, food, and tell others what we are doing.
Throw a Zoom Bengali New Year Party
Use platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts to celebrate with friends and family. This might well be the best way to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing. You’ll be able to see and talk with different people at the same time. Simply download zoom, and ask your friends and family members to download it too. Then send them an invitation to the party. Dress up for the event, and eat your Bengali New Year traditional food together, which brings us to our next tips.
Cook Bengali New Year Meals
The quarantine is the perfect time to cook those elaborate, time-consuming dishes you never cook. If you have children, let them join you in the kitchen. Apart from making the usual fried fish, or prawns in coconut milk, why don’t you try a more challenging mutton dish, or better yet, why don’t you give Bengali sweets a try?
If you live with other family members, make Bengali New Year celebrations during the lockdown all about your family. If you are alone, join a zoom New Year lunch with your friends. Even if you live with your family, do not forget to phone friends and family members who might be alone and feeling lonely.
Make a donation
This is the best time of the year for acts of kindness. This year especially, donations for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) are extremely needed. Otherwise, you can make a donation to a charity helping vulnerable people, who are the ones suffering the most during the lockdown. What better way to celebrate Bengali New Year during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
Listen to Folk Songs
Eso He Boishakh Esho Esho is a favourite, and is available on Youtube.
Watch a Bengali folk dance performance
You won’t be able to watch a street performance to celebrate Bengali New Year, but you can watch a live performance of Bengali folk dance. For folk dances of the Indian subcontinent, we highly recommend this channel
Watch an online Jatra play
Jatra is a traditional kind of musical theatre play typical of the Bengali speaking areas of India, and Bangladesh. You can find several Jatra plays on Youtube and celebrate Bengali New Year at home and safe, while honoring Bengali culture.
Poetry and music
Watch an online concert, performance, poetry recital…
Artists are regularly posting and performing live shows. Check the website BookMyShow for and go on the section Live From HQ for upcoming concerts and performances streamed on Facebook and Instagram live. They show 30 Minute performances by prominent poets and storytellers.
If you are into folk music, Anahad Foundation launched an initiative Chaukhat Ki Goonj which will allow you to watch performances everyday at 8pm. Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts will also upload lots of past concerts. Music is central to how to celebrate Bengali New Year during the lockdown.
The Bottom Line
The Indian subcontinent is known for its religions, festivals, and unique customs. While Italians showed the world their love of music by singing from balconies, we can show how to celebrate during the lockdown, always remaining at home and safe. People of different religions join together and celebrate love and happiness during festivals. So, don’t miss the chance of getting into the festival mood, and try one of our tips on how to celebrate Bengali New Year in a time of social distancing.