Celebration of Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla calendar year, is one of the most popular festivities in Bangladesh. People, irrespective of their age, religion, gender and economic class, celebrate the day all over the country with utmost enthusiasm.
Since the inception of the Bangla year, it has become a popular tradition for the Bengalis to celebrate Pahela Baishakh by organizing mela or fair which is popularly known as Baishakhi mela. Baishakhi mela is a part and parcel of Bengali culture which bears an image of the rural Bangladesh where people of all professions make sure their participation. Thus it has become one of the largest and most comprehensive celebrations in our culture. The colours, joy and amusement options make the field of Baishakhi mela a potpourri of delightful representations of our rich cultural heritage.
Baishakhi mela is a mirror of our traditional cultural practice. It is presumed that the arrangement of such fair began about 600 years back during the Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar’s reign. With the passage of time the occasion has become a part of family and social life and turned into a day of merriment for Bengalis. Baishakhi fairs are arranged throughout the country.
Among all Baishakhi fairs some fairs are held only for a day and some fairs continue for two or even more days. The people of Bangladesh just love to celebrate any occasion. And when it comes to celebration of Pahela Baishakh, they engage their family members and friends in the celebration of the day. Usually they keep a budget for the celebration as they need to prepare good dishes and entertain their guests. On the big day, people rise early in the morning. Before going to visit the Baishakhi mela they take breakfast and wear their best dresses. Men and women of all ages, particularly the children, find great joy in visiting the fair. The things that can attract people of all ages are exhibited and sold there. Children prefer wooden toys, clay made dolls, plastic toys, kites, ribbons, whistles, flutes and cosmetics. The rural craftsmen and artisans exhibit and sell their hand-made goods. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, hand-made cakes, special kinds of food stuffs, sweets, potteries, bangles, cane and iron products are the main exhibits at these fairs. Rural people spend money to buy their household necessities from Baishakhi mela as they know that the producers of such products bring their best quality goods at these fairs. To entertain the visitors of the fair rural singers sing Palagan, Kabigan, Jarigan, Gambhira Gan, Gazir Gan and Alkap Gan. One of the special attractions of the village fair is the performance of circus party and jatra troupe. Besides, puppet show, magic shows, and nagordolas also draw the attention of the fair visitors. Nowadays, people also arrange cinema shows to be screened through projector to entertain the village people.
But with the passage of time, many old festivals connected with Bengali New Year and Baishakhi fair tradition have been disappearing, while new festivals have been replacing them. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull race in Munshiganj were used to be very colorful events of Pahela Baishakh celebration. Other trend of popular village games and sports like horse race, bullfight, cockfight, flying pigeons and boat race are reducing in numbers. Puppet show, circus show and jatra pala are now on the verge of extinction. When the organizers started focusing only on financial benefit, the fairs began to lose their traditional values and turned into the places for making money. Though gambling was a part of fairs earlier and it was conducted at one corner of the fair ground, but now it has become one of the basic elements of fair. In the week or month-long Baishakhi fairs open trade and consumption of drug at the fair venue makes a hotspot of misconduct for the youths of the local areas. Meanwhile, some greedy Baishakhi fair organizers stage obscene dance in the name of jatra or puppet show which ruins the positive impression of the fairs among the common people.
Nowadays Baishakhi fair is also noticeable in the towns and cities. However, it reconnects the city dwellers with the taste of rustic village life. Festivals keep people attached to their roots, culture, values and origin. Bangladesh is the land of festivals and its thousand-year-old heritage and culture are exhibited through its festivals. Baishakhi fair is no exception in this regard.