Vaisakhi and Pahela Baishakh

ਖੁਸ਼ ਵਿਸਾਖੀ – শুভ নববর্ষ

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Celebration of Vaisakhi in Athens 2018 (Photo: Myrto Gaziani)

Vaisakhi or Baisakhi is an ancient spring harvest festival that has been observed in the Northwestern Indian state of Punjab for many centuries. The festival marks the start of the New Year in the Nanakshahi solar calendar and is celebrated on 13 or 14 April. This variation in date is due to the fact that Baisakhi depends on the solar calendar. Baisakhi gets its name from ‘Baisakh’, the first month of the Bikram Sambat Hindu calendar. The Punjabi festival coincides with several regional festivals, like Pahela Baishakh (Bengali New Year), Vishu (Kerala’s New Year), Puthandu (Tamil New Year), and Bihu (Assamese New Year).

Vaisakhi became closely associated with the religion of the Sikhs in 1699, when Guru Gobind Singh (1666 – 1708), the tenth Sikh spiritual teacher, chose the date of the festival to create the highest order that can be attained by Sikhs, known as the Khalsa Panth (Order of the Pure).

In India many Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi by dancing Bhangra and Gidda, singing religious songs, dressing in holiday finery, participating in wrestling competitions, enjoying large public processions known as Nagar Kirtan and making pilgrimages to the holy sites. People enjoy holiday foods and special sweets, such as kada prasad. Many Sikhs choose to be “baptized” during this festival.

Pahela Baishakh marks the first day of Bengali Calendar.  The word Pahela means ‘first’ and Baishakh is the first month of the Bengali calendar.  Bengali New Year is referred to in Bengali as Nabobarsho. It is celebrated on 14 April as a national holiday in Bangladesh, and on 14 or 15 April in the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, and Assam by people of Bengali heritage, irrespective of their religious faith.

The celebration of Pahela Baishakh has become an integral part of Bengali culture and the biggest cultural festival in Bangladesh. In 2016, the festivity organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka has been declared by UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity.

The Bengali era (Bengali Sambat) starts in 593/594 CE. It is 594 less than the Gregorian calendar if it is before  Pahela Baishakh, or 593 less if after Pahela Baishakh. Τhe Bengali community in India continues to use the traditional Bengali calendar for the Hindu festivals. The revised version of the Bengali calendar was officially adopted in Bangladesh in 1987.

Celebration of Pahela Baishakh in the Embassy of Bangladesh, Athens 2019

Cities across the world that have a significant Indian and Bangladeshi population like Athens, London, and Vancouver also hold public celebrations.

Read also:

Celebration of Vaishaki in Athens, INDIKA 2018

Pahela Baishakh Celebration in Athens, INDIKA 2019


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