We the human being is the slave to time and time is also slave to man. By this way we passed a year, year of well and woe. But we make it a remarkable moment when the beginning day of a New Year arrives. It is almost same all over the world. But based on culture and needs, there are different calendars, and thus various organizations of time. The Bengali calendar was promoted by Mughal Emperor Akbar-consistent with the harvest cycle to ease tax payment. Therefore, PahelaBoishakh becomes the focal point of celebration among the Bengalese. Ithas already turned as the only national festival for peoples of Bangladesh, the symbol of cultural unity without distinction between class and religious affiliations. Now this is the biggest event in a calendar year of Bangladesh. Moreover this is the only common festival for ethnic Bengali’s, living anywhere in the world.
Celebrating the Day
In due course, the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment. Many old festivals connected with New Year’s Day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the punya connected with the closing of land revenue accounts has disappeared. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshiganj used to be very colorful events. Other popular village games and sports were horse races, bullfights, cockfights, flying pigeons, and boat racing. Some festivals, however, continue to be observed, for example, bali (wrestling) in Chittagong and gambhira in Rajshahi are still popular events.
Opening Hal khata
Pohela Boishakh that is — businesses open their new ledger book, the new halkhata.
Often red in color, it’s a simple ledger book. But at the beginning of a new year, it signifies much more: the marking of a new beginning and the hopes and uncertainties that come along with it. And more importantly, the halkhata represents our tradition, with the festivities and rituals surrounding it.
Jewelry shops are a good example. They make elaborate preparations to welcome the New Year, to open their new ledger book. Shops are meticulously cleaned and decorated with flowers. An abundant amount of sweets are purchased for guests. Gifts are wrapped. Invitation cards are printed and sent out. Important customers receive phone invitations.
Tanti Bazaar, one of the oldest localities in Dhaka, houses numerous small jewelry shops on the sides of its narrow alleys. Many of these shops are old, with business being handed down from one generation to the next.In the span of several generations, things have not changed much. The ledger book is commenced through worship.The timing of the inauguration of ledger book varies from year to year. Based on calculations, it is decided exactly which period is the most auspicious and suitable. And they strictly adhere to that schedule.Shankar flips open the bulky red book. The first page does not contain any numbers; no expenditures or revenues noted. Instead, in the middle of the page, were a few written lines each comprising of the name of a god or goddess or saint –Shree Shree Ganesha namo…Shree Shree Durga mata namo…Shree Shree Maa Lokkinamo… Often, the page contains an imprint of a coin, done on vermillion or other symbolic materials. ‘Puja’ is held at many shops. In Tanti Bazaar, the whole thing happens on a larger dimension. The worship of Lord Ganesha is held centrally on the street, where a large, decorative stage is built. Amidst huge crowds and a large number of devotees, the entire Tanti Bazaar rises up to festivity, glory and worship. The tradition of halkhata is of course not the monopoly of any one religion. It is also important for the Muslim jeweler in Tanti Bazaar. The opening of halkhata is as important to their shop as it is to their compatriots. After much cleaning and decorating that goes beforehand, they hold a ‘milad’ to start off the New Year, and the ledger book itself.And, the tradition of halkhata is not the monopoly of jewelry shops — or that of retailers at large. The importance of halkhata runs across various types of businesses.After all, if you are managing a business, you need to keep accounts. Ledger book is an inevitable tool. And whenever you are keeping accounts, there needs to be a financial period for practical reasons. Again, it’s your perception of time, based on your beliefs and needs. There is even a discrepancy about how people define the Bengali calendar. Many people celebrate Pohela Boishakh on 15 April instead of 14 April. Although the government recognizes Pohela Boishakh on 14 April, a lot of us celebrate it the next day according to our tradition. Thus, they open halkhata and conduct all the rituals and festivities a day later.
Benefits of this Tradition
The notion of halkhata has survived the test of time; this tradition has been going on for ages. Besides upholding your heritage, the halkhata tradition has survived because, well, it works; it has many practical benefits.It is a day you aim to clear debts, and it is a time to establish a stronger relationship with your customers and other stakeholders — a symbolic day with very sensible accounting and marketing functions.
What does the future hold? Will we see the ‘digital halkhata’ one day? Well, a halkhata is essentially a spreadsheet after all. With affinity towards technology increasing every day and across the spectrum of generations, will the traditional halkhata disappear one day?
It already has, for many companies – from the perspective that instead of keeping records in a book, they now use a digital spreadsheet. But what about the small, traditional shops where halkhata, in its original form, conveys a lot of meaning?Probably this change won’t occur — at least not any time soon. And even if it does, the rituals and celebrations surrounding halkhata need not change. The appeal of Halkhata, opening new financial record books on the first day of Bangla New Year Pahela Baishakh, to the business houses has decreased with the advancement of technology but the traditional businessmen across the country still maintain the centuries-old culture.