Putting delicious hilsa in Pahela Baishakh’s morning menu as an essential item has actually no link to its long tradition and heritage, bemoan experts ahead of the Bangla New Year.
They said a group of urban educated people in the mid-80s introduced a concocted celebration event in the morning of the first of Bangla New Year with a recipe of panta-ilish (a combination of rice soaked in water overnight and fried hilsa), which has now turned out to be an integral part of Baishakh for which the young generation goes crazy in the country’s urban areas.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, meanwhile, has taken hilsa off her menu for celebrating Pahela Baishakh this time, aiming to save the national fish during its breeding season.
Talking to UNB, prominent academic and writers Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, Bangla Academy Director General Shamsuzzaman Khan and cultural personality Ramendu Majumdar said a campaign should be launched to encourage people to discard hilsa from their Pahela Baishakh menu to save the national fish during its spawning season and break the syndicate which is making huge money by inflating its prices on the occasion.
Cultural personality Nasir Uddin Yousuf Bachchu, however, said the government should control the unusual hike in hilsa prices and the netting of jatak instead of asking the Pahela Baishakh revellers not to consume hilsa.
According to Banglapedia, the celebrations of Pahela Baishakh started from Mughal Emperor Akbar’s reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of Chaitra. The occasion was marked by fairs and other festivities. In due course, it has become part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment.
Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury said having a dish of panta-ilish on Pahela Baishakh is nothing buts a luxury and fashion of the middle and higher-middle income groups of people as it has no root in the old tradition of celebrating the Bangla New Year.
He said a section people with the help of media popularise among the middle-income group the invented notion of taking panta-ilish on the Pahela Baishakh as the tradition of Banglaees. “I think those who indulge in having panta-ilish with a festive mood on the Pahela Baishakh are making a mockery with our original culture instead of showing respect to it.”
Arranging Baishakhi fairs across the country is a common and traditional practice of celebrating the Bangla New Year, the veteran writer said. “People used to go to the fairs where different agricultural produces, traditional handicrafts, toys, and various foods and sweets were sold. Magic and circus shows, and other programmes like jatra, jarigan and folk songs were also arranged there to amuse people.”
Bangla Academy DG Shamsuzzaman Khan said having hilsa on Pahela Baishakh is a practice of new origin in urban areas. “Though the first day of the Bangla New Year has been made a festival to eat hilsa, the hilsa season begins many days later. That’s why jatka (baby hilsa) catching gets intensified ahead of it. The real season behind hilsa taking begins in mid-June.”
He observed that the celebration of Pahela Baishakh with eating panta-ilish began during the Ershad regime in the mid-80s.
As per the tradition, Shamsuzzaman said, people, mostly the well-off section used to mark the day visiting Baishakhi fairs and serving foods such as puffed rice, card, molasses, khichuri with ruhi or koi fish among family members and relatives. “But there was nothing like eating panta-ilish. As now urban people have huge money, they buy hilsa spending thousands of taka to celebrate the day.”
He suggested launching a campaign to encourage people to discard the fabricated culture of eating hilsa on Pahela Baishakh and thus save the delicious silver fish during its spawning season.
Renowned cultural personality Ramendu Majumdar said making panta-ilish a part and parcel of Pahela Baishkh celebration is a concocted culture. “It’s not a practice of our original culture. “Panta is a common meal of our rural people. Now a section of people is trying to become Banglee for a day taking it with hisla.”
He said a section of businessman is making huge money on the occasion of Pahela Baishakh by unusually increasing its price due to huge demand in urban areas.
The noted cultural activist said now time has come to spread a message among people asking them to refrain from taking hilsa on Pahela Baishakh as it’s not part of our original culture.
Alongside the government’s campaign, he said the media can play a vital role in bringing a change in this artificial culture and save hilsa.
However, another cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuf thinks nothing wrong with eating panta-ilish during Pahela Baishakh to celebrate the day.
“Our rural people often take panta with many other dishes, including hilsa. What’s wrong if urban people take it a day together to mark the Bangla New Year? I don’t agree with those who are calling it as an imposed culture.”