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Did you know Emperor Akbar started Bengali New Year Calendar?

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In just a couple of days, Bengal will celebrate its New Year or Poila Baisakh, the first day on the Bengali calendar. Marking new beginnings and blessing a new year after the harvest season. But many of us do not know that this very modern Bengali calendar was brought in by Mughal emperor Akbar.

The third emperor of the Mughal line, Akbar was a powerful ruler who was also known for his respect for every religion. He was also a great connoisseur of art and literature. Having the nine gems in his court, the emperor encouraged new beginnings and inspired fusion thoughts bringing in the best of the world over. Such was his modern vision, that Akbar got involved in calendars of various faiths. In the book The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen talks about Akbar’s invention of a combined calendar which paralleled his interest in floating a combined religion, known as Din-e-Ilahi. This was introduced in the year 1584 AD and was titled as ‘Tarikh-e-Ilahi.’

However, there are historians who believe that Akbar’s interest in theology did not lead him to introduce this calendar. Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis says that Akbar was facing a difficulty in collection of the land revenue as the lunar Islamic Hijri calendar was followed which did not coincide with the harvest season. This calendar thus created major confusions. Farmers were compelled to pay taxes out of season. Akbar was a wise ruler and had to address this problem. 

So, he came up with a solution to this problem by devising a new calendar, which perfectly merged historical Bengali calendar, based on Surya Sidhant (Sanskrit astronomy text), Islamic calendar and the date of his own coronation. Fatehullah Shirazi, a renowned scholar and astronomer, formulated the Bengali Year Calendar on the basis of the lunar Hijri and Bangla solar calendars. This new calendar came to be known as Bangabda. Celebrations of Poila Baishakh began during Akbar’s reign. It was imperative to clear all dues by the last day of Chaitra.

The design of the new Bengali calendar was a little complicated. Its first year, just like the Islamic calendar, was the date of the Hijra. From this year 1 to Akbar’s coronation (in 1556 AD), the calendar follows the lunar pattern. From the coronation onwards, the years starts ticking off as per the old solar traditional Bengali calendar.This time, Bengali year 1426 is about to begin. There is a definite formula for calculation of the Bengali New Year:

Islamic year at Akbar’s crowning (963) + current Gregorian solar year (2019) - Gregorian solar year at Akbar’s crowning (1556). The answer is 1426 which is the Bengali year this time that starts on April 15.