Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bengalis Have Three Calendars
March 13, 2007

Today in my Bangla class I learned the names of the seasons. There are six of them in Bangladesh: grismokal ("hot season" from mid-April to mid-June), borshakal ("monsoon season" from mid-June to mid-August), shorotkal ("autumn" from mid-August to mid-October), hemontokal ("late autumn" from mid-October to mid-December), shitkal ("winter" from mid-December to mid-February), and boshontokal ("spring" from mid-February to mid-April). The Bangla new year starts on April 14th. These seasons are based on the Bengali calendar; three different calendars are used in Bangladesh: the Gregorian calendar (what we use in the US), the Islamic calendar, and the Bengali calendar.

The first calendar used in Bangladesh was the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar is a lunar calendar; there are twelve months based on the moon's cycle in a year of 354 days. Taxes in the region were initially based on this calendar, but because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, the tax period would move every year and it would sometimes not correspond with the harvest (which is when the people were able to pay their taxes.) Consequently, the Mughal Emperor Akhbar created a new calendar in 1584 based on the harvest schedule. In Bangla the name of this calendar is the fosholi shon or "harvest calendar." At this point, the six seasons were also introduced. The Gregorian calendar was introduced later by the Brittish and is commonly used in business in Bangladesh today.

Because the Bangladeshis have three different calendars, they also have three different years. In the Islamic calendar, it is the year 1428. Year "1" is the year that Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina. The Islamic calendar is still used in Bangladesh for religious holidays. If you remember, when I first came to Dhaka it was almost Eid and Eid was delayed because the clouds covered the moon. According to the Islamic tradition, the new month does not start until several reputable men are able to see the start of the new moon crescent. This means, that if there are clouds, or the sky is too bright to see the moon, an additional day is added to the preceding month. This makes it almost impossible to predict the calendar in advance which is why people here do not know the exact days of religious holidays until the moon is actually seen in the sky.

In the Bengali calendar, it is the year 1413. Although this calendar was not started until 1584, the Mughal Emperor took the years from the previous calendar system which was aligned with the Islamic Hijri. Because the Hijri lunar year is shorter than the Bengali solar year, the Bengali year is now out of synch with the Hijri year.

And, of course, it is the year 2007 in the Gregorian calendar! My Bangladeshi diary has the dates and years for all three calendar systems in it. Today is the 29th day of the month of Falgun in the year 1413 of the Bengali calendar; the 23rd day of the month of Shofor in the year 1428 in the Islamic Hijri calendar, and the 13th day of March in the year 2007 in the Gregorian calendar...

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