Panta Bhat And Poila Boisakh: Why Do Bengalis Consume Cooked Rice Soaked In Water On This Special Day
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Bengalis around the world are celebrating the Poila Boisakh or Pohela Boisakh today. It is the first day of the month of Baisakh, and the very first day of the Bengali calendar too. The Bengali New Year is celebrated with much fervour across West Bengal, Tripura, and Bangladesh. People indulge in lavish feasts, men and women deck themselves in lavish attires and fairs and processions are common too in some parts of Bengal. 

What Is Pohela Boisakh? What Makes The Holiday So Significant

Traditionally, Pohela Boisakh, used to be the day where businessman, merchants and shopkeepers would settle accounts of previous year and open a new ‘Haal Khata’ or a new ledger, for the upcoming year. This ritual would also be accompanied with a little Puja. While ledgers and files maybe passe now, many Bengali businessmen still prefer to start their new financial year on Poila Boisakh. 

Another very interesting theory around the origins of Bengali new year takes us back to the times of the Mughals. During the Mughal era, the land taxes would be collected from the people of Bengal as per the Islamic Hijiri calendar, which would not coincide with solar agricultural cycles that most of Bengal would follow at the time. It is said that Akbar ordered the issue of a new calendar that would combine the Islamic lunar calendar and Hindu Solar calendar, and it was on the first day of this calendar (Poila Boisakh) that the tax collection would take place. There are other theories too that attribute the Bengali calendar to the 7th century king Shashanka. Apparently, the term Bangabda (Bangla year) can be found in two Shiva temples that were established centuries before the Mughals stepped foot in India.  

What Is Panta Bhat? And Why Is It A Beloved Item On The Bengali New Year Platter?

Irrespective of what the origins of the holiday are, it continues to be one of the biggest and most important days for every Bengali. There are many kinds of lavish foods and sweets prepared on this day, but there’s also an interesting tradition that many Bengalis follow on this day, and that is the tradition of eating Panta Bhaat. It is the most basic rice preparation. Also known as Poita Bhaat in Assamese, this meal comprises cooked rice that is soaked and fermented in water over night. The liquid remains is known as Torani. 

Panta Bhaat and dishes similar to Panta Bhaat are popular across East India. It would not be an exaggeration to dub this preparation as one of the favourite comfort foods of the east. Enjoyed by everyone regardless of their social strata, Panta Bhaat would traditionally be prepared with the leftover rice that would be soaked in water. The fermented rice dish would then be served the next day in the morning with salt, onion, chillies and mashed boiled potatoes. Panta Bhaat, accompanied with fish, preferably Hilsa is an ideal ‘Bengali New Year’ meal that is one of the highlights of the day.  

Rice holds a very ritualistic importance in all Bengali households, it is directly associated with Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and food. Hence, rice is also included in many Pujas and it is considered a sin of sorts to waste even a single morsel of rice. 

People of Bengal have been consuming Panta Bhaat since time immemorial, it is also considered to be replete with many essential micronutrients. Famous Portuguese Traveler in his visit to Bengal in 17th century reported that people of all communities would chow down Panta Bhat and Shaak. Those who could afford ghee and other exquisite sweetmeats and fish would add them to their platter, but rice remained a common fixture.  

Have you ever tried Panta Bhat? How about trying this recipe soon.