The first thing I heard was the music – three floors down from where it was playing.
As I mounted the stairs to McGuffey 322, the room where the celebration of the Bengali New Year (“Pahela Baishakh” in Bengali) was being held, the music grew louder and louder until I found myself in the midst of a lively celebration.
The typically drab lecture hall had been completely transformed.
Colorful banners, streamers and kites hung from the walls. The lights had been dimmed, and the room was lit by string lights dangling from the ceiling. Dancers in traditional clothing performed on the raised platform at the front of the room. Young children ran to and fro, and the room was buzzing with energy.
In Bengali culture, the new year typically falls on April 14, but the celebration was held later due to limited space, Bangladesh Student Association (BSA) President Sabik Akand explained.
The holiday was originally based around the harvest, but eventually grew into a cultural event. A secular celebration, Pahela Baishakh is observed across the Indian subcontinent with parades called “Mangal Shobhajatra,” festivals and traditional dance and food.
“Food is integral,” Sabik said. “It’s like a feast right now.”
Indeed, the event featured a wide array of traditional rural Bengali food including stewed lentils, mashed potatoes (although this flavorful dish did not at all resemble the American version – it included various herbs and spices), shrimp curry and more. “Curry is a given,” Sabik said.
Anika Anisha, the organization’s social chair, said the BSA did not exist until the end of February this year. Anisha described the organization as “a baby” – in fact, this is the first public event they have ever hosted.
“We had a great time planning it,” she said.
The celebration truly was a labor of love: it was entirely funded through donations and fundraisers, and the members of the club cooked all of the food themselves. Performers from other universities attended, and Anisha hopes that someday Miami’s BSA will perform at other universities as well.
Pahela Baishakh is usually celebrated outdoors, but Anisha explained that the BSA tried to bring as much of the flavor of the holiday to McGuffey Hall as they could.
“Colors are important,” she said.
As per tradition, many of the guests were wearing white and red clothing.
Inspired by the success of the event, both Sabik and Anisha expressed desire to throw an even bigger celebration next spring. Sabik will be graduating this semester, but he explained that the BSA has already started planning next year’s Pahela Baishakh celebration.
“[This event] is very close to our heart,” Anisha said.
Those interested in getting involved with the BSA can find more information on the Hub.