BAULS - GYPSY SINGERS OF BENGAL - 6
The Bauls, who do not belong to the orthodox traditions of India, embody spiritual life, which remains alive even today.Baul ideology is believed to have existed before that of the Vedic religions(Reymond 246).The name Baul, however, first appears in the literature of Bengal only in the fifteenth century.It seems to derive from the word batula meaning he who is beaten by the winds he, that is, who abandons himself to all his impulses.But this ecstatic madness has to do with their love for God(Reymond 246).Scholars have placed the origin of the Baul sect anywhere from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century.
Baul songs provide no clues as to how far back the tradition goes.They are primarily transmitted orally from guru to disciple and from singer to singer.The language tends to be modernized thus giving no indication of the date of composition.Brajendranath Sil feels that the birth of the Bauls took place near the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth.But it was after this in the sixteenth century that the Baul religion began to spread rapidly.Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries the Bauls got their iconoclastic nature when it swept across northern India.It was this same presence that brought about santa cults, which in turn affected the Sufi Islam.There are a few points of similarity between the Bauls and other sects around them(Dimock 254-256).
The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who is considered by some to be a Baul is credited with bringing Baul songs to the attention of middle-class Bengali society(Dimock 258).It was mostly Tagore and his associate Ksitimohan Sen, who elevated the Bauls to the status of a cultural symbol.In 1968, Upendranath Bhattacarya wrote about the Bauls and proved that Bauls whether Hindu or Muslim practice almost the same sexual rites and that these rites are important to Baul religion and to a comprehension of their songs.
Although there are many outstanding Baul poets, Lalan Fakir also known as Lalan Shah is considered to be the greatest of them all.Lalan was very popular in West Bengal and Bangledesh and he has had a great impact on Bengali literature as well as on Baul tradition.Lalan declared that there was only one true religion and that it was the religion of man.The songs that he composed which are numerous are the believed to be the oldest dated songs.In addition, these songs form the basis of Baul ideology and the basis for scholarly discussion(Lopez 188).The word Baul cannot be traced in medieval Bengali literature.The word derived either from Sanskrit vyakula confused or vatula mad is found in Bengali texts dating back to the fifteenth century where it generally has its literal meaning mad.The Baul tradition reached its fullest potential in the last century and the early part of the present one.During this time period the basis of the Baul religion was developed through the creation of songs(Lopez 189).Most recently a group of Baul singers can be heard on Pink Floyd’s new album, demonstrating their longetivity(Lopez 189).
V.Representative Examples of Argumentation
The traditional image of the holy man is a controlled yogi, peaceful and strong, To the non-Baul, the madman (ksepa) of which belong many Bauls are viewed as illogical and possessed.The Bauls defend this allegation by explaining that it is the Bauls disinterest with the world and also his extreme emotional states, which make seem mad.For the Baul, madness shows devotion to a spur-of-the-moment love that goes against established social rules.The madman does not hallucinate, but rather sees the truth(Mcdaniel 158-59).The experience of the Supreme can often make Bauls appear bewildered and cause him to ramble but this is because to view the Divine the Baul must do the opposite of what normal society says(McDaniel 185).
The Bauls hold the body as the means to achieving salvation.Thus they defend themselves against other religions that see the body as creating obstacles toward a person achieving salvation. Some religions worship in temples, but the Bauls believe the only temple is the human body(Tagore 210).The Bauls defend their rejection of the caste system by saying, Are the lower planks of a boat of any lesser importance than the upper? (Tagore 213)In addition, people ask the Bauls why they do not pay attention to the scriptures they reply, Are we dogs that we should lick up the leavings of others?Brave men rejoice in the output of their own energy, they create their own festivals.These cowards who have not the power to rejoice in themselves have to rely on what other have left.They are content with glorifying their forefathers because they know not how to create for themselves (Tagore 214).Bauls also explain that their cult has no age because their real religion is not constrained by time, unlike the Vedas and Puranas, which they feel are artificial(Tagore 215).The Bauls depart from the majority of tantric traditions and most closely resemble the Sufis and the Vasisnavas, both orthodox and Sahajiya, is in the importance they attach to love in the realization of the divine.
Like Sufis and orthodox Vaisnavas, the Bauls see love as the longing of the individual for the Supreme(Lopez 190).Although the tantric conception of the deity is at core of their belief, the Bauls intense feeling of pain at being separated from the divine is expressed in song after song, reflects the influence of Vasinava and Sufi traditions(Lopez 192).The Bauls like other tantric yogic practitioners, conceive of the body as having two forms.There is a material or gross body made up of skeleton, muscles, organs, and having nine or ten openings or doors.The other form is the subtle body.Their conception of the subtle body for the most part resembles that of the Hindu tantras and of other yogic texts, but also reflects the influence of Bengali Sufism(Lopez 192-93).
Bauls of Bengal
The Mystic Minstrels
By Subhamoy Das,
Baul is not just one of the many things unique to Bengal. This wandering music cult has a special place in the history of world music. The word "Baul" has its etymological origin in the Sanskrit words "Vatula" (madcap), or "Vyakula" (restless) and used for someone who is "possessed" or "crazy".
Originally, the Bauls were nonconformist, who rejected the traditional social norms to form a distinct sect that upheld music as their religion. "Baul" is also the name given to the genre of folk music developed by this creative cult. It's easy to identify a Baul singer from his uncut, often coiled hair, saffron robe (alkhalla), necklace of beads made of basil (tulsi) stems, and of course the single-stringed guitar (ektara). Music is their only source of sustenance: They live on whatever they are offered by villagers in return, and travel from place to place, as it were, on a vehicle of ecstasy.
Music of the Heart!
Bauls croon from their hearts and pour out their feelings and emotions in their songs. But they never bother to write down their songs. Theirs is essentially an oral tradition, and it is said of Lalan Fakir (1774 -1890), the greatest of all Bauls, that he continued to compose and sing songs for decades without ever stopping to correct them or put them on paper. It was only after his death that people thought of collecting and compiling his rich repertoire.
The theme that Bauls deal with in their lyrics is mostly philosophical in the form of allegories on the state of disconnect between the earthly soul and the spiritual world. Often they philosophize on love and the many-splendoured bonds of the heart, subtly revealing the mystery of life, the laws of nature, the decree of destiny and the ultimate union with the divine.
A Musical Community
Bauls live like a community, and their main occupation is the propagation of Baul music. But they are the most non-communal of all communities: They have no religion, for they only believe in the religion of music, brotherhood and peace. Predominantly a Hindu movement, the Baul philosophy weaves together different Islamic and Buddhist strains as well.
Bauls use a variety of indigenous musical instruments to embellish their compositions. The "ektara", a one-stringed drone instrument, is the common instrument of a Baul singer. It is the carved from the epicarp of a gourd, and made of bamboo and goatskin. Other commonly used musical paraphernalia include "dotara", a multi-stringed instrument made of the wood of a jackfruit or neem tree; "dugi", a small hand-held earthen drum; leather instruments like "dhol", "khol" and "goba"; chime tools like "ghungur", "nupur"; small cymbals called "kartal" and "mandira", and the bamboo flute.
Originally, the district of Birbhum in West Bengal was the seat of all Baul activity. Later the Baul domain stretched to Tripura in the north, Bangladesh in the east, parts of Bihar and Orissa in the west and south respectively. In Bangladesh, the districts of Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Tangyl are famous for Bauls. Bauls from far off places come to participate in the Kenduli Mela and the Pous Mela - the two most important fairs held in West Bengal for Baul music. It's hard to think of Bengali culture sans the Bauls. They're not only an intrinsic part of Bengal's music, they're in the mud and air of this land, they're in the mind and blood of it's people. The spirit of the Bauls is the spirit of Bengal - ever-flowing in its society and culture, literature and art, religion and spirituality.
Tagore & the Baul Tradition
Bengal's greatest poet the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote about the Bauls: "One day I chanced to hear a song from a beggar belonging to the Baul sect of Bengal...What struck me in this simple song was a religious expression that was neither grossly concrete, full of crude details, nor metaphysical in its rarefied transcendentalism. At the same time it was alive with an emotional sincerity, it spoke of an intense yearning of the heart for the divine, which is in man and not in the temple or scriptures, in images or symbols... I sought to understand them through their songs, which is their only form of worship."