Bauls of Bengal

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The Bauls of Bengal a group of mystic minsters mostly found in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Bangladesh, Tripura and Barak Valley of Assam. Baul means mad. In the middle ages, vaishnavite saints become wandering singers in praise of lord Vishnu. In the process, they become almost mad in the sense that they were completely immersed in Bhakti to God, the Almighty. Baul Singers are identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments. The influence of Bauls on the culture of Bengal is enormous. Even the UNESCO has recognised bauls as the intangible Heritage of the world. The origin of Bauls is not known exactly but the word “Baul” appears in `15th century Bangali texts such as chaitanya Bhagabata and chaitanya charitamrita. Bauls are a part of the culture of rural Bengal.

The Baul themselves attribute their lack of historical records. The music of the Bauls appers to have come down to the 19th century in oral tradition. There are two types of Bauls ascetic Bauls and Family Bauls. Ascetic Bauls reject family life and are wandering in nature and family Bauls live with their families. Ascetic Bauls live on alms. Baul music celebrates mystical and celestial love. Baul Singers show extreme and acute devotion towards God. One famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was much impressed and influenced by Bauls. In a drama Tagore played the role of a blind Bauls Singer. Here is an example of rabindra Sangeet influenced by Bauls.“amar praner manush ache praneTai here taye shokol khane.Achhe se noyah taray, Alok dharay,Tai na heraye Ogo tai dekhi taye jethay shethay Takai ami je dik pane. (The man of heart dwells inside me . Everywhere I look, It is he. In my every sight, in the sparkle of right.Oh, I can never lose him –Here, there and everywhere,Wherever I turn, he is Right there. Bauls concentrate on their mystic energies on the four body fluids, on nine doors (openings of the body), oh prakriti as Nature or primal motive force and on breath Sadhana. The music of the Bauls is a particular type of folk song.

Their music is captivating and create mysticism. Bauls express their feelings in their songs, but never bother to write then down. Lalou, Fakir (1774-1890) the greatest of all Bauls composed excellent songs; but never wrote in paper. Their lyrics indicate a deep sense of mysticism, an earnest desire to mingle with God. They seek divinity in human beings. Metaphysical topics are dealt with humbly and in simple words. Bauls avoid hedonism is pleasures of life. According to them body is a temple. Music is a via media for communion with God. Bauls use a number of musical instruments. The most common is ektara one stringed plucked drum drone instrument carved from the epicarp of a gourd and made of bamboo and goatskin.

Other instruments are dotara, Khamak, duggi, dhol, khol, small cymbols called khartal, manjira. A Bauls family played on stage in London in 1971, 72 and 78 in frout of thousands. At last we may quote a passage from R.N. Tagores Book – The Religion of man “The Bauls are an ancient group of wandering minstrels from Bengal, who believe in simplicity in life and love. They are similar to the Budhists in their belief in a fulfilment which is which is reached by loves emancipating us from the dominance of self. “where shall I meet him, the man of my heart? He is lost to me and I seek him Wondering from Laud to Land.I am listless for that moonrise of beauty,Which is to light my life,Which I long to see in the fullness of vision in gladness of heart. Bauls are a curious mixture of mystic and folk songs. Bauls are pride possession of not only Bengal but of whole of India.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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