Bauls: The Mystic Minstrels From Bengal

In & Out



                       It has been years in the field of music for me. Being a Bengali, music forms the process with which I inhale and exhale. It’s a regime, and an exercise; perhaps a kind of workout that comes impromptu to us. And why shouldn’t it? Rosogolla, chaat, Victoria Memorial and most importantly Rabindranath Tagore ,wherever I have been to, our kind always opens up these references. People visualise art, culture and music, as Bengal.

Life has always been a racing contest. You survive if you win: everyone wants to win. People are mute as mules; money talks. Our days? We have started calling them routines, and it’s almost the same for all of us. No matter where we live, we rush, we run and thus we always fail to stop and stare at the beauty around us. The greatest question ever— are we even living?

Perhaps it was to break this monotony of survival that since the time of cave dwellers we started coming up with our ideas of music, art and theatrics. Drama, for example, took shape with the Greek civilisation, a time when they believed in burning bulls— people reciting chants of Bacchus, dancing around the fire, the Chorus, the oracles, the recitation of the war scenes of Iliad and Odyssey— all lead to the birth of what we call modern drama today. The English, on the other hand came up with the idea of portraying the stories of the Bible, those of the 'Three Marys', the Apostles, the reincarnation scene and Noah. Eventually, the Miracle plays, Mystery plays and Morality plays were formed thus creating a better platform for world drama.

Music too was created to bring men closer to God, but I do like to imagine another reason.  While humming a tune or strumming the guitar, I realise that when mankind was barbaric and we were savages, when language was not born and people failed to appreciate, curse or express themselves— tunes were formed and music was created. It was pure emotion.They felt exalted when they sang of mother nature and the greatness of the supreme one. Songs of the great minstrels and bards were born, which spoke of the misery of life and the meaningless earthly possessions. These were passed down through ages and races, the Bengali folk music took shape and today its trickles are what make up my breath. Dramatic?        

Sanskrit chants, Vaishnav poetry from Gitagovinda, Bhakti sangeet, songs of the Bauls, Bhatiali, Dhamli, Bhawaiya, Gombhira and Kavigan poems,  the folk music of Bengal has a flavour of many. The most popular though, are the songs of the Bauls.  Their frenzied singing and dancing is what draws Bengalis to ‘Vasantutsav’ every year— the celebration of Holi at Shantiniketan, . The sound of their ektara echoes along the length of the roads and through the silence of the nights, leaving all those present in a deep trance. They are rightly called the mystic minstrels of Bengal.




Interestingly, they have both Muslim Sufis and Hindu Baishnos, who travel, sing and search for the ideal and the truth. Amongst all the Bauls of Bengal, Purno Chandra Das is the most widely known today, but Lalon Fakir or Lalon Shah is considered to be the greatest. Coke Studio's beautiful rendition to Lalon Fakir's song ' Moner Manush' or 'Man of the soul' is enough to convey the excitement and madness that exists in a Baul music. It speaks of the inner being, of the vast emotions, of the vanity and the reality. The lyrics bear a sense of mysticism and the one stringed instrument, ‘Ektara’, binds it all together. The songs and the lifestyle of the Bauls influenced Tagore as well— the reason why he created a separate genre of Rabindrasangeet focusing mainly on the Baul music.’Baul' comes from the Sanskrit word ‘vatula’, meaning mad or restless. What they do the best is teach us to live, for to live and enjoy life, you ought to be frantic, you ought to be mad; and when your heart craves for madness, like the Bauls, make yourself mad with music. 

Sketch By: Sneha Lakhotia