'Baul' : The Singing Saints

by Team ACF
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India is the birth place of different cultures. The weave of the Indian culture is such that it is all encompassing and very accepting in nature. This has resulted in the peaceful coexistence of people following different ideologies and belief system. This had also led to the development of different cultures and Baul culture is one such.
Baul is a group of mystics from Bengal and some from Bangladesh. They have religious and musical heritage. They live in groups and are mainly known by their clothes and musical instruments. The well known Baul practitioners are called ‘Fakir’. Since old, Bauls have influenced the Bengali musical culture. But the origin of this culture remains unknown.

General practices of Baul: They follow religion closely and perform daily rituals at home and then, there are those who have taken up renunciation vows and travel around the country, spreading the message of peace and love. These bauls are also referred to as singing minstrels and they fend for themselves with whatever money the get as alms.
Birbhum district is the known origin of Baul tradition. A Baul festival is held there every year, where Baul singers from all over country come together and share their stories, music, and information from their travels.
Baul as musical culture: Bauls are well known by their music, often their name. They sing folk songs, influenced by Hindu bhakti sangeet and Sufism — mainly those penned and sung by Sant Kabir. They are not known to write their songs and they continue to follow the oral tradition. The lyrics contain mysticism and spirituality. Bauls also play special musical instruments, named ‘Ektara’ having bamboo frame and one string and ‘Dotara’ having two strings. These It are lightweight and portable instruments and can be carried easily while they wandering.

Influences on the Baul culture: Bauls are mainly part of west Bengal. Their origin is unknown but we can see the influence of tantric Buddhism, Sufism and Vaishnavism. Also they practice ancient Yoga and some Hindu tantric rituals. This impacts their music also their clothes and musical instruments are also influenced by mixing of Sufi and Vaishnavism cultures.
UNESCO enlisted Bauls: Bauls are present in very small numbers in Bengali population but hold great influence. They are enlisted in the UNESCO’S Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, because of their tradition of oral transfer of knowledge which is rarely found these days.
Impact on Rabindranath Tagore:  Rabindra Sangeet developed by Rabindranath Tagore which is highly influenced by Baul culture. Tagore’s poems were particularly influenced by Baul culture. It is said that Rabindranath had a Baul practitioner guru (teacher) named Nabani Das Khyeppa who followed the Vaishnava Baul practices.

Present condition of Baul cultures: Bauls can be found in west part of Bengal as well as in Bihar and Jharkhand. They form a part of heritage culture and unique programs are organised in Bengal where Baul groups from several districts of Bengal and some from Bangladesh perform. The idea being to preserve a dying culture.

Apart from this Baul ideology focuses heavily on physical rituals for achieving the devotional satisfaction. They believe human body is the source of universe and all the truths are lies in it. This philosophy has great impact on their songs.
Baul is not only about music but it’s the way of life. They live a challenging life and their life teaches us dedication towards the god.

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