Mystics of the East: The Baul Tradition

Shameek Ganguly
• Wandering ‘minstrels’ of
Narrated stories and sang
songs of high spirituality
and carried social
messages to the masses
Mostly illiterate in nature
but educated via their own
oral tradition
What’s so special of them??
• Rational outlook at a time
when most of the world
lingers in the dark ages
Modernist compositions
Critics to anti-social
Rich oral tradition
Influenced Bengal unto
some sort of a Renaissance
in the 19th and 20th centuries
Structure of presentation
Nature of songs
Social Message
Impact on society
A Western eye
Modern Scenario
Origin of Baul tradition
• Word " Baul " refers to
three terms: betul, " mad ",
" out of rhythm "; vayu, "
air ", or the inner flow of
energy which gives life and
harmony to all sentient
beings; and âuliyâ, a term
of Arabic origin, which
means " holy man ".
Origin of Baul tradition(contd)
• Cultural analysts have traced back the “baul”
tradition back as far as 7th century AD
• Exact origin unknown since modern Baul
compositions show influence of Sufism, Buddhist
Tantrism, Vaishnav ideology, and more recently,
even Christianiaty
• Mostly in and around modern day Bengal and
Social background and general get-up
• Can come from a Hindu or
a Muslim background ; in
both cases, they are
usually rebels against
orthodox practices and
social institutions.
Usually hail from backward
Are mostly abandoned
children brought up by
other Baul gurus.
Live together without
marriage or wander from
village to village or are
married people
Techniques used in Baul oratory
*Highly modernist in nature
* Use of imagism very distinct
* Images mostly refer to everyday life’s
concrete images
*Witty and sometimes rhetorical in nature
*Metaphysical in nature in some parts
*Revolve around the main spiritual or
social message it intends to deliver
Message of the bauls
The God Within – MONER MANUSH
• No religion
• No need for temples
• No idol worship or sacrifices
• Devotion lies in a commonplace life
• Brotherhood
• Harmony outside and within
• Importance of free thought
•Service to needy ushers mental peace
• Easy acceptance of other cultures
Janomo morono
(Practice of
O my heart! Do the practice of
dying, shall bring freedom
From the bondage of birth and
Born to die, die to be born
Death, birth, nothing but endless
Aa, O, Am, three Vedas
situated in muladhara,
Swadhishtana and manipura
This fact, the master practitioner
He craves not after mundane
mortal delights.
Amar Sonar Moina Pakhi
আমার স ানার ময়না পাখি
স ান সেশেশে সেলা উইড়া সর
খেয়া সমাশর ফাাঁখ সর
আমার স ানার ময়না পাখি ।।
স ানা বরণ পাখিশর আমার
াজল বরণ আাঁখি
খেবাখনখে মন চায়শর
বাইন্ধা েশর রাখি সর
আমার স ানার ময়না পাখি ।।
Influence upon the society
• Mocked and dismissed by
society until early 20th century
Slowly led to social uprising in
the Bengali society
Aroused people like Raja
Ramohan Roy and Swami
Thus invoked the Bengali
social revolution in the rising
middle classes of Bengal
Influenced many poets such as
Rabindranath Tagore and
Kazi Nazrul Islam
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and ISKON
• An ascetic Vaishnava
monk and social reformer in
16th century Bengal
One of the earliest known
Bauls who attacked
untouchability and castism
His legacy lives on in the
form of the world renowned
organisation, ISKON
founded by his followers
Rabindranath Tagore: Baul-derSamrat
• Tagore greatly influenced
by Baul songs in his middle
Several compositions
dedicated to the Baul
school of thoughts
Geetanjali illustrates
several such songs written
in the form of Baul songs
AmAr prANer mAnuSh Achhé
tAi heri tAye sakol khAne
Achhe shé nayōntArAy, AlōkdhArAy, tAi nA hArAye-ogo tAi dekhi tAye JethAy
tAkA-i Ami Jé dik-pAné
The man of my heart dwells inside
Everywhere I behold, it's Him!
In my every sight, in the sparkle of
Oh I can never lose Him -Here, there and everywhere,
I turn, right
in front is
- Wherever
“The Baul religion is completely based on one’s
experience in the realization of the divine. It is
the disciples feeling of longing for the Supreme
and the resulting madness that demonstrates
that he feels reunited with the Divine ” –
Robert Menger
(Renowned American cultural historian)
Baul tradition and Occident literature
Some Western literature on Bauls of Bengal:
• The Bauls of Bengal , Robert Menger
• The Music of the Bauls of Bengal, Charles Capwell
(English musicologist)
• Seeking Bauls of Bengal, Jeanne Openshaw,
Professor of Literature, Edinburgh University
• The Path of the Mystic Lover: Baul Songs of
Passion and Ecstasy, Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, Nik
Douglas, Penny Slinger
………………….. And so on.
Place of the Bauls today
• Baul tradition continues to live
on in the hearts of Bengal and
Some contemporary Bauls are
Purnadas Baul, Kheparam Baul,
Parvathy Baul and many others
In 2005, the Baul tradition was
included in the list of
"Masterpieces of the Oral and
Intangible Heritage of
Humanity" by UNESCO
International concerts organized
by NGO’s around the globe
including UK, Europe and
Personal Views
South Asian Cultural society (SAC webpage)
Purnadas Baul’s Webpage*
Khepa Das Baul’s Webpage*
Google Images
World Culture Encyclopaedia
Bauls of Bengal website
* These websites are maintained by an NGO ‘Lokesh’
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