Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Bauls : Troubadours Of Bengal

When I first watched Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star), it took me many nights to come out of the melancholy. And the only thing that kept caressing me all through is this beautiful song Majhi tor Naam Jaani naa. It is a bhatiyali folk song of Bengal sung by boatmen while going downstream along the Brahmaputra river. In this epic masterpiece, Ritwik Ghatak transcreates it into a quintessential Baul song with a wandering bard singing this enchanting song with an Ektara in hand. When i close my eyes and listen to it in the darkness of the night, i feel the solitude of the universe descending from the skies and embracing me in its eternal hold. And the longing for a divine consolation would pervade the entire being..

Have you ever listened to a mystical song sung by a celestial minstrel in a garden sorounded by colossally huge and grand old trees on a wintery evening? It is magical. For those magnificent trees can bring the Third Crescent of the waxing Moon and adorn it on the forehead of the singer in all its splendour. I've seen it happening right in front of my eyes. If you do not believe it, you will never be able to comprehend the beauty of that constant conversation between those sagely trees and the flowing wind. When Parvathy Baul sings and dances, with an Ektara in her hand and a duggi hanging alongside, her long tresses start whirling in the air. The voice of Parvathy Baul is the voice of the Gaia, the primordial Greek Goddess of the Earth. It transcends all human frontiers and beckons at the Moon. And then, as though awaiting for such a call for eons, you can see the Third Crescent eagerly reaching out to the plaits of Parvathy Baul and nest in them..

Your flute could not

have its music of beauty

if your delight were not in my love.

Your power is great

— and there I am not equal to you —

but it lies even in me to make you smile.

And if you and I never meet,

then this play of love

remains incomplete..

~ A Baul Song

The sound became the word. And music was born. Or is it the other way round? I do not know.

The etymology of the word Baul is traced to mean - being afflicted with the wind, being restless, being impatiently eager, or, being crazily ecstatic. The Bauls are a product of the creative effervescence between the Bhakti and the Sufi traditions in medieval Bengal. This wandering music cult comprises of heterogenous group of mendicants and fakirs with music as their only source of sustenance. They travel from village to village, with their single-stringed drone called Ektara being a constant companion. It is basically an oral tradition with very little record of their rich folk repertoire. They express their feelings and emotions on life, love and longing in the form of their songs. Lalon Fakir of the 19th century is considered to be the greatest of the Bauls. Rabindra Sangeet of Tagore is deeply influenced by the songs of the Bauls. Of late, Parvathy Baul performs in the Ruhaniyat festivals conducted across the country and has been instrumental in spreading the voice of the Bauls with renewed vigour and vitality. The songs of the Bauls express the spiritual yearning of the human heart to be in communion with the divine. It is essentially a religion of music and love..


  1. Thanks for writing about Baul songs. It is new area to me. It is interesting to know to that Tagore has based his work on them. It is another interesting thing to know that the art of music has the capacity to fuse both sufi and Bakti movements. The video provides a better understanding of Baul songs. Nice Posting.

  2. red earth and pouring rainApril 22, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    nice to read. you have time to write about the folk tradition. the piece is good till Parvati Baul and her forefathers were taken by scruff n compared with the primordial greek goddess. my family god is very angry with you. i have asked for forgiveness on your behalf that this fucker wont repeat the mistake of comparing our folk tradition with pagan/christian/western gods/philosophers/CEOs and get their ISO 9001 certificate. check your slippers whether it is imported from top global company or purchased from the 100% EOU unit. i can get you the beautiful JHUTHIA from the folk streets of Rajasthan. u can look either MAHARAJA GAJ SINGH or SUFI singer from the Thar desert depends on the eye of the beholder.

  3. I have also heard some of the Baul singers from Pakistan at music festivals in Delhi. Their songs are all dedicated in singing HIS glory. The sufis, Bauls, and singers of Bhakti movement they all appear the same. As you rightly said, these songs express the spiritual yearning of the human heart to be in communion with the divine. Infact, we all constantly yearning for him in different ways. Crores of people gather at Kumbha. What takes them there forgetting the simple pleasures of homely life. It is yearning for HIM only. Infact these Melas, festivals, music concerts, wandering monks, wandering musicians, satsangs, kirtans etc. is what differentiate India from rest of the Countries. Various ways in which people try reaching out to HIM happens here only.Yoga, Japa, Tap, Dhyana, Bhakti, Yagya and what not. I am not being jingoistic here. Even in Vishnu Purana, Parashar Ji says that except this Bharat Bhumi, other countries are Bhoga Bhumis. Are we not hell bent upon destroying our USP and making this also a Bhoga Bhumi. May be Yes. The way we are going. May be No. Because nothing happens without his will. Whatever that may be, you have written an excellent article. Particularly, the picture of Parvathy completely immersed in singing and dancing is enchanting. Why do you tease us by taking one picture out of your magic box at one time. Why don't you post your entire collection at one time. I understand. Then we will not value it! Keep taking out one Kabutar at one time.

  4. All the songs carry His name, His flavour and the experience of Him.Whether it be Baul, RabindraNath Tagore or a small singer singing by the side of Ganges and Brahmaputra or an English song-come and sit by my side ,if you love me.The yearning in the songs is yearning for eternal love.Religion and love are the same thing.When love flowers, spirituality expresses itself.When one tastes the Nectar of His presence,the heart experiences the beauty of living and tries to express his feeling in words and songsThen, Baulsongs are born, Audrey Hepburn writes ,praveen abida sings, Bulleshah mesmeries, sufism is born, Chaitya maha prabhu is born and the sankirtana movement begins.No matter how well one composes, neither the melancholy of longing nor the ecstacy of love is expressed fully in words,A tinge is left and one writes song after song or article after article in sathyu -sathyu blogspot to come to full expression of self but fails. the longing continues and so do the articles and so do the coments......

  5. Baul singers when died are not given rituals or formal burying. the will go with the river flow. i read this in a recent article in times cresent edition, some what similar to your article

  6. U'r blog on da Bauls is captivating. I wish dat u shud write more like this. More on Indian themes. Such journeys wud be more elevating for u'rself & da readers.

  7. Its a nice musical blog.

    Music is a wonderful thing that each beat mingles with our soul and plays a major role in encouraging and relaxing us.

    "The sound became the word". "And music was born" - I agree with u. Sound speaks more than words. We can feel the meaning of the rhythm without lyrics.

    Baul songs - Itz a new kind of music that I have come across. I have to thank you for giving me such an opportunity to know about baul songs which is one among in the ocean of music. The video makes me to feel, what baul songs are.

    The song by "Parvathy Baul" which you have expressed is very attractive.

    Your work regarding about the baul songs must be recognised.

  8. Beautiful blog. The blog in itself has a mystical element in the way it brings out vividly the experiences of the author to the reader.

    And the wonderful selection of the folk song truly kindles the yearning of the heart for the unknown or perhaps for the known...