“Emotions and essence of life has remained the same over the years, so have the stories. The universal message of love in Baul music draws people looking for relief from life’s troubles.”
– Lakhan Das Baul
Dressed in saffron robes, with their hair uncut and coiled, wearing beads made of tulsi (holy basil), holding the Ektara, a single stringed instrument, singing and spreading the music of the heart, Baul singers are a sight to behold. Their central occupation in life is to propagate this form of folk music to the world, choosing to live a wanderer’s life and travelling from one place to another. Some even take to ‘Madhukari’, the practice of singing songs for alms.
The title Baul means mad, crazy, insane in Bengali and finds its origins in Sanskrit, where the word indicates one affected by ‘wind disease’. From an Ayurvedic perspective it also suggests a disturbance of the Vata element in the head.
The Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures see it as an exalted state of a devotee, who’s gone mad or has been possessed while experiencing separation from their beloved Lord Krishna.
Baul sangeet can be traced back to the 15th century, when it was first mentioned in Bengali literature. This form of music evokes melancholy as it draws on the idyllic village of rural Bengal. It is typically characterized by fables, vivid imagery of rivers, boats, lush paddy fields and fish ponds that even a layman can relate to. These songs also carry coded messages about Baul’s teachings of self discovery and finding the hidden meaning in one’s life.
It is one of the most prized folk music forms of Bengal, rich in spiritual and philosophical content. Rabindranath Togore, who found inspiration in this music form, is largely credited for taking the art beyond the borders of Bengal. Today the Art form is finding strong patronage with fans in India and abroad.
In 2005, UNESCO included the tradition of Baul sangeet in the list of ‘Masterpieces of Oral Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
It is said that Baul sangeet is divine to the ears of even an amusical. The Baul community, whose religion is music, comes together every winter for soulful celebrations at the Kenduli Mela. Held in Jaydev Kenduli, some 40 km from Shantiniketan in West Bengal, it is a three-day annual festival organized in mid-January during Makar Sankranti.
If you are a lover of music and an adventurous one at that, then head there next January and let the music warm your heart and soothe your senses while the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding nature works its magic on you.
The Collector’s Delight collection at the Jaypore store features select Musical Instruments from Bengal. You can shop for them here https://www.jaypore.com/web_story.php?eventId=606
– by Aditi Bhatia