The Baul minstrels of Bengal – Making music on the go

Team Muqaabla    

The Baul community of Bengal is world famous for their soulful music. They sing from their heart, telling stories of mankind and God. Their music emanates from spirituality but doesn’t fall short of touching our hearts. The Baul community is primarily a clan of nomadic wanderers. They travel, sing and earn money from the words of wisdom in their music. However, their plight in recent times has shifted sporadically. Let us dig deep in the history of Baul music.


Origin of the word Baul

The word ‘baul’ has originated from Sanskrit. The meaning can be attributed to ‘vatula’ meaning insanity inspired from divinity or ‘vyakula’ meaning restless. From as early as the 5th century, scriptures has had the mention of the word ‘baul’. The reason why this word originated is because the Bauls identified with a kind of craziness emanating from their love of God. Much like ‘fakirs’, their songs would greatly speak of the Almighty who created the beautiful world we live in. All members of a typical Baul household, including women, practice their faith of singing about the love of God.

The Sampradayas of Baul tradition

The Baul community are inhabitants of  various parts of Bengal. There are three main Sampradayas or communities of the Bauls. The major one is based in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. This sect is believed to have accentuated Tantric Buddhism and Goddess worship within their structure. Flowing over to the districts of Burdwan, Bankura and Midnapore, this Sampradaya is the original form of Baul culture. The Navadipa Sampradaya is heavily based on Vaishnav influence and is found in the districts of Nadia and Murshidabad. The fakir Sampradaya is a conglomeration of Muslim Bauls in Bangladesh.

Features of Baul culture

Living as ascetics, Bauls have certain rituals that they dutifully follow. They often wander through the countryside raising alms from an interesting concoction of singing and begging. They are highly revered and often find shelter in various Ashrams across the villages. These Ashrams generally run on the charity of the local people. The Bauls spread their love through songs about their devotion to God. Every year, various Baul gatherings are formed throughout the state. These ‘mahotsavs’ generally house hundreds of thousands of Bauls who share their stories in communal harmony. These festivals are a vision in orange as Bauls from all over visit and offer their prayers.

Baul Music

In recent times, the folk genre of the music of Bauls have been heavily integrated in pop-culture. The sub-genre so formed, ‘Baul-rock’ is very popular among the youth. The Bauls generally sing along with a lot of instruments. The trademark musical instruments being the Ektara (one-stringed) or Dotara (two-stringed). These instruments are made from the hollow of gourds and split bamboo. They also play the Khartali, an Indian rendition of cymbals. The chief proponent of their music is the philosophy that God exists physically through various worldly aspects like nature or a goof human soul.

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