Friday, July 21, 2006


Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels from the Bengal region, now divided into Bangladesh and West Bengal. Bauls are a part of the culture of rural Bengal. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the tantric sect of the Kartabhajas. Bauls travel in search of the internal ideal, Maner Manush (Man of the Heart). The origin of the word is debated. However, it is widely agreed that it comes either from Sanskrit batul, meaning divinely inspired insanity or byakul, meaning fervently eager. There are many different streams to the sect.

The baul were recorded as a major sect as early as mid 18th century. Their religion is based on an expression of the body, which they call deho-shadhona, and an expression of the mind, which they call mana-shadhona. Some of their rituals are kept mostly hidden from the mainstream, as they are thought to be repulsive by many, and hedonistic by others. They concentrate much of their mystic energies on the chaar-chand (bengali for four-moons), i.e. the four body fluids, on the nine-doors or naba-dwar, i.e. the openings of the body, prakriti which implies both the woman and nature, and a control of breathing, known as domo-shadhona.

The music of the Bauls, bAul saMgeet refers to a particular type of folk song of sung by Bauls. It carries influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song mediated by many thousand miles of cultural intermixing, exemplified by the songs of Kabir, for instance. Their music represents a long heritage of preaching mysticism through songs in Bengal, like Shahebdhoni or Bolahadi sects.

Baul music celebrates celestial love, but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the bAul for his boshTomi or lifemate. With such a liberal interpretation of love, it is only natural that Baul devotional music transcends religion, and some of the most famous baul composers, such as Lalon Fakir have been of muslim birth.

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