Part 1: Bauls: Spirituality over religion.
I set myself out to Murshidabad, after the tiresome Friday in office, in search of the Bauls and the Fakirs. Before I write about my experience there, I want to brief my reader about my Bengal and the Baul culture.
Bengal never fails to amaze me. Its culture has been influenced by the Jains and the Buddhists in the early ages and the Hindus, the Muslims later in history. We have had the Europeans settling here, mainly the British and the French. This was the region that saw the birth of the British Raj in mid-1700. With slight age, religion never found much of a place in people’s heart and one of the main reasons for this attitude of Bengalis is the folk music and art. One of the most popular folk culture is the tradition of the Bauls.
The seeds of the Baul school of thought are traced back hundreds of years before Sri Chaitanya popularized it. Sri Chaitanya, primarily a Bhakti movement stalwart, spoke about Krishna and the Bauls. To the rest of Hinduism, Krishna is the God of Gods and one of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. To the Bauls, Krishna is not God; He is a consciousness and another sense.
Denouncing God in the first place and putting the focus on Human sensibilities, the Bauls believe Human is God. There is God (Krishna, as they put it) in every one of us. They write songs, tune them and sing their compositions on the streets of Bengal to spread their message. Their messages never restricted itself to the narrowness of a particular religion; they sing of humanity.
“Baul Bortoman, Baul onumaan noye”. Baban Das Baul wanted to put the records straight in the very first conversation. Being Baul is being in real existence and not in mere imagination, perception or anticipation. “God is imaginary, have you seen God?” I kept quiet. “But I can see you, talk to you, believe in you, and care for you. To serve God, serve everyone around.” I kept quiet again. Such philosophy resonated in Sri Sri RamKrishna ParamHansa Dev, where He told, “Shiv gnaane, Jib sheva”. That would loosely translate to “Serve the people, assuming you are serving the Almighty”. The social reformation movement led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy established Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, denouncing traditional Hindu religion and talked about unity of Religions. Rabindranath Tagore embraced this new religion and was a Brahmo by choice. I feel somewhere all of these are connected and is rooted to the age old Baul folk music.
The Fakirs or the Sufi-Bauls are the Muslims who believe in the concept of the Bauls that Humanity is of greater importance than religion. The confluence of cultures, resulted in an accepting society, united by the wandering minstrels, mystic, singing songs of love and of humanity. It is this strong sense of spirituality and humanity over religion that has united Bengalis by sentiment.
I went in search of these Bauls, whose folk songs have survived and witnessed the good and the numerous bad of the ages and still continue to spread words of love.
I’ll end this post with a audio clip. Do let me know your feedback about this blog post. I am trying something new with this, your feedback is the most important. Leave for me a comment. If you like this, please share this as well.