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Baul Gaan: Minstrels of Mystic Melody Tuesday, 29 September, 2009

Posted by ~uh~™ in India, Music, Soceity & Cultures, Videos.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is the second video blog of the series on the context of Durga Pujo and traditional Bengali Culture. The first was on Dhak can be read here.

I have been influenced by Baul gaan since the very first time I have heard a song as a kid. It was a song by Purnadas Baul, the king of Bauls –

Piriti kathaler aatha lagle pore chhare na

Golemaale golemaale piriit koro na

(Love is like sticky juice of jackfruit, it’s too sticky to get rid of

So don’t fall in love when chanced within the perplexity)

I liked the song instantly, though understood the real meaning much later in life. Years later, I got the opportunity to listen to songs of Lalon Fakir and they left me mesmerized. In today’s world of religious divide and materialistic gain, his songs spoke about basics- truth, love and human soul. His songs were like a crack in the wall of my prison, which gave me a glimpse of another world where Icould never go, but wished to. However, Lalon Fakir is a subject in himself and before me; there was another dude who liked him- Rabindranath Tagore.

Khachar vitor, ochin pakhi kemne ashe jai!
Tare dhorte paarle mono beri, ditam pakhir paay.

(Look, how the strange bird flies in and out of cage!
If I could catch, I would bind it with my mind’s fetter)

Thus sang Lalon.

Amar praner manush Achhe prane tai heri tare sakal-khane.

Achhe se noyon-taray, Alok dharay tare na haraye ogo tai heri tare Jethaye sethaye

(The man after my heart lives inside me,

That is why I see him everywhere.

In the gaze of my eye, in the sparkle of light

Oh I can never lose him —

Here, there, everywhere,

Wherever I look, he is right there for me.)

Thus wrote Tagore.

The Baul philosophy of liberal love, life and music existed much before Woodstock happened. A Baul dejects himself from all material bonding, is a wanderer and travels with travels with his Bostomi, his lifemate. It was the Baul culture that made me realize that wearing torn jeans and smoking pot doesn’t mean liberty or being ‘hippiee’, there’s a force much deeper and larger, required to unbelong and love what you love. It’s a state of mind. The biggest expression of Baul philosophy is it’s music- which is melodious, memorable and highly influential. Baul music has inspired poets at home and lyricists and musicians across the globe, time and again. Undoubtedly, Baul gaan today can be considered as one of the influential contribution to World Music. Paban Das Baul’s [Facebook page ] album with guitarist Sam Mills called Real Sugar was released in 1997 featuring the heart-wrenching plea to Khoda, Dil ki doya, he became an instant celebrity on the world music circuit. [Ref link]

Traditional Bauls are conspicuous with there saffron or golden yellow robe, rudrakhsha bands,  long beards and  hair tied up in top-knot, the single stringed Ektara, the Dugi, the ghungroo and rustic melodious voice. Some of the musical instruments used by Bauls listed below [Ref link ], are featured on the video.

Musical Instruments used by the Bauls

Image found here

Ektara – A plucked single string drone – fingers and thumb are used.

Khanjani – A tabourine without jangles. [ Remember Dylan’s ‘Hey mister tambourine man……’ ?]

Khamak – A rhythmic instrument with one or two strings attached to the head of a small drum. The strings are plucked with a plectrum and they are alternatively tightened or slackened to generate an amazing array of rhythmic and tonal variations.

Mridanga or Khol – A barrel-shaped clay drum with two heads – sort of a combination of the baya and daina of tabla as described above.

Harmonium – A small keyboard instrument with hand-worked bellows – not unlike accordian. However, these days Harmoniums are replaced by Yamaha PSR i425 Keyboard.

Mandira or Kartal – Small bell-shaped cymbals, usually used in Bhajan/ Kirtans.

Ramchaki – A pair of wooden clappers with jangles.

The lyrics of Baul songs are mystic, often cryptic with deeper spiritual meanings hidden under witty wordings. Unfortunately, because the lyrics are deeply related to simple household terms contextual to rural Bengal, it is difficult to literary translate without distorting the theme.

For example, the song featured on the video “Rattir Belay Bou Amake Baba Bolechhe” literally means’ My wife addressed me as dad at night’ is one of the famous song.

I also have the video of the Piriti Kathaler Aatha ( Love is sticky like jackfruit juice) and ‘Jamai Nangta’ (the naked son-in-law), will upload at the next best opportunity.

I should stop here, before it looks like I am writing an essay on Bauls. Let me just conclude this post by adding some facts which might help updating the general knowledge for those who think Baul Gaan is just another form of folk music  –

1. Baul Gaan is listed under Performing Arts in  UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage.

2. Mention of Baul culture is found in texts as old as 15th century.

3. Baul philosophy of Syncretism is a subject of philosophical research. The Baul tradition is a mysterious fusion of elements from Buddhism, Saktism (worshippers of goddess Kali – the source of all energies), Vaisnavism (worshippers of Lord Visnu) and Sufi Islam, may well have its roots in the Tantrik Buddhism of Bengal in the 9th and 10th centuries.

4. Rabindranath Tagore was deeply influenced by Baul. His speeches and writings on baul has been compiled into a Book “The Religion of a Man”. Pous Mela (the traditional Bengal version of the festival of Holi) in Shantiniketan still celebrates the festival the traditional way. His song Amar praner manush Achhe prane was a tribute to his attachment to Baul music and Lalon Fakir.

5. A Baul can perform 3 or more musical instruments (the Ektara, the Dugi, the Khanjani and the ghungroo) simultaneously while singing and dancing. [See video]

6. I have seen Bauls using hitech gadgets like Casio keyboards and electric Ektara with pick-ups and portable speakers, even when performing in Kolkata suburban local trains (Sealdah South), for money.

7. Bob Dylan is probably a Baul in disguise.

Related reads for the interested mind-

Baul – Tagore on Bauls

The Bauls of Bengal

Punadas Baul Academy

Baul- The Folk Music of Bengal


1. le embrouille blogueur - Wednesday, 30 September, 2009

Touched ….. I like this post so much that I wish I could reach out into the screen and shake your hands ..a big fan of music myself … I just love when I see someone else taking care to understand the roots and appreciate something like Baul which seems to be dissolving into oblivion …every word you said oozes of the love you have for the music … many years ago ..I met Suman C in a family environment and he song a song about Bauls ….it moved everyone to tears … Bob Dylan must be one … and so must be Graham Nash … I believe ..!!
~uh~™ : hey, thanks! I know it’s rare to find someone with such (retro) interests and it was worth the post it to find at least one 🙂
Meeting Suman in family environment is real cool. I was a big fan of his work in late 90’s. His voice was just opposite to his temper 🙂
Watching a live Baul performance is an awesome experience, don’t miss it if you ever get a chance !

2. alok - Thursday, 1 October, 2009

dada shubh shubh tell . . . manjhiraa ka mandira make ker diyaa ….thank god bedi do not lagaya….nahi toh hallaa ho jata hai ….who bajaaunging mandira these days 😛
~uh~™ : baul mein twist !

3. Whatsinaname - Thursday, 8 October, 2009

There is so much hidden treasures within our culture that it will last us a lifetime if we really care to explore.
I wish we should not loose them and help to pass them to next gen.
Lovely review there. Similar to baul even we have banjara songs in tamilnadu though not so famous.
~uh~™ : Isn’t banjara from Rajasthan ?

Whatsinaname - Thursday, 8 October, 2009

Oops by banjara I meant the nomads. They are called koravans.
~uh~™ : Most of my tamilian friends are mad so it’s hard to perceive them as no-mad :p
Koravan sounds like Caravan.

4. Jay - Friday, 8 January, 2010

How can I learn to play the drum the man had strapped to his side? I just got one of these but do not know the proper technique. Can anyone help me?

5. Jay - Friday, 8 January, 2010


6. hasanraja - Thursday, 1 April, 2010

Purna Das Baul and his youngest son Dibyendu Das(Chotton) collected thousands of dollers from North america to build a Baul Ashram at Shantiniketan and help to poor Bauls and preservation this culture.Mr.Monindranath Thakur from Bolpur informed us about the true story of this Criminal people like them.The place captured by Purna Das from Vishwa bharati,Tagore University is nomore belong to baul ashram and people of University found beers,ram bottles,condoms and so many offensive stuffs.and Purna Das Baul and his youngest son cheated all Bauls.never helped them at all,even Purna Das cheated West bengal Govt’s Land and sold in high price,that Land also was belong to Baul academy.Chotton Das took huge amount of money from one of my NewYork’s friend for Loknath thakur’s name.What is the purpose?and where all money gone?where all committments?
So this is my request to all people of the world pls don’t encourge them nor help them,they already used people and people’s a huge amount of money,both are actors.Sorry to say maybe Purna Das baul was one of the eminent singer in past not now anymore.His charecters and nature so below standard and his youngest son Chotton made him alcoholic,charecterless.Chotton Das Baul has a criminal record in past too,like killed his mother Manju Das in slow poison for property.So awakeup call for every Baul lovers.Beware

7. rajarani - Tuesday, 23 November, 2010

It sounds like you are doing a character assasination, but it also sound like you do not have all the facts, and that you are talking out of fear. What you are saying is so twisted.
You have posted this all over the internet, it all comes from you.. If you are so concerned about Purna Das Baul.. why do you not go and help him.

Why did you let his youngest son kill Purna Das wife Manju Das, with a slow poison.. if you knew this, why did you let it happen?? How do you know this unless you are close to them… otherwise it is gossip and hear say… You are just as guilty if you knew this was happening and is happening and you have done nothing.. shame on you..

Who are you anyway?? Does anybody know who you are and what is the purpose of doing this smear campaign on a 80 year old man whose wife has just died??

It sounds like you are a weak person to start this campaign now..

Let us hear about you, who you are?

Go to the police and report Purna Das’s youngest son, don’t just post all over the internet.. If you are true and believe he is killing Purna Das also.. go get some help..Don’t just make accusations all over the internet.. You make it like you care and then on the other hand you slander..
You have to be someone who is visiting Purna Das on a regular basis to know this… I wonder who that could be???

I will beware of you until you stand up and help, otherwise you sound like a child… who perhaps wants to be Baul #1.. perhaps you are a Baul???waiting like a vulture for the death of Purna Das Baul??

Do you think no one can see through you???
Who you are??
I say Bewar of hasanraja??

8. Indserial - Thursday, 29 September, 2011

The show pitches college students (contestants) against college bullies (hosts). Every round has different flavours of bullying (all intent on humiliation of contestants, basically). One of the hosts “Isha – The Goddess” – plays the role of the college rich bitch, who is supposed to insult contestants for their ugliness and for their lack of class.

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