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‘Baul’ tradition: The folk music from Bengal fights Extinction

'Baul' tradition is an extraordinary melange of influences from the Vaishnav Bhakti movement, a Hindu religious movement and of Sufi from Islam.

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Artists singing Baul. Image source: epaper.timesofindia.com
  • The ambit of folk music in India is huge but it is primarily a countryside representation of the urban society
  • it is of grave concern that this traditional form is standing on the brink of extinction
  • ‘Baul’ performers sing and play indigenous instruments such as the khamak, ektara and dotara                                                                                                                                                                                                  

India is a land of diverse cultural heritage and what makes this diversity all the more unique is the continuing rich tradition of folk music in the country. While each region has its own variety of folk music, the forms seem to unite in their essence of being a rustic reflection of the larger Indian society.

The ambit of folk music in India is huge but it is primarily a countryside representation of the urban society.

While many tend to mix up Indian folk music and tribal music but there is a big difference between these genres of music. Tribal music may simply mean music of the group considered to be a tribe. However, folk music is difficult to circumscribe.

It may be used to designate the music of various segments of people like villagers in general that also includes tribal people, agricultural peasants, and a particular caste. A strata of music category, folk be may be termed vague, which includes the music from both tribal and non-tribal communities.

Group with various baul music instruments Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Similarly, folk music is very distinct from classical music. Classical music usually requires a student absorbed into perfecting it, on the other hand, practising folk music is like following a daily ritual. It is mostly sung in to celebrate the day-to-day activities like weddings, birth, etc.

Another interesting difference between classical and folk music are the instruments used. Classical music uses refined versions of instruments. Say for example, ‘tabla’ used in the classical form is used in a raw form like ‘daf’, ‘dholak’ or ‘nal’ in folk music form.

However, it is of grave concern that this traditional form is standing on the brink of extinction. Partially due to lack of talent and partially owing to the dwindling number of audience for authentic folk music, the instruments of this form are on the verge of disappearance.

One such dying but an extremely popular form is ‘Baul’ tradition from Bengal’s countryside. It is both a religious sect and musical form. This tradition is an extraordinary melange of influences from the Vaishnav Bhakti movement, a Hindu religious movement and of Sufi from Islam.

‘Baul’, which is a wandering cult of music has its etymological origin in the Sanskrit words ‘Vatula’(madcap), or ‘Vakula’ (restless) and used for someone who is ‘possessed’ or ‘crazy.’

It has lyrics, which transcends celestial love into open interpretations of the understanding of the supreme, thereby pushing even the religious boundaries.

‘Baul’ performers sing and play indigenous instruments such as the khamak, ektara and dotara.

One of the foremost proponents of the ‘Baul’ tradition is Tarok Das, who performs with his dotara near Shantiniketan. Speaking to roadsandkingdoms.com, Das said, “To see God in a wooden instrument is no small matter. No one has seen God. You say Krishna plays the flute in the woods? But there is no Krishna, no flute, no woods. There is only a power, within these instruments and within ourselves, that drives us.”

It is noteworthy that the ‘Baul’ tradition was included in the list of ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.

It is easy to identify a ‘Baul’ singer with his uncut, uncoiled hair and alkhalla (saffron robe), necklace of beads and basil stems and ektara (a single-stringed guitar).

Apart from ektara the music form incorporates a number of musical instruments. Some of the prominent ones are:

  • Dotara: It is a multi-stringed wooden instrument used for an accompaniment.
  • Chimta: It is a long flat folded piece of metal, which has got seven pairs of small metal jingles.
  • Manjira: These are circular metal pieces, attached to each other by a string.
  • Gungaroo: It is a small belt of bells tied around the ankles.

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This Durga Puja Brings Narratives of Communal Harmony

Durga puja is exemplifying communal harmony at a time when the world grapples with religious animosity and social polarisation

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Durga Puja
Durga Puja in at Bhopal Madhya Pradesh. Wikimedia

Kolkata, Sep 15, 2017: For over 200 years, the Nandi family in West Bengal’s Hooghly has been feeding Muslim fakirs during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja. To the Nandis, this annual ritual has its roots in a family legend that is testimony to the generosity of the local Muslim community.

It is also one of the myriad instances of the festival — the biggest in Bengal — exemplifying communal harmony at a time when the world grapples with religious animosity and social polarisation.

According to 80-year-old Satipati Nandi, the ninth-generation descendant of the family that claims to have been the “largest importer of betel nuts in eastern India once upon a time”, this Hindu-Muslim syncreticism comes naturally.

“It may sound as a big deal today but it all started centuries ago. It is said that two brothers, Kuber Shankar and Kama Shankar, were selling pakodas (fried snacks) in Halishahar in North 24-Parganas when they chanced upon a fakir who gave them a gold mohar (coin) to start an enterprise… revolving around the first thing they spot,” Nandi told IANS.

The rest is history.

The Nandis ventured into the betel nut business and eventually branched out into real estate, acquiring multiple properties across the state, including the present family residence at Pandua in Hooghly as well as land in Garia in south Kolkata.

Also Read: What makes Hindu Festival Durga Puja so popular in India? Know its Meaning and Significance 

“In remembrance of the generous fakir, we feed two fakirs on Navami (the ninth day of the festival). Now we usually do not find fakirs; so we offer khichdi to any two members of the Muslim community,” Nandi explained.

This communal integration has spilled on to the state capital Kolkata as well.

In the heart of Kolkata is Kumartuli — the potters’ enclave — which is in a state of frenzy with Durga Puja that is round the corner. The clay idols of Durga and her pantheon are being daubed in paint and their curves clothed in vibrant saris.

Their bald heads are carefully draped in jute wigs that have been painstakingly fashioned into braids and curly tresses for the Hindu goddess by Muslim craftsmen.

Neither blinding rain nor religion get in the way of business in this buzzing maze-like colony of potters and their assistants, labourers, decorators and tourists with selfie sticks — the point of origin of around 5,000 clay Durga idols each year.

Around 400 “shilpis” (craftsmen) churn out Durga and her children in crammed 6 by 10 foot studios, cloaked in tarpaulin sheets. The final touches, which begin around a fortnight before Mahalaya (September 19), include decking the idols in accessories.

“Draping the hair is an essential part of the process. The jute wigs are fashioned by Muslim families from Parbatipur near Howrah and other areas. A typical ‘sabeki’, or traditional idol, usually dons a curly and wavy wig. Essentially, they are mostly black but we do have variants of the wig in dark brown, rust and beige,” Babu Pal, a spokesperson for the potters, told IANS.

Slightly rough in texture, they are almost indistinguishable from your average wigs. Packed in bundles starting off at Rs 100, these are available as plaits, straight extensions for the sides or as wavy locks.

“Everyone comes to look at the idols. They admire, take pictures and go away. But it’s not just the idols… you have to assemble the goddess piece by piece. Muslim craftsmen usually fashion the dress material and the wigs. You may talk about cow politics and put a religious spin on it, for us it’s the way of life here… no one talks about this (Hindu-Muslim issues)… it’s business,” Pal elaborated.

According to Indologist Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, Hindu-Muslim integration during the Durga Puja was not uncommon in undivided Bengal.

“It has continued despite geographical barriers because the festival now is a huge industry. It provides employment to people from all communities. It’s only some politicians and communal-minded people who give it a different spin. During immersions too, everyone comes together to bid adieu to the goddess and family. She is looked at as a source of strength and not as a religious symbol,” Bhaduri added.

And you don’t have to look further than Begampur town in Hooghly district to see several Muslim families celebrating Durga Puja as a symbol of the common culture of the festival that unites Hindus with other minorities, at least in Bengal.

(This story is part of a special series that will showcase a diverse, plural and inclusive India and has been made possible by a collaboration between IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

-IANS

 

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Ragas for Preschool Children: Combining Classical Music with Fun Exercises

A unique model has been introduced by SPIC MACAY in which can lead to the all-round brain development of children between the age group of 3 to 6 yrs. old

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School Children, teachers, mobile phones
School Children in India. Pixabay
  • There are various benefits of learning classical music at an early age like it improves memory, emotional intelligence, and concentration, suggests a research.
  • The preschool module will have the young children learn classical music through different bodily movements like stomping, marching swaying, jumping or shaking. It will start from basic techniques like learning seven svaras of Indian classical music by teachers.
  • Each raga taught to the students in the module is linked with fun physical exercises or basic yoga techniques like padmasana and will help them memorize sooner. 

August 3, 2017: The left and right side of the brain, both are important for a balanced and rounded education of the child. This is why the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) is introducing a new module for preschool Children and caters to the children between three and six years of age to imbibe classical music in them through the use of interactive and fun-filled educational activities like yoga and music.

There are various benefits of learning classical music at an early age like it improves memory, emotional intelligence, and concentration, suggests a research. The effect of learning music on the child’s brain in the formative years can contribute a lot to the development of their brain. It has proven to relieve tension, alleviate boredom and strengthen the child’s core, mentally and emotionally beneficial. Thus, SPIC MACAY is utilizing the power of music in order to educate young children through interactive sessions.

Young Kids learning
Young Kids learning. pixabay

The preschool module will have the young children learn classical music through different bodily movements like stomping, marching swaying, jumping or shaking. It will start from basic techniques like learning seven svaras of Indian classical music by teachers. It will help the students to improve phonetic control and language skills. The students will also be taught different basic forms of yoga with naadyog, a meditation of sounds or mantras. According to a report by The Pioneer, Dr. Kiran Seth (who created this module) said, “This will inspire children from a young age of 3-5 years to become better human beings.”

The schools can introduce the module in whichever way they want. Any school can adapt by following the required procedure. First, they have to register at the SPIC MACAY office offline.  After which that they can choose amongst two options. As per the first option, they can send their music teachers to Aarambh (the beginning) School for five days for training under the supervision of Dr. Seth, to learn the methodology of teaching basic classical ragas and interactive techniques to young students. In addition, the cultural society’s volunteers will regularly visit the schools to oversee the progress. The second option is that they can opt for a visit thrice a week by SPIC MACAY trained volunteers-teachers.

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Children will be taught to play it like a game, putting their right and left leg forward to Sa Re Ga Ma, for the arohan (ascending) and avrohan (descending) notes, which will be done at different speeds. It will be done with the tanpura music in the background. Modules like these are designed to increase their meditative capacity and bring back focus amongst children, which can be lost due to overuse of electronic gadgets.

The module was designed after a five-year long research into child behavior. By mapping the change in their responses, post subjecting them to varied modules. Each raga taught to the students in the module is linked with fun physical exercises or basic yoga techniques like padmasana and will help them memorize sooner.

The society has a large network of volunteers throughout the country. So, this module can be implemented pan-India. The society also aims at regularly organizing its cultural events with the schools that opt for this module. These events which will have various artists performing will boost children’s interest in music. They are also providing several classical music CDs to schools free of cost.

At their 5th International Convention, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated Dr. Seth for reviving our rich music, culture, and heritage. This move can bring a qualitative change in elementary education.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08

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Reason to worry over Communal Violence in Basirhat, says Nobel laureate Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen clearly sees reasons to worry over the communal riots erupted between two communities at Baduria on July 3 night over a Facebook post by a youth

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Amartya Sen, communal violence
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Monday said there is a "reason to worry" over the communal violence in Basirhat. Wikimedia
  • The communal violence that has engulfed pockets in Basirhat sub-division of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district are indeed worrisome
  • Violence erupted between two communities at Baduria on July 3 night over a Facebook post by a youth
  • In no time  the violence spread to various pockets in Basirhat

Kolkata, July 10, 2017: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Monday said there is a “reason to worry” over the communal violence that has engulfed pockets in Basirhat sub-division of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district.

“Why is it happening? Is it because someone is inciting it? We are all worried. How much political mischief is to be blamed for this? We have to ponder all these. There is a reason to worry over this,” Sen told a television channel here when asked about it.

“Bengal has a culture of co-existence of Hindu-Muslim communities and for a long time this co-existence was possible without any communalism, and suddenly this returns. We can’t be dismayed over this and let this be, thinking there is nothing to do in this matter… We have to take measures to get rid of these things,” he said.

The celebrated economist is in the city to attend the screening of a documentary on him directed by Suman Ghosh.

ALSO READKolkata: Special Screening of Amartya Sen documentary “An Argumentative Indian” on July 10

Violence erupted between two communities at Baduria on July 3 night over a Facebook post by a youth.

He was soon arrested but violence broke out with mobs attacking shops and houses, torching vehicles, including those of police, and putting up road blockades.

Several police personnel sustained injuries as the violence spread to various pockets in Basirhat. (IANS)