Bauls: Exploring the mystic philosophy beyond plush rooms and books

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By Sreyashi Mazumdar

Crooning away to a music bereaved of religion, class, sex and creed, the bauls or the heretics of Bengal are on a persistent search for a world which is still clandestine; a world which beholds the supreme power.

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Wading through the tumultuous stages of our lives, we have often called for that supreme soul or God to whom we render ourselves selflessly, waiting for that cosmic power to save us from the hardest times we run into, but have we ever trailed on the validity of its existence?

These mystics from the heart of rural Bengal are in an incessant search of God or the Moner Manush– as they address the supreme power. Baul philosophy has always been a subject of deliberation across intellectual circles; however, the discussions have always been restricted to plush rooms and books.

The term baul is derived from a Sanskrit word Batul– meaning the air around us. The very meaning of the term encapsulates the tenets of baul philosophy and sheds light on the lifestyle donned by a baul; like the air even a baul isn’t tethered by a constricted territory, societal rules and complex dogmas. The philosophy or the movement has no particular timeline which would direct one to its genesis. It can be precisely termed as an experience of eccentricity, an intoxicated state that one gets subjected to during his or her hunt for God.

A baul is bereft of worldly reveries and pain. Heading towards a never ending path, plucking their ektara, donning an orange robe, a baul fleshes out the apparitional meaning of life. Baul philosophy is considered to be a concoction of Hinduism and Islam with an essence of Buddhism in it.

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Lalon Fakir, Picture Credit:

Lalon Fakir is considered to be the principal proponent of baul music. Originally set forth as a movement, baul music turned out to be a popular folk form later on.

Through their music, bauls retail the true meaning of life, a life that is otherwise considered to be a journey with episodes of good and bad. “We are on a constant run, trying to find out the supreme truth, the supreme father. We, bauls, through our music try to preach the real essence of life, try to heal the anguish etched in one’s mind,” says Ganesh Chandra Rai, who despite being a family man aspires to take to a baul’s lifestyle.

In order to become a baul, one needs to be devoid of temporal pleasures, one requires forsaking his worldly entanglements in order to transcend every barrier and finally reach the zenith- a point which would endorse the unison of the supreme soul and the individual. “I often ruminate if only I could let go every responsibility I am tied to and embark on a journey that would lead me to the supreme soul,” Ganesh rues while crooning away to his favourite song by Lalon Fakir.

Ganesh Chandra Rai, a baul settled in Garia,Kolkata
Ganesh Chandra Rai, a baul settled in Garia,Kolkata

Despite being an antediluvian form of music, bauls are gradually heading to a dead end, owing to the kind of popular culture creeping in, with the advent of Bollywood music and hard rock. Besides that, taking to reclusiveness isn’t an easy option; corporeal ties at times leashes ones desire to unearth the other world owing to which the search remains incomplete. “It’s not easy to give up your worldly pleasure and set forth on a journey completely devoid of somatic desires and financial responsibilities…Now a day, you will hardly find a person completely adopting a baul’s lifestyle,” adds Ganesh while plucking his ektara.

Transgressing their corporeal bonds, these mystics sweep across boundaries, hoping to veil the unveiled and finally blow the conch of triumph orchestrating their unison with the unknown, the supreme power, God.