In a world torn by violence, does the credo of baul philosophy show a flicker of hope?

 

 

Supreeta Singh

 

 
Against the backdrop of environmental hazards, physical threats and emotional depletion, the quest for spiritual freedom stands tall. If a man’s ultimate aim is self-realisation, then the need to find meaning in life becomes monumental. Unfortunately, today the concepts of peace, liberty and equality have been stripped of their essence and reduced to a mere lip service at best or buzzwords at worst.
 However, a small sect in West Bengal has a different tale to tell. They are above any organised religion, caste and creed or gender discrimination and completely shun orthodox rituals.
Spread across Murshidabad, Nadia and Birbhum districts in Bengal, Sylhet, Bikrampur and Kushtia in Bangladesh, Baul singers and poets practice an egalitarian philosophy preached by ‘exponents’ of world peace and love. 
Thanks to Gautam Ghose’s film Moner Manush, there has been a reawakening of interest in one of the prominent baul exponents, the iconic figure Lalon Fakir. A Hindu-turned-Muslim fakir, who flouted all established norms of society in his exploration of self, Ghose’s film pertinently makes Lalon’s philosophy embedded in his lyrics seem relevant. 
Gautam Ghose says, “Lalon is contemporary. Bauls are not just performers; for them it’s a way of life. Today, not everyone is a performer but they practice devotion nonetheless.”
 For young folk singer Anusheh Anadil of Bangladesh, bauls uphold a philosophy that is eternal. An ardent fan of Lalon songs, she claims that songs give her a glimpse of reality. “The need for self-realisation does not disappear with time. I am in love with the bauls and fakirs specially because here there is no duality of ideas. It is about learning to be empty and embodying that love which is making creation possible. For me, it’s always been about the message these songs convey. I try to pass it on to my audience in whichever way they may listen.”
 The growing popularity of baul songs and tunes in popular culture also stand as a testimony to its revival among the youth. The lyrics, strains and compositions touch a chord infusing a listener with a sense of unbridled joy. Percussionist Tanmoy Bose whose projects Taal Tantra and Baul and Beyond, where Anusheh is one of the contributors, says that baul philosophy is the best example of unity, brotherhood and friendship. According to him, youngsters must go through the lines of poems crafted by bauls to understand their import. He adds, “Baul does not just mean smoking weeds and singing songs. It’s a way of life that needs total devotion. For me, the most heartwarming and urgent message of bauls is the principle of guru-shishya (disciple) parampara or tradition that it upholds. Every day we read about student and teacher conflicts. The basic foundation of the baul philosophy lies in total surrender to your guru, who will lead you through the tumultuous hurdles of life. It says that you have to know your guru to complete yourself. This is opposite to the language of aggression youths display. In any situation of dispute and disagreement, baul philosophy can teach you to cooperate.”
 In the same vein, Bangladeshi singer Latif Shah says, “When the desire rises in you to merge with the ‘Supreme Soul’, no matter what your age is, you will be drawn to it like bee to a flower. My disciples are as young as 12 years. That’s an impressionable age and therefore they understand all about bauls with ease.” 
Bose is amazed by the fact that our own indigenous baul philosophy finds resonance in African-American blues and jazz entrenched in socio-political revolutions. “I have been to so many countries and everywhere I have found that the native form of music has sprung out of some kind of protest. Both music and baul philosophy are universal. They are deeply rooted in selflessness. Hence, there is much to learn from them.”
 One of the strongest elements of Baul is the way it embraces everyone irrespective of religion, community, class, economic background and gender. At a time when world leaders at large fail to do more than initiating peace-talks between warring nations, bauls talk about forging ties. “Baul is a secular philosophy. Although fundamentalists attack them in many pockets of Bengal and Bangladesh, yet they promote love and compassion. Men and women, who have been ostracised by society, find solace and acceptance in the company of bauls. Many of them come from poor families and have nowhere to go. Earlier, the urban and rural divide was not as marked as it is today. Now, bauls flock to cities to participate in fairs and festivals giving city slickers an opportunity to learn from them.”
 Interestingly, Baul songs are engaged in a conversation with the body. For them, human body is the most intricate and elaborate vehicle where universal truth lies hidden. The body is a means to an end – the final reunion with the ‘Supreme Being’ who resides in all of us. Human body is sacrosanct, a symbol of divinity. From novice to advanced baul singers, meditation and yoga are a must every day – exactly what health experts urge people to do.  
 “Physical exercise or shadhon-bhajon is as crucial to bauls as singing. All baul songs are centered on the body, which is a metaphor for leading to higher states of existence. A good guru will always decode the songs and explain its meaning to his disciple,” says 30-something Sanjay of Baul band Brahmakhyapa.
 Bauls believe in the principle of ‘here and now’. There is no concept of reincarnation or idol worship. Free of dogmas, it stresses on body and mind to find all answers. “What attracts me to baul philosophy is it’s scientific nature. To develop the inner psyche, you must reach a level of control that is achieved only when you are physically, mentally and emotionally fit. There is neither any sudden anger nor any sudden joy. Isn’t this what any spiritual guru would advise? Today, people earn bushels of money, but are they really happy?” asks Sanjay. 
 The prominent place of women in baul communities is another stellar aspect. While conservative religions put women on the pedestal and worship them, domestic violence continues unabated. Bauls are routinely dismissed for their apparent sexual proclivities, their lifestyle often dubbed as ‘free sex in a free society. Yet rising statistics of divorce and separation speak about the lack of respect and love in urban couples. Tanmoy Bose is aggrieved by such misinterpretations. “It’s an injustice. You have to look beyond the physical intercourse and discover the epitome of love in your partner. And it’s not as if bauls indulge in indiscriminate sexual orgies. They too have fixed mates,” he fumes.
 Echoes Sanjay, “My partner Malobika and I live together. We have a daughter too. As in tantra, baul philosophy too believes in the union of male and female and only the union of the two can lead to creation. There are so many married couples in the society who are miserable. Does the ‘married’ tag stop them from abusing each other? So, how is it different for the bauls?”
 Kartik Das Baul of Santiniketan, who is married with a son, says, “Bauls are not separate entities outside the purview of society. Lalon advises us through his songs to be free of restrictions. In India and abroad, we have finally got our due recognition and things look brighter for the future. As long as I can connect with myself, nothing can dampen my spirit.” 
 Golam Fakir, a noted baul from Nadia, observes that bauls as a sect will always remain a little mysterious and unfathomable to laymen. “Only those who come with a sincere heart and thirst for knowledge are able to apprehend the true essence of bauls. Yet for a world whose heart is bleeding, he shares a snippet from Gita  — Whatever has happened in the past, happened for the best. Whatever will happen will happen for the best too.”

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