Tag Archive: Moner Manush

Live and let love

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.”


Shauli Chakraborty



Director Goutam Ghose talks about his latest venture Moner Manush. Excerpts:



Why Lalan Fakir?

 Lalan and the philosophy of his sect, I feel, are very relevant in our times. I thought of doing a film on him long time back — right after the Babri Masjid demolition. The communal riots that followed made me think how useful Lalan’s philosophy would be. I did a lot of research on the subject but the project didn’t work out at that time. Post 2001, the world has become intolerant. Political and religious intolerance is rampant. That is why we need Lalan more than ever. We need to preach his philosophy and his views. When Sunil Ganguly wrote Moner Maanush — a novel based on Lalan Fakir’s life and works — I decided it was time to take up the subject once again. I co-ordinated with him and began work on the film.

 Why did you choose Prosenjit to play the lead?

 He was keen to work with me for a very long time. I told him to wait till I had a suitable role and he was patient. His age and his looks make for an interesting Lalan. His eyes are expressive and I knew he was a good choice for the role. However, Prosenjit needed a lot of grooming. For six months he did not take up any other project and preparation time for the role was three months. For an actor this role was one of a kind. He is a star but good roles are rare. I am happy with his performance.

The music…

Lalan lived in a subaltern world. He had no connection with Renaissance Kolkata or 19th century Bengal. He was neither a preacher nor a politician. He was a reformer who quietly worked in rural Bengal through his music. Composing music for the film was a challenge. There were no notations and I went all the way to Bangladesh to meet Sudhin Das at Kusthia. I found 90 songs by Khuda Baksh Shah. In Bangladesh songs sung by baul fakirs are based on the basic ragas but I was in search of a particular kind of tune. I wanted a particular gayeki and when I met Karim Shah I knew I had found my man. He sang 30 songs at one go for me in a hut and I was delighted. Lyrics for Lalan’s songs were hardly ever penned down. They were handed down as recitals from generation to generation. I had to recompose the songs. There is one song based on raag Bhairavi where I used polyphonic tones. In the film songs are part of the dialogue. However, in the CD we have compiled 21 full songs. Latif Shah who is Khuda Baksh Shah’s son was a discovery. He agreed to sing for the film even though he had no experience in recording songs in a studio. I brought him to Kolkata and took him to the recording studio. When he walked in he said, “Chaari dikey to khaancha…tumi amay khaanchar bhetor achin pakhi gayte bolcho (there are cages on all sides…you’re asking me to sing about birds from a cage)”. But he was completely comfortable from the second day. The other singers are Farida Parveen, Antara Choudhary, Upali Chatterjee and Dohar group. A couple of songs were composed by Shiraj Sahi who was Lalan’s guru. Even though the texts are not available Shohajat Firdous has transcribed two songs of Sahi. There are 10,000 songs of Lalon but we used 27 of them for the Moner Maanush.

The other members of the cast…

We have Paoli, Raisulli, Subhra and Champa. There are two youngsters from Bangladesh who deserve special mention — Zeeshan and Tathoi.

What are you exploring – Lalan the man or Lalan and his fame?

The narrative is such that we have a young Jatindranath Tagore confronting an octogenarian Lalan. It is more of a ballad on Lalan’s life. Ananda Shankar Roy once said of him, “Lalan is in no way inferior to Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Both were reformers in their own ways.” That is what the film is about. There is a lot of curiosity about the film.

What should people expect?

Expect love, music and compassion. This is the age of greed and hypocrisy. Youngsters are looking for love and that is exactly what they will take home after watching the film.

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