- freely available
Religions 2019, 10(5), 335; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050335
- Mad, mad, we are all mad.
- Some are mad after wealth,
- And others for glory,
- Some go mad with poverty.
2. Baul Performances: Socio-Historical Context
Neoliberal Transformation of Baul Spaces
4. Everyday Counter-Hegemonic Performances
4.1. Structurally Constituted Material Injustice
- My life weeps in broken fragments (Alas!)
- Emotionally dumb,
- For there is such great dearth. …
- No support I have … apart from my quilt …
- As gluttony draws to mouth upon eating rasgullas [Bengali sweet],
- Vegetable rice is a dream of yore, wheat is what goes down the mouth,
- Rice is finished, the price of wheat has risen,
- No way for the poor,
- For there is such a great dearth.
- Some go to the market and stare,
- While some buy honey and sugar,
- Azure-throated God (Shiva) buys cheap vegetables and gourd,
- I cannot even buy a single thing.
- What shall I say, who would listen?
- Will come forward any eager ear? …
- Spent my days in starvation
- Even as rice grows abundant on our earth.
- I found neither a friend nor even a lover,
- When I asked for happiness, misery is all I got
- We poor had hopes from the Almighty
- But, when we found him, he too was poor like us.
- The hawks are flying in large numbers,
- Swooping down in a moment, they would come,
- On the branches would alight,
- They would feed on the flesh, picking out our eyes.
- Of this misery whom would I tell,
- Everyone would dine on my suffering well,
- Ruin me after and destroy beyond tell.
- The constant pain in my mind,
- To whom do I go, to whom confide,
- Neighbors and well-wishers are not in sight.
- Giving everything, the heart still pains, still yearning,
- They always hurt us, by cruel words they do burn us.
In spiritual gatherings, we are made to sing the whole night, we never got notice from anybody. Even we also have hunger, but nobody paid any attention to that. Our performance would start at 7 or 8 p.m. in the evening and would go on until 4 a.m. in the morning. Nobody even thinks that we could be hungry. Our entire body would shiver from exhaustion. Tell me, what will happen to the person who is singing unfed? Ultimately they will become sick like me. A folk artist will eventually die from indigestion, gastritis. I think it is better to beg than to sing Baul songs. My sickness brought forth this epiphany,
- “As long is youth,
- So long is zeal,
- So long is desire and fire,
- Then there is quaking,
- Followed by shattering,
- Concluded in spinning.”
Like the late Kalachand Darbesh, many senior Bauls are struggling to meet the minimum needs of life in their old age. Situated resource scarcity, hunger, psychological stress, and that too with no social security, make their journey strenuous. This is more apparent in this contemporary era, where any respect and recognition of ascetic lifestyles is gradually eroding. According to Parvati Das Baul,Sorrow will stay with us forever. Till now, I always find him (his father) in tears; I have never seen a moment of material-happiness. Today also, he has to toil hard for livelihood. Till today, my father goes by begging alms in the trains and attending fairs. I burst into tears seeing his struggles even in this age of life. It happened many a times that he was saved narrowly from death, when rescued from the streets.
In the contemporary era of increasing financial uncertainty, external aid and assistance are certainly helpful and important for Bauls. However, Bauls traditionally practiced Madhukari (i.e., everyday ritualistic begging for alms by walking from one village to another) for survival and sustenance. Changing economic, social, and cultural scenarios in this neoliberal era mark decreasing patronage for the Bauls; consequently, both the nature and practice of Madhukari are also changing. Unable to earn basic minimum subsistence because of the rapid liberalization of rural spaces, the Bauls are now performing in public places and/or gatherings, including in trains (aforementioned song of Nakshtra Das Baul is an example of such a performance). One of the senior Bauls, Paban Das Baul was talking about the contemporary practice of Madhukari, “The conditions are different now. These days, Bauls sing in trains. Do you know why? Trains do not make for a good setting. You can hardly hear the songs. They sing for only one reason—to survive.” In contrast to visiting rural households on a regular basis with an aim to awaken them spiritually, many Bauls now have to entertain people in crowded spaces to earn food and essential commodities for their families. Their discourses highlighted the socioeconomic disenfranchisement experienced by Bauls; simultaneously, their utterances invert the logics of commoditization, greed, and profiteering. The articulation of the struggles with material resources are juxtaposed in the backdrop of the deep interrogation of economic attachments and market principles, drawing on a spiritual narrative.I will be definitely happy if the Baul community is looked after well, especially the old masters. When they are sick and cannot perform, they have no value (in the societal and/or material sense). They have to just depend on whatever is coming (as alms); sometimes the situation is very, very pathetic. So many Bauls I have seen, they do not even have money to buy medicine. So, if these things are taken care of by the government, then it would be great.
- Who will sing Baul songs?
- After experiencing so much pain or sorrow the Bauls have died …
- The bamboo-flute becomes speechless; so, Baul cries,
- With this sorrow (I would like to say),
- People have forgotten the songs of Bauls.
4.2. Communicative Marginalization Amid Hegemonic Cultures
- Sai (Master), I have a question for you. Because we sing songs, many Muslim religious leaders are angry with us. They say bad things about our practices. They even beat us. They say that singing in Islam is a sin (gunah).
- If the religious leaders say that singing is a sin, do not argue with them. By arguing, you will not reach anywhere. Holding your ears (i.e., admitting your mistake publicly), tell them, ‘Master, I have made a mistake, please forgive me, I will not sing songs again in front of you’. Then keep singing inside. Those who are spiritually thirsty, keep serving music-nectar to them. (BongoBD 2015)
They (Bauls) offer their worship within themselves. Their rozah (ritualistic practice of abstaining from food and drink) is not physical fasting, but is a metaphoric expression of self-restraint and control of senses.
They essentially embrace a spiritual ideology that dismantles the silos of religious orthodoxy, and envision humanity, consciousness and reflexivity at the center of spiritual accomplishment.Thus, when they chant the name of Hari or Allah, they actually mean something different; they refer to an internalized awareness.
- Beguiled by the opportunists,
- You have lost your direction,
- Alas, which form of sadhana will then,
- Will fetch you the divine wealth?
- If Allah could be found in the streets of Mecca,
- Or Lord Shiva’s residence was only in Varanasi,
- If Vrindavan was indeed the garden of Lord Krishna,
- Then none would have returned to their homes.
- If God could be had, With offerings of food—this and that,
- Or by proffering sinni3, on a large scale,
- Then food would have been all it took,
- To have the King shook,
- To buy His amazing grace and escape his rebuke.
- Oh Guru! You are Brahma, you are Vishnu, you are the revered god Shiva,
- Have mercy on me Guru, kindest thou be than all noble hearts, bless my soul and guide me over,
- You are help to those who are helpless,
- You are the Father and the keeper of us all,
- Stability to them you provide who have lost direction.
- Guru, I am all bereft,
- No path for me awaits, nothing for me in this world except for some shelter at your feet.
- Be he Hindu or Muslim, be he Shakta, Buddhist or Christian.
- In the world of free love, everyone is equal.
- Those awakened by the knowledge of tattwa (epistemologies and theories),
- For them, darkness fades forever.
- He (god) is the epitome of the Vedas and the Upanishads,
- He holds the Koran and reads the Namaz.
- The Christians think Him to be Christ,
- Creating inspirations of spiritual love and passions.
- … They feigned a meeting and invited us,
- “Come, my brothers to hear this meeting,” he (a local leader—Golam Ali Murtuja) amiably said.
- A sacrifice of the Fakirs was to be made, it was told,
- Hearing this, people came, all young, as well as the old.
- Went there then the party all, curious to see what was going on,
- Some Fakirs were captured and made to swear on their religion,
- That scoundrels were they who indulged in marijuana’s grave intoxication.
- … Fear of beating and lynching too,
- Made the Fakirs swear over and anew,
- Alas, but they do die at heart.
- … Near the banks of Sura (a river) there lived Panchu Shah (a Fakir),
- Now because of such trouble, chances of living he had none,
- Sitting in his home, he prays to the guru, deeming that he is the only hope.
- Seeing and hearing it all, some Bauls took heed, and to Beldanga (location of the incident) rushed,
- Orders were given, curfew in effect, which in turn Section 144 ushered.
- Some immediately fled, but three Fakirs were arrested.
- Manik Fakir and Ibrahim (a Fakir) have no more days to them to live.
- Mantu Khan (a local leader), Pretending to be a doer of good, cut off their (Bauls’) buns off their heads,
- Chaos and outrage spread …
- Do the Mullahs or those who abide by the Sharia law oppose you?
- Bedana Fakir:
- Yes, they do. In the beginning, they opposed us becoming Fakirs. But my guru refused to obey their diktat.
4.3. Emancipation, Reflexivity, and Transformative Communication
- If you are searching for The Human (superior sense),
- Then you worship the humans,
- In everyday practice, offer homage
- To the feet of your human-guru,
- Be a human, with the humans.
- The Human is always creating consciousness,
- The Human resides inside all humans.
- The sensitive poets are they who sang the songs of tattwas (theories and epistemologies),
- In my painting, I portray this world’s misery and grief,
- And, the demands of the displaced,
- Karim wants a peaceful co-existence,
- Oh, my farmer brother, plough the grounds with hands stern,
- With able care and immense passion, treasures we will unearth,
- Saving lives, giving life, is our primary conduct.
- The call for produce is upon us, let us brothers join hands,
- Let us wrestle with the earth, to beget Nature’s bounty grand.
- Farmers and laborers us all,
- Cradled in our Mother Bengal’s loving bosom,
- Through hard work and perseverance, cultivate we can gold,
- Alas, but even then, we are stricken by sadness bold.
- Farm fish, plant trees, grow much vegetables,
- Reap jute, pluck cotton,
- Grow wheat and grow mustard
- Farmers and laborers,
- Fisher-men and handloom weavers,
- Work to your fullest,
- Put all your emotional strength,
- Baul Abdul Karim says,
- Sans this there is no other way.
- Being a human, respect other humans
- Being a human, know other humans
- Being a human, discover other humans
- Human is the eternal treasure, search for that ‘Human’ (the man of the Heart).
- To search for the man of the heart is the destination by itself.
Their songs also communicate broader social and ethical commitments towards building a better future. For a Baul, it is important to transcend the boundaries of ego, sense of achievement, social hierarchy, and unearned privileges (like gender and caste). Subhadra Sharma, a woman Baul from West Bengal reflected,Music is the medium through which we meditate, our music is very introspective. Our songs are about humanity. You must know to give respect and love to the one who is poor and downtrodden. The songs and teachings essentially question our ego, pride and attachments, which are hindrances to our ways of realizations and journeys to advancement.
Her comments depict that Baul discourses, philosophies and practices are fundamentally grounded in the principles of reflexivity and introspection. It is the engaged realizations and involvements, which characterize their journey towards humane transformations.Boundaries are not only of caste, religion and sect … Even knowledge, music, pride, gender … all these create limits of identity. If I think I am a great singer, I get trapped in that identity. Some think ‘I am an expert or a great devotee’, they get shackled by that. The pride of caste, the pride of beauty, the pride of knowledge, the pride of greatness, and the pride of youth (Jouban) … these are the five sources of sin. That is why our spiritual path is beyond any caste, religion or class. A Christian, a Muslim, a cobbler, a sweeper (a laborer who sweeps roads and other public places) everyone is treated as a human being in this path. For a state of spontaneous simplicity, all these bounded identities have to dissolve.
There was a Fakir residing near our house. He used to regularly perform in the akhara. I was drawn to him by his singing. I went and asked him to teach me. He asked me, “Are you sure you want to learn singing? Your father does not sing, you mother does not sing either, nor do your brothers, or anyone in your family.” I told him I was serious about learning music. He then told me “Your songs will be invaluable. Yet no one will appreciate you.” I told him, “Let it be so. Let no one appreciate me. Yet, I want to learn music from you.” …
Her words conveying the committed struggles of Bauls that take place at the margins; she also indicated that for sustaining their tradition, Baul teachings are communicated from one generation to the other.People came up with a lot of comments. My mother beat me up. My father threw me out of the house. And yet, I was not deterred. I was in love with music. I thought if I could sing my life would have some meaning and purpose to it. I was quite stubborn in my pursuit. And that is how I entered the world of music.
- Come be that day,
- When Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist,
- Divide of caste, class or faith would cease to exist,
- Such a reformed humane society,
- Oh my mind, when would its creation come to be?
- When temptations of greed would hold no sway,
- When to take up the shoulder satchel, none will need,
- When no one will shove us apart, Calling us ‘an unreformed awful lowly lot!’
- Oppressive shackles will not make us feel continually alienated,
- Such a reformed human society,
- Oh my mind, when would its creation come to be?
- The rich and the poor, together, under one common roof would reside,
- Each one will get what each one’s deserving shares strike.
- Over religion, caste, faith or creed,
- No one would make an upheaval, no one would fight.
- Weeping, says Lalon Fakir,
- Who will be there to show me,
- Such a reformed humane society,
- Oh my mind, when would its creation come to be?
Conflicts of Interest
- Akter, Shaon, Asgor Hussain, and Sanaullah. 2017. Cleverness of Lalon. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research 3: 580–85. [Google Scholar]
- Bhattacharya, Upendranath. 1969. Banglar Baul o Baul Gan. Kolkata: Orient Book Company. [Google Scholar]
- BongoBD. 2015. Moner Manush. YouTube Video, 2:26:51. July 11. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntSTDRg7zEo (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Chakraborty, Sudhir. 2001. Baul Fakir Katha. Kolkata: Ananda. [Google Scholar]
- Charmaz, Kathy. 2000. Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In Handbook of Qualitative Research. Edited by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 509–36. [Google Scholar]
- Chaturvedi, Vinayak. 2007. A critical theory of Subalternity: Rethinking class in Indian historiography. Left History 12: 9–28. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Das, Abhishek. 2014. Religion of rebellion, voices from eastern India: Hinduism, caste and resistance. Research Scholar 2: 170–76. [Google Scholar]
- Dutta, Mohan J. 2011. Communicating Social Change: Structure, Culture, and Agency. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Dutta, Mohan J. 2015. Decolonizing communication for social change: A culture-centered approach. Communication Theory 25: 123–43. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Folkpick. 2010. Nakshatra Das Baul. YouTube Video, 2:39. February 3. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyL1SJ5cMKY (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Hanssen, Kristin. 2018. Women, Religion and the Body in South Asia: Living with Bengali Bauls. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Harrison, Klisala. 2013. The relationship of poverty to music. Yearbook for Traditional Music 45: 1–12. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Harter, Lynn M., Laura L. Ellingson, Mohan J. Dutta, and Stephanie Norander. 2009. The poetic is political … and other notes on engaged communication scholarship. In Communicating for Social Impact: Engaging Communication Theory, Research, and Practice. Edited by Lynn M. Harter and Mohan Dutta. Creskill: Hampton Press, pp. 33–46. [Google Scholar]
- Jha, Shaktinath. 2010. Bastubadi Baul. Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing. [Google Scholar]
- Jha, Shaktinath. 2014. Baul-Fakir Dhwongso-Andoloner Itibritto (Bengali). Kolkata: ManFakira. [Google Scholar]
- Kaahon. 2014. Subhadra Sharma Talks about Her Persistent Struggle as Folk Music Artist. YouTube Video, 9:15. June 29. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DUhwscbegU (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Khalid, Saifuddin, and Saiful Alam Chowdhury. 2018. Representation of intangible cultural heritage of Bangladesh through social media. Anatolia 29: 194–203. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Knight, Lisa I. 2010. Bāuls in conversation: Cultivating oppositional ideology. International Journal of Hindu Studies 14: 71–120. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Krakauer, Benjamin. 2016. On the recent diversification of Bāul-Fakir musical repertoire in West Bengal: Spiritual music in a crowded marketplace. Asian Music 47: 4–47. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Kuckertz, Josef. 1975. Origin and construction of the melodies in Baul songs of Bengal. Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 7: 85–91. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Lincoln, Yvonna S., and Egon G. Guba. 1985. Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills: Sage. [Google Scholar]
- Liton, Hussain A. 2013. Folk songs of Pagla Kanai: A critique of non-sectarianism. Language in India 13: 468–80. [Google Scholar]
- Lorea, Carola Erika. 2017. The difference between a paṇḍit and a wise man: A study of Bengali songs as literature against literature. Cultural Studies 1: 1–15. [Google Scholar]
- Lorea, Carola Erika. 2018. “I am afraid of telling you this, lest you’d be scared shitless!”: The myth of secrecy and the study of the esoteric traditions of Bengal. Religions 9: 172. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Mahbub-ul-Alam, Ahmad, Mohammad Ehsanul Islam Khan, and Tariqul Islam. 2014. A study on spiritualism in the lyrics of Shah Abdul Karim. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development 1: 29–33. [Google Scholar]
- Majid, Shakoor. 2013. Bhatir Purush. YouTube Video, 49:53. July 8. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgYdPBnmCfI (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Mamoon, Trina R. 2008. Conversions/subversions: Sufi subtexts of Bangladeshi indentity. Comparative Civilizations Review 59: 127–48. [Google Scholar]
- Mondal, Anirban. 2013. Lalon, Lalon geete, and society: A humanitarian socio-philosophical discourse. The Criterion 12: 1–7. [Google Scholar]
- Mondal, Anirban. 2015. Searching for Moner Manush (man of heart): Bauls of Bengal and Fakir Lalon Shah. Journal of Bengali Studies 4: 58. [Google Scholar]
- Novetzke, Christian Lee, and Laurie Patton. 2008. Subaltern. In Studying Hinduism: Key Concepts and Methods. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby. New York: Routledge, pp. 378–99. [Google Scholar]
- Openshaw, Jeanne. 2002. Seeking Bauls of Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Otterbeck, Jeanne. 2008. Battling over the public sphere: Islamic reactions to the music of today. Contemporary Islam 2: 211–28. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Reed, Thomas Vernon. 2005. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Google Scholar]
- Sahajiya Foundation. 2013. In Search of Darbeshi Songs. YouTube Video, 52:11. April 24. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8pWZrxEVKA (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Salomon, Carol. 1995. Baul songs. In Religions of India in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 187–207. [Google Scholar]
- Scott, James C. 1990. Weapon of the Weak Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Sengupta, Jayita. 2015. The Baul sursadhak: The tradition and individual talent. Journal of Literature and Art Studies 5: 151–57. [Google Scholar]
- Shome, Raka, and Radha S. Hegde. 2002. Postcolonial approaches to communication: Charting the terrain, engaging the intersections. Communication Theory 12: 249–70. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Tareque Masud Memorial Trust. 2016. Matir Moina. YouTube Video, 1:33:00. August 16. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ7snUtgKx4 (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Urban, Hugh B. 2001. The marketplace and the temple: Economic metaphors and religious meanings in the folk songs of colonial Bengal. The Journal of Asian Studies 60: 1085–114. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- World Bank. 2017. West Bengal Social Inclusion. Available online: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/382741504252542549/pdf/119345-BRI-P157572-West-Bengal-Social.pdf (accessed on 11 March 2019).
- Zecchini, Laetitia. 2014. Contemporary Bhakti recastings: Recovering a demotic tradition, challenging nativism, fashioning modernism in Indian poetry. Interventions 16: 257–76. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
Hindu and Muslim practitioners are called Bauls and Fakirs respectively. However, scholars oftentimes use the term Baul to talk about people who follow Baul, Fakir and other similar spiritual traditions.
This project does not examine musical sounds; however, musical sound can be studied in the future projects.
Sinni: An Islamic offering, made with different food ingredients, proffered to appease the Divine.
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).