"Everyone wonders, What's Lalon's faith"

in Overview
Published on: 17 June 2016

Md. Intaj Ali

Research Scholar, Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad

Baul is widely known and appreciated as a folk music of Bengal but it is a religious sect that espouses a specific philosophy through their songs. Members of the sect are called bauls, and what they sing is popularly called baul-gaan (baul songs). This wandering musicians has a special place in the history of Bengali folk tradition and spiritual ideology. Bauls live in a community, but do not adhere to any particular religion. Their religion is music based on the themes of dehatatva (body as a site of worship), brotherhood and peace.  Bauls have embraced elements from Hinduism, Tantric Buddhism, and Sufi Islam and have developed their own unique belief system from this eclectic basket of ideologies. They sing about the state of disconnect between the earthly soul and the spiritual world and often philosophize love and  bonds of  heart, subtly revealing mysteries of life, laws of nature, decrees of destiny and the ultimate union of the human with the divine.

 Bauls are nonconformists, who reject traditional social norms to form a distinct sect that uphold music as their religion. It is easy to identify a baul singer from his uncut, often knotted in a bun, saffron robe (alkhalla), necklace tulsi beads, and their instrument ektara (single string instrument). Music is their only source of sustenance. They live on whatever they are offered by villagers in return, and travel from place to place on a vehicle of ecstasy. They never write down their songs as a practice. It is said of Lalon Fakir (1774 -1890), the greatest of all bauls that he continued to compose and sing songs for decades without ever stopping to put them on paper, or revise them. It was only after his death that people thought of collecting and compiling his rich repertoire.

Baul songs are an amalgamation of song, dance and narrative and the performer plays his own instruments ektara (single string instrument) and dugie (percussion instrument). Lyrics celebrate the boundless love of Radha for Krishna; in a language that is non-conventional and esoteric known as Sandhya Bhasa where signs are stripped of their natural meaning and concealed with mystic meanings. Bauls present a story regarding different philosophy related to psychology and physiology. In this context Mimulu Sen comments that

If the songs can define territory, in the manner of migratory birds, then the map that describes the journey of the Baul singers today goes well beyond the borders of present day West Bengal and Bangladesh. It follows vertical directions into mystic spheres and travels horizontally around the globe, via the new networks of world music.[i]

There is an essential obscurity so far as bauls are concerned because of the erotic content of their songs speaks about the human body as the microcosm and soul as an intangible bird.

The word ‘Baul’ is not a neologism and can be traced back to the Bengali poetic works of fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Shri Krishna-Vijaya by Maldhar Basu and Chaitanya Charitamirita by Krishnadas Kaviraj. Different scholars have interpreted the etymology of baul, many believe that it has a root in batul meaning mad or out of rhythm, or from vayu meaning air or the inner flow of energy. Baul, also cognates from aul and can also be associated with the Arabic word awliya (plural of ‘wali’, a word originally meaning friend or devotee which refers to a group of perfect mystics.) The word ‘baul’ with its Hindi variant ‘baur’ may have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘vatula’ (affected by wind-disease, crazy) or from ‘vyakula’ (impatiently eager). Both these derivations are consistent with the apparent life style of bauls which denote a group of inspired mystics with an ecstatic eagerness for a spiritual life beyond the shackles of scriptures and religious institutions. According to R.M Sarkar,

The very meaning of this particular word is indifference to worldly interest. This attitude of indifference may be outcome of profound grief as well as extreme joy. The man becomes indifferent of this nature due to his total submission at the feet of the God or the supreme controller of the world. Therfore, the term ‘Baul’ might have been originated from the word ‘Baura’. The people, who become Baura or have developed indifference to the worldly affairs, ultimately have come to known as the Bauls”. (29)

Edward C Dimock Jr. explained the meaning of the word baul in his essay ‘Rabindranath Tagore: the Greatest of the Bauls of Bengal” in the following manner

 The word itself means ‘mad’. When Bengalis use the term, they usually mean to indicate a type of mendicant religious singer who, dressed in tattered clothes deliberately made up of the garments of both Hindus and Muslims, wanders from village to village-celebrating God in ecstatic songs, existing on whatever his listeners choose to give him. Although today he is possibly a householder… traditionally he has ‘only the wind as his home’. His hair is long and beard matted, and as he sings, he accompanies himself on a one stringed instrument. (33)

Lalon Fakir is the supreme guru of the tradition had no formal education and both Hindus and Muslims wanted to lay claim to his religious affiliation. Hindus claimed he was a kayastha and was adopted by a Muslim moulobi (preacher). Lalon was none, as he always endeavored to go beyond all politics of identities and religiosity. His songs echo the note of devotion and love for ordinary people. Lalon says-

Everyone wonders, "What's Lalon’s faith?"

Lalon says, "I've never ' seen' the face

of faith with these eyes of mine!"

Circumcision marks a Muslim man,

what then marks a Muslim woman?

A Brahmin I recognize by the Holy thread;

how do I recognize a Brahmin-woman?

Everyone wonders, "What's Lalon faith?"

Some wear a garland and some the tasbi,

that's what marks the Faiths apart.

But what marks them apart when

one is born or at the time of death?

Everyone wonders, "What's Lalon’s faith?"

The whole world talks about Faith,

everyone displaying their pride!

Lalon says, "My Faith has capsized

in this Market of Desire...."

Everyone wonders, "What's Lalon’s faith?"

 (Translated by Samir Dasgupta)

Shob loke koy
Lalon ki jaat shongshare
Lalon bole jaat er ki rup
Dekhlam na ei nojore

Shunnot dile hoy musholman
Narir tobe ki hoy bidhan
Bamun chini poita proman
Bamni chini ki prokare

Keo mala keo toshbi gole
Tai to ki jaat bhinno bole
Jawa kingba ashar kale
Jater chinnho roy kishe

Jogot jure jater kotha
Loke golpo kore jotha totha
Lalon bole jater fata
Bikiyechi shat bajare –

Lalon often adopts the philosophical aspects of religion and shows no interest in its practical aspect. His search is for a liberal space of unity by breaking the narrow wall of communal and religious segregation. Following Lalon’s path, the Bauls introduce themselves as ‘vagrant’ and ‘without a mantra’. Lalon’s experience revealed to him that besides the social conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, disagreement and conflict existed in their religious practices too and annoyed Lalon composed:      

God is bound by chains at his devotees’ doorsteps,

Hindu or Muslim, he little cares.

An ardent devotee is one intoxicated with love –

Kabir, a weaver of low caste, forsook his everything

To give himself to Lord Krishna of Braja.

Cobbler Ramdas was a beliver

In the power of prayer,

In his glory resounds the heavenly chime, they say.

The whole world is illumined by one moon,

From one seed was born every creature on earth.

What, then, are you quarrelling about?

Asks   Lalon.

(Translated by Samir Dasgupta)


Bhakter dare bandha ache Sai,

Hindu ki jobon bole kon jater bichar nai

Sudho bhakti matoara

Bhakto Kabir jate jola

Se je dhorreche bajror kala

Dea sabasso dhon tai.

Ramdas muchi vober  pore

Bhaktir bol se sobai kore

O tar sebai sarge ghota pore

Suni sadhur sastre tai

Ek chsnde hoi jagat aalo

Ek bije sab janmailo

Lalon bole miche koloho

Keno koris sodai.

Baul songs can be the medium of social change and reformation. Bauls are always looking forward to a utopian society where there will be no culture, no religion and no distinction between poor and rich. The question is what will there be? There will be fellow feeling and love for mankind. That is reason why they always search for Maner Manush (man of the heart) and Achin Pakhi (the unknown Bird), which can never be captured.

Baul songs are discourses and must be understood as multi semiotic form in which words, music and performance conditions are all potentially significant and can carry an ideological content which is often more important than the ostensible verbal meaning. As an illustration of this aspect a song by Lalon Fakir entitled 'Khachaar Bhetor Achin Pakhi, Kamne Ashe Jae‘,  (How an unknown bird flits in and out of a cage.) can be recalled

Tell me how the nameless bird

Enters the cage,

Flies away…

If I could catch it once,

I would

Throw my mind’s chain around its feet.

This house has eight chambers with nine doors,

There are lattices on the walls,

And a hall of mirrors at the top.

Luck has abandoned you,

O mind ¬

Or why should the bird act so stange ?

Breaking open the cage once again

It vanishes into the forest !

(Translated by Samir Dasgupta)

Kanchar vitor Achin pakhi kamne ase jai

Dhorte parle mon beri ditam tahar pai.

Aat khutri noi darja anta

Moddhey jhoka kata

Tar upore sador kotha

Aiinamahal tai.


Kopaler fyar noile ki ar

Pakhir amon babohar

Kancha venge pakhi amar

Kon bone palai.


Mon tui roili kanchar ase

Kancha je tor kancha banshe

Kondin kancha parbe koshe

Fakir Lalon kande koi

 The spontaneous Baul gatherings are still very popular and highly effective. They are still very  vocal against social inequality based on caste and class, religious feuds, untouchability and disintegration and they continuously advocate the futility of religious commotion and thereby want a peaceful assimilation of all religion conditioned by love for humanity.  Their music urge man to search for God within himself and decry the role of mosques and temples in the quest of God. They celebrate celestial love in earthly terms which transcends religion, national borders and language barriers.  

Openshaw, Jeanne. Seeking Bāuls of Bengal, Foundation Books Pvt.Ltd. New Delhi, 2004

Sarkar, R.M.  Bauls of Bengal :In the Quest of Man of the Heart, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 1990

Sen , Mimlu. “An Interview with Mimlu Sen”. In The Independent Reviews. May 02, 2010 Available at: (<http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-honey… interview-1957173.html>). Accessed on: 9th March, 2012