How Baul fused with contemporary music

Ancient tradition

The fakir you see on the road, the minstrel who make melodies with an ektara (one string drone instrument), singing of love for humanity and reminds you of your celestial position in the universe is a Baul. His songs are his religion. A Baul does not believe in existence of any one god or a creator of the universe. Their mention can be found in texts as ancient as 15th century. They were ‘wanderers’ writing songs which ‘search’ for the god everyone talks about. Essentially, the tradition took roots and developed in Bengal and hence, the lyrics and poetry still is in Bengali.

Shofi Mondol, a Baul who recently came to Delhi from Bangladesh tells Metrolife, “Not everyone is a  Baul, we follow a guruparampara. First there is Aul, then Baul and Shai, Dorbesh, Naira and Fakir. Each is like a degree one attains.”

He explains, that a fakir is someone who does not form a family or conforms to any norms of the society. They are complete atheists and also ‘the spiritual type’. A Baul may
or may not renounce worldly traditions.

Mondol has performed all across the world and also produced remixed versions of the 150 year old folk songs.

He says, “We don’t have any instruments per say, we only have presentiments. After 100 years, Bauls adapted with a dotara (two stringed drone). The ones, who play western instruments, came to us because they understood our ideology and wanted to be one with us. Instruments and instrumentalists are only a Baul’s accompanists it doesn’t change a Baul song’s meaning.”

He explains, not everyone who sings a Baul songs can be called a Baul. A traditional Baul still only sings with an ektara in their hand under a tree somewhere. Slowly, some Bauls adopted dotara, duggi, majira and presently they also go out to sing live in concert, with amplifiers, guitar, bass, percussions, keyboard and fuse with any genre. What
remains unchanged is their poetry.

A Baul generally has a sage, Mondol’s is Lalon Fakir. Fakir’s songs are 150 years old and Mondol still sings them. He says that contemporary Baul poetry is hardly known. 

He says, “Lalon Fakir says, ‘People ask, what is Lalon’s caste? Lalon says, my eyes fail to detect, The signs of caste. Don’t you see that, Some wear garlands, some rosaries around the neck? But does it make any difference brother? O, tell me, what mark does one carry when one is born, or when one dies? A muslim is marked by the sign of circumcision; but how should, you mark a woman? If a Brahmin male is known by the thread he wears, how is a woman known? People of the world, O brother, talk of marks and signs, but Lalon says: I have only dissolved the raft of signs, the marks of caste in the deluge of the one!’”

Mondol says he is a Baul scholar and not a fakir, as people generally misconstrue. He has learnt classical music from Baul singer Anusheh Anadil. As Anadil had achieved immense popularity in this stream, she not only taught him classical music but as he was swayed by Baul ethics, he took it upon himself to carry on the beliefs.

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