The Mother Divine
Change Font Size 
Monideepa Lahiri
‘BAUL’— the picture that comes to the mind is that of a wild and free person in flowing saffron robes, singing the song of life to the accompaniment of a one stringed instrument - the ‘Ektara’. The feeling it conveys is that of passion and divinity rolled into one.

‘BAUL’ - the word comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Batul’— meaning the air around one - the air of madness. The pure and free atmosphere. The air that is the wind of freedom - the air that is the giver of life and the wisdom to live it. The air that brings the serenity of nature into one’s system and becomes one with the person who inhales it. The air that is filled with the richness of nature, the fragrance of the earth and its capacity to soothe and uplift.

The other meaning of ‘BAUL’ is madness, or the eccentricity of a person who renounces worldly comforts and possessions to unite with The Divine Being. The eccentricity that arouses passion, the passion that causes the Baul to dance and sing the songs of life into which are woven the threads of deep, concealed wisdom, truth and humanity. It also incorporates a sense of restlessness and agitation, from the word ‘Vyakula’, which may also be one of the origins of the word ‘Baul’, restless and agitated in his search for the Supreme Being, the Supreme Truth.

So, while the Baul himself, is not a worldly person in the sense of accumulating wealth and property, which he happily renounces, he is a teacher of the ways of life and the learning that comes from Nature and simple and easy to understand objects of daily life.

Though the Baul faces skywards and lifts his arms in devotion singing of Divine Love he is not restricted to the boundaries of a single religious path. The beauty of the Baul’s devotion is that it is not confined to narrow beliefs and social stigma. Like the air around the Baul his Divinity encompasses all religions in its openness and broadmindedness.

The Baul’s religion is that of humanity, the religion of life and its ‘liver’. It is the most down to earth and pure form of unbounded spirituality. The Baul’s philosophy arises from the simplistic wisdom of the unlettered man of the village from years gone by, in search of a path of life. It incorporates elements of the Muslim Sufism, Vaishnav Hinduism and Buddhism and is perhaps the answer for a futuristic religion or way of living harmoniously.

No one knows exactly when, how or where the Baul movement began. In their simplicity, the Bauls were reluctant to leave records or traces behind. Perhaps it is more ancient than one supposes. The Baul singer was generally illiterate and a simple rustic soul. Although basically a wandering mystic minstrel, the Baul had a very important role to play in the society and lifestyle of his times.

While religious texts and rituals were in languages way beyond the understanding of the common man, Baul songs, in the folk style, were simple and easy to understand and to relate to. The words conveyed simple day to day activities for people to follow, but the underlying philosophies were far deeper and profound. In the earlier days the lyrics of the songs had never been written down but simply carried down generations orally.

The followers of Lalan Fakir, one of the greatest Bauls, began to write down his songs after his death, realizing how wonderful they were, so that they were not lost to future generations. Baul tunes and lyrics were so simple and repetitive that anyone could follow and sing them. However it would be only after many repetitions that the inner meaning would surface and become clear to one.

The Baul could be ascetic or a householder, but never confined to one place. The Baul has no worldly possessions nor a permanent home of his own. Bauls wander from village to village, place to place, spreading the philosophy of life, drawn from the wisdom of nature. Like the Buddhist Bhikshu, the Baul carries a begging bowl with him and survives on charity and the bounties of the earth.

In spite of all his madness and nomadic life, the Baul, in the true sense is a teacher, a Guru, whom all his followers love and respect. Though the Baul is above caste and creed, he is given the honour of a spiritual person. It was the custom of every village in Bengal to keep a home in readiness for the visit and stay of the Baul, who was often accompanied by his wife and family.

While most societies in orthodox India were male dominated and treated woman as inferior to man, the Baul always gave equal status and respect to the woman in his life, who would often sing alongside him. In that sense Bauls were way ahead of their time and age. Their simple understanding of the universal laws of nature and life are still beyond the modern day man. Their children too learned and performed Baul songs early in life.

To the Baul, his devotion to God was a love of nature. The garden to which he beckons people to join Krishna is the garden of life. Their simple teachings are from natural creatures and objects of nature. In one song, the Baul sings of the fish, the eel, which lives in muddy water but does not let the mud cling to its body. The parallel drawn from this is that human beings who live in society must live in harmony and not be affected by the harmful evils that are associated with it.

In another song the Baul sings of dipping in the water but not letting the hair get wet.
Amar jyamon beni temni robey
Chool bhejabo na

The underlying philosophy is that while enjoying material pleasures of the world one must not get entangled in its superficial attractions. One song speaks of the complications of making the wrong choice in love that can lead to disastrous consequences. It has been compared to the sticky sap of the Jackfruit that is so hard to get rid of.
Piriti kanthaler athha
Ekbar lagley porey chharbe na

The Baul compares Human life to that of fruit growing on a tree and draws the parallel of the unraveled mystery of why some fruits fall to the earth before they have ripened while other fruits hang on to the branches till their full maturity. The branches of the tree are compared to the different religious paths of life that people cling to and follow.

For the Baul, the Guru is the supreme one in a person’s life. It is the Guru who can guide and lead him along the right path. It is of prime importance to adhere to the teachings of the Guru. He who strays from the Guru’s guidance becomes a directionless creature, drifting without purpose. Only by holding on to the counsel of the Guru can a person remain whole, otherwise he is like a rudderless boat.
Lahi dhorey thakle porey
Shei thakey gota

The Baul’s belief is that God, resides within the Human soul and the search for God, or the ‘Moner Manush’ is actually an introspective search within oneself as God is manifest in every Human being. And so, the Baul’s Love for God is synonymous with his love for Humanity. ‘Bhakti’, or devotion for God is the same as ‘Prem’, or love for human beings.
Doob doob Roopsagarey amar mon
Talatal patal khujle pabi re Prem ratnadhan

The words of this song literally mean that to find God one must dive deep into the ocean of life or the ‘Roopsagar’. It is only in the profound depths that one may discover the pearls of wisdom, the true gems that are associated with ‘Prem’ or the love for God. This is the ultimate realisation culminating from a lifetime of searching. This wisdom cannot be found in muddy or shallow water, which is the confused or disturbed mind.
Podey paye padartho
Je kore tar ortho

A person can gain wisdom only if he makes the effort to find or gather its real meaning. And so, from the madness or eccentricity of the Baul flow gems of wisdom and eternal truths. The wisdom that the religion of a person has no colour, shape or form. That each religion is just as good as the other. And so, discrimination by religion is quite meaningless. All living beings are creations of the Universal God, or Nature.

The Baul is so close to nature, considering himself to be a ‘Matir Manush’, or creature of the earth, that after the death of a Baul, his mortal remains are not consigned to flames as in Hinduism, nor interred in a coffin as in Islamic rites, but placed in direct contact with the earth. This, perhaps, imbibes the Christian philosophy—‘Dust thou art to dust returneth’—the earthly body that is moulded from the earth goes back to mingle with the soil, while the soul unites with God.

Bauls do not grieve over death which is a natural phenomenon and must be borne by every mortal creature. Death is accepted and embraced in the true spirit knowing that the soul is free, undying and eternal. The Baul rejoices on the completion of a life well lived.

Although Baul traditions and lifestyles pass down generations of the same family that keep the songs and concepts alive, one does not have to be a Baul by birth to be a Baul. One can be a Baul simply by thinking and living the life of a Baul, the wandering minstrel with the air of freedom and non attachment to ‘Maya’ or, the delusions of life. The Baul truly lives in the mind of the Baul which is lovingly referred to as the ‘Baul Mon’. If one has the ‘Baul Mon’, then one can be called a Baul.

‘Baul Mon’, which is the heart if the Baul, is wide and open, open to the skies, and all that is pure and free. It is not swayed by lust and greed and the transient pleasures of the material world. While the Baul is mystic and spiritual, he is also down to earth and practical. While incorporating the best of all familiar religions, he can best be compared to the Buddhist Bhikshu, who goes from door to door and is nourished by his followers and devotees. Having no wealth and property of his own the whole world is literally the home of the Baul.

The other aspect of the Baul’s life is his ability to live with the extremities of nature. Being a wanderer, or a Fakir by nature, the Baul must develop great patience and tolerance, being happy and grateful for whatever comes his way, not knowing when or where his next meal or resting place will be. This is what basically constitutes the madness of the Baul - the character of a true devotee of God, a person intimately close to nature. It is against the Baul’s nature to accumulate wealth or anything materialistic. A Baul only accepts that which is very basic for his existence, for his need to keep alive.

The Bauls of Bengal may have been around for perhaps a thousand years, though the rest of the world has been completely oblivious of their existence till recently. They had been very regional and ruralistic, never very concerned about their propaganda. In the mid eighteenth century, the Saint Nityananda, who was a close companion of Shri Chaitanya, affectionately known as Gour-Nitai, together started spreading the Vaishnav culture, which formed the basis of a particular sect of Bauls.

Saint Nityananda’s son, Birbhadra was a proponent of the Baul cult which is still alive today in the eighth generation of Nityananda, Purnachandra Das Baul, one of the best loved Bauls of Bengal. Purnachandra Das, popularly known as Purnadas Baul has greatly popularised Baul music, lifting it out of obscurity and oblivion and bringing it to the whole world.

Purnadas Baul’s father, Nabanidas ‘Khyapa’ Baul had captured the heart and imagination of Rabindranath Tagore, the most loved and celebrated poet of Bengal. Not only was Tagore inspired by his songs and philosophy, he wrote a beautiful poem dedicated to Nabanidas Baul, whom he lovingly called Khyapa, or ‘the mad one’. ‘Khyapa’ was an epithet that symbolised the Baul’s nature and was truly an embellishment to the Baul. Many of Tagore’s songs including the very widely known inspirational song, ‘Ekla cholo re’ were directly influenced by Khyapa Baul’s compositions.

Purnadas Baul began singing Baul songs at an early age and was very soon mesmerizing large audiences with the passion of his music and the hypnotic rhythm of the duggi - a little drum and the ‘ghungroo’, or bells tied to the ankles, as the Baul not only sang but also danced and swirled in circles. His songs reached the hearts of even those who could not directly understand the lyrics but were stirred by their passion. Much of the import of the song would be apparent in its presentation. And, as they say, music is the universal language. As Purnadas Baul travelled all over the country and then to other countries, more and more people came to recognize the richness of Baul music. This was a great boost to the Baul community as other Bauls too, came into prominence.

Purnadas Baul came to be celebrated and felicitated not only in his own country but all over the world that was slowly awakening to this form of music and philosophy. Today his sons and grandsons follow in the same tradition as is wont in most Baul families. Although certain changes are apt to occur with changing times the basic philosophy remains the same.

The philosophy of the Baul is the understanding of humanity. Its depths and mysteries are yet to be unravelled. While they are ancient and rustic, their relevance and significance in the modern world is enormous. The fact that they are so simple, open and universal make them so appealing to all people from all walks of life. This is also perhaps a reason why Bauls are becoming so popular in the modern world

Since Baul songs and philosophies were previously never written down, but carried down generations by word of mouth, much has been lost in transit. However there is still a large treasury of wisdom to be derived from the songs that the Bauls sing and their simplistic lifestyles. Being at peace with oneself is like being at peace with the world and nature. It is this inner peace that can lead to peace and harmony in society and the world that is torn by hatred, greed and intolerance.

The Baul may conjure up an image of madness and insanity, but there is certainly a method in his madness. His wild and free spirit is like that of a songbird of the skies. Lalan Fakir compares the soul and spirit of the Baul to that of a bird that flies in and out of a cage—the human body.
Khanchar bhitor achin pakhi
Kemone ashey jaye

A creature, who is one with the earth and nature, from birth to death. And like Shelley’s “Skylark’, perhaps, has ‘some blessed hope whereof he knows’ and we are unaware.