Lalon - Bauls Mysticism

The smell of materialism is not too distant from it, yet here among the disciples of Lalon we see the issues of property, money, possessions not given the highest importance. Practically no one talks of making more money, no one even bothers about the value of the clothes that one wears. In the attire, there is an austere uniformity-here among the Bauls all that is important is the search for oneís inner self.

The Bauls of Bengal are spiritual sect of traveling minstrels whose songs of joy, love, and longing for a mystical union with the divine have captivated audiences for the past century. They are saffron-clad folk singers who traditionally live in the huts of rural Bengal though they can be found traveling, dancing, and singing their way around the world. Their livelihood depends entirely on donations which have been given to them freely over the centuries. They are teachers and spiritual gurus and they are a peace loving people that embrace all and quarrel with none. In fact, Bengalis are known to be among the most friendly and intelligent people in Indian Subcontinent..

a llon decipleThe Bouls are the folk heroes of Bengal. "The popular romantic imagination everywhere seeks expression through its chosen bards: we have our Bob Dylans and Leonard Cohens, the Bengalis have thier Bauls. These wandering minstrels carry with them from village to city the soul of Bengal, perhaps of India, and every Bengali knows it even if today he is becoming uncertain what that soul really is" [Charles H. Capwell and others]. The Baul tradition cannot be characterised by any known or distinct doctrine. According to Edward C. Dimock, Jr. the term baul encompasses "a wide rage of religious opinion, traceable to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and much that is traceable only to a man's own view of how he relates to God.

All Bauls hold only this in common: that God is hidden in the heart of man, and neither priest nor prophet, nor the ritual of any organised religion, will help man to find him there. The Bauls feel that both [hindu] temple and [muslim] mosque stand across the path to truth, blocking the search. The search for God is one which everyone must carry out for himself." Capwell thinks that "the Baul tradition is a fusion of elements from Buddhism, Saktism (worshippers of goddess Kali - the source of all energies), Vaisnavism (worshippers of Lord Visnu) and Sufi Islam, may well have its roots in the tantrik Buddhism of Bengal in the 9th and 10th centuries

Mystic singers, wandering minstrels, the Baul of Bengal preserve one of the oldest and fascinating Indian tradition. Born from the meeting of different religious expressions, such as Tantrism, Buddhism, Sufism, Vaishnavism they consacrate their existence to dance, music and singing, conveying intimate joy, universal brotherhood, discovering of divine in manís heart.

lalonAt that time, Buddhism was first taking root in Tibet while it was dying out in India, and much Buddhist literature that might otherwise have disappeared in oral tradition. Within this literature are collections of songs written in the newly arisen vernaculars of northern India rather than in Pali and Sanskrit, traditional languages of Buddhism. One of the oldest of these collections - an anthology of caryagan - contains the earliest significant examples of the Bengali Language. The texts are strikingly reminiscent of songs like gosdi ebar porebi phyare; that is, they transmit the insights and mysticism in the homeliest of metaphors. The structure of the poems - couplets with a refrain - suggests that their musical form might also be similar to that of Baul songs today. For, in the Baul songs, a refrain generally recurs at the end of each stanza, the stanzas are roughly divided into two musical phrases, the first of which tends to hover around the lower tetrachord of the basic octave range, while the second reaches up to the higher tonic before descending again to the refrain that cadences on the lower tonic.

The origin of the Baul can be traced back to the 16th century to the time of the advent of leader Chiatanya Deva (1486-1533). Although they embraced many of the influences of Shri Chaitanya Deva, they quickly became known as a unique, free-thinking group. They tended to incorporate theory and customary interactions from the many different religions in the region, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism, giving rise to new theories that became known as the Baul philosophy. Without prejudice, both Muslims and Hindus were attracted to the Baul ways and were graciously included within their sect. Many of these people changed their names, taking on Baul names, to proclaim their devotion to the Baul philosophy and way of life.

Even as simple street musicians, the Bauls were considered important teachers in lessons of human life and philosophy. As philosophers and sadhaks, song was their teaching instrument as they continued their search for God. They were known as performers 'mad' in a worshipping trance of joy - transcending above both good and bad. Though fond of both Hinduism and Islam, the Baul evolved into a religion focused on the individual and centered on a spiritual quest for God from within. They came to believe that God lives within each of us: translated simply, they believe the soul that lives in all human bodies is God.

In the ancient and traditionally strict religious Far East, their way tended to stimulate some controversy. Consequently, for at least the last 600 years, both orthodox Hindus and Muslims have branded them as 'mad'. These orthodox religions see their unconventional modes of worship somewhat offensive as Bauls tend to reject the rigid rituals and the social mores generally found to be acceptable in their mainstream society. Hence, the name 'Baul' was given to them, which is derived from the Sanskrit word 'batul' which literally means 'afflicted with the wind' or 'mad'. It is this brand as 'mad' together with their acceptance of all men regardless of race, creed, or religion that sets the Baul apart from most in this tortured and war torn region. Another interesting meaning for the name Baul comes from the Persian word 'aul' meaning a 'very important person'. Indeed as teachers, gurus, and proponents of universal brotherhood, this latter definition is very appropriate.

The great Buddhist, saint Saraha remarked, 'In my wanderings, I have visited shrines and other places of pilgrimage, but I have not seen another shrine as blissful as my body.'

The Baul embraced elements from Hinduism, Tantric Buddhism, and Sufi Islam, discarded what did not suit them and developed their own unique belief system from what remained. With this eclectic approach to spirituality, they seek to distill from all religious disciplines the simplest, most natural, and direct approach possible to God. They believe that authentic worship of God takes place only deep within each person where 'God' the divine 'man of heart' is enshrined. Hence, the essence of Baul belief is that God is hidden in the heart of man and neither priest nor prophet, nor the rituals of any organized religion will help man to find God there. They believe that church, temple, and mosque only stand in the way and impede this search. To the Baul, our bodies are the temples - the shrine of the soul

They believe that the God within them is the same as the God within all human beings. Therefore, there is no reason not to be at peace with all of mankind regardless of how one chooses to recognize their version of the 'Supreme Being' or practice their faith. The music of the Baul minstrel tries to focus on the importance of the human soul or the 'maner manush' which they perceive to be nothing less than the true God within us.

'Why do you run after the mirages? Look within yourself to get your peace. Peace and tranquility do not come from outside. You can't discover them by owning the world.'

There is no beauty more true than the beauty of God in the universe that lives within our souls.Their songs are of joy and love, and of their deep longing for mystical union with the divine within. Their language is simple and the deepest of their thoughts are clothed in home spun words and metaphors common to country-side village folk. Yet, amidst the simple language, the songs of the Baul contain an extensive, meaningful philosophy that connects to all of their life and aspirations.

The Baul are unpretentious, free-thinkers seeking their own personal enlightenment through their songs. They do not preach or seek to convert but rather they seek to soothe, share, and provoke thought. The songs they sing and the accompanying dances are spiritually meaningful meditations focused on the soul with this goal in mind.

From the Sufi's, they took the practice of dance and song as a teaching tool. The Moslems believe that all are on a path to God and that true closeness will be achieved after death and the final judgment. Many Sufi sects throughout the world use poetry set to song, with instrumental music and dance like movements they call 'spiritual concerts' (sama) to explain and teach their doctrines

Lalon Shahís name should not be new to us. His songs that propagate the philosophy of self-understanding have a large following. But, as most people just appreciate Lalonís songs for their inherent messages, there are those who actually want to exercise Lalonís philosophies in their own lives. They want to pick up the life of a Baul, wander from place to place, sing in praise of the creator and ask others to keep on searching for truth and happiness from ones own soul.

Bauls are not new in Bangladesh and despite the saturation of material values the number of Bauls who renounce all common beliefs are on the rise. Now, this actually opens up the road for a novel sociological study involving the spiralling trend among rural singers who opt for a nomadic life in search of spiritual bliss.

Before Rabindranath Tagore, the Bauls were not regarded well by the Bengali society, for most considered them vagabonds and beggars as Bauls lived itinerant lives wandering from door to door in rural Bengal mostly subsisting on meagre foods offered by householders. Tagore, who in his youth knew Lalon Fakir - one of the greatest Bauls that ever lived, was much influenced by the Baul music and philosophy in his poetry, music and thought. He "changed all that as he did so much in Bengali society, by acknowledging his debt to what the Bauls stand for and to their music. Many of his own songs he categorised as Baul; and in most of his plays there is a Baul character - an unspoiled man who sees clearly and deeply, his vision uncluttered by the swirling bits and irrelevant particles of life. The Baul is also the man who can express what he sees with equal clarity, his imagery and metaphor drawn from everyday things, the river of life, the marketplace of the world, the once majestic house of the body crumbling into decay" [Dimock].

Instruments used by Bauls

Baul songs are usually solo songs although often accompanists and members of the audience (normally, handfull of villagers gathering around the Bauls) to join in the refrain and repetition phrases of the verse. Instruments used by Bauls include the following:

  • Khamak - A rhythmic instrument with one or two strings attached to the head of a small drum. The strings are plucked with a plectrum and they are alternatively tightened or slackened to generate an amazing array of rhythmic and tonal variations.
  • Tabla - A pair traditional Indian drums called 'baya' (the left hand drum) and the 'daina' (the right hand drum). The left drum has a clay based shell whilst the right drum has a wooden shell. Heads of both drums are covered in animal hide, the centre of which is applied with a layer of (dry) pulp mix. Tonal variation are achieved by adjusting tension of the skin head.
  • Mridanga or Khol - A barrel-shaped clay drum with two heads - sort of a combination of the baya and daina of tabla as described above.
  • Harmonium - A small keyboard instrument with hand-worked bellows - not unlike accordian.
  • Ektara - A plucked single string drone - fingers and thumb are used.
  • Khanjani - A tabourine without jangles.
  • Mandira or Kartal - Small bell-shaped cymbals.
  • Ghoongoor - A garland of bells tied around the ankle - played with rhythmic movements of feet. ∑
  • Ramchaki - A pair of wooden clappers with jangles.

  • shaja-singing boul mystic songs


    1. Lalan Shah
    2. Praise the creator through songs and a novel path
    3. Lalan Fakir and the search for the Achin Pakhi

    Lalon Shah

    Poet Rabindranath Tagore in his Hebart Lecture in London (1933) first applauded Lalan Shah as a mystic poet who discovered 'soul' and the meaning of 'man'. Tagore said that I discovered that 'man' from the songs of Lalan who said that "(ai manushe ase se mon....) "....) the 'man' is within yourself where are you searching Him (Folkore, II, Calcutta, 1961).

    Tagore through his Estate-Assistant Bamacharan Chakravarty managed to copy nearly 150 songs from his akhra (residing place) Seuria from which only a few songs were published in the monthly Probashi as 'Haramoni' in 1920. Soon after, search for similar songs were undertaken by various collectors including Md. Mansur Uddin. 'Haramoni' (1932) the preface of which was written by Tagore said that here, in these songs, Hindus and Muslims have been united under the same sky------ there is no barrier of caste or creed...'

    Tagore wrote that it is a fact that I infused the tune of Baul (Lalan) in many of my songs and dramas. Dusan Zbavitel, a Czeck Folklorist wrote that 'it is my firm belief that if Tagore had not stayed in the countryside (Selaidah), he would not have become, what he was as a man or a poet. Now the scholars are discovering the Baul-motifs in his songs, dramas and poems, which needs elaborate discussion (Folklore, II, Calcutta, vol. 14,1961).

    Lalan Shah, one of the greatest mystic poets of this sub-continent was born in the year 1774 in the village Harishpur, under the present District of Jhenaidah in Bangladesh. Ultimately through many ups and downs of life, varied experiences and devotional pursuits, he settled in Seuria, a village near the present district headquarters of Kushtia. There was a time when Muslim sufimendicants covered almost all the areas of the then Bengal and many of their memories have now been turned to sacred legend. As for example, Shah Sultan Rumi, Hajrat Shah Jalal, Shah Sultan Makka, Shah Sultan Mahishwar, Khan Jehen Ali, Shah Ismail Gazi, Shah Makdum, Hajrat Jalal Uddin Tabreji and many of their followers can be mentioned.

    The mysticism of Lalon songs largely remains unrevealed and unexplored till date. This is so because Lalon's songs, which are countless, were passed on orally through his disciples and were mostly unwritten. Only a limited number of songs that could be preserved were later transcribed by his followers.

    Fakir Lalon Shah (1774-1890), the most illustrious Baul poet of Bengal, was born in Chapra, Kushtia. It is said that when Tagore came to Shilaidaha of Kushtia to look after his zamindari, he invited Lalon to his place. The Baul songs of Lalon with its simplistic tune and in-depth philosophical lyric had a profound impact on Tagore. Later, Tagore used the style extensively in his Baul trends and even termed Lalon as Kabbya Lakkhi. Tagore took the initiative and published some of the songs in the monthly Prabasi of Kolkata.

    Baul is a mystical cult with a spiritual discipline relating to philosophical thoughts. The inner meaning of Lalon songs caters for peace and tranquility, and is akin to Sufism calling for the purity of soul. It highlights the intricate relation between the body and the soul. Baul songs glorify humanity. Although spiritual, the style and words testify the Bauls' inherently secular beat. Lalon's life, however, remains shrouded in mystery. Professor Mansuruddin, a scholar of folklore, writes that Lalon was Hindu by birth. Some say he was called Lalon Chandro Rai, while others say he was called Lalon Chandro Das. His mother was known as Padmabati Devi.

    Once, Lalon had been to Bahrampur in Murshidabad. On his way back, he was seriously ill with smallpox. His accomplices thought him to be dead and abandoned him in a critical condition. Destiny took Lalon to a nearby village where a Muslim family of a weaver community saved him and took care till he recovered fully. Here he met Shiraj Sai, the spiritual guide of the family. His preaching left a permanent mark on Lalon.

    After Lalon recovered from illness he went back to his village only to be humiliated by his own community for taking shelter amongst Muslim family. This was the turning point in Lalon's life. He felt terribly shocked and let down and took refuge in a nearby jungle in Souria. From then on he devoted himself to meditation and sought for divine mercy and salvation. Later, Lalon set up an akhda at Chheuriya, where he lived with his wife and a few disciples.

    Lalon was a humanist who completely rejected all distinctions of caste and creed. Lalon wrote songs on Guru or the spiritual guide, the central idea depicting that emancipation of the soul is not possible without guidance. The song Shob loke koi Lalon ki jaat shongsharey indicates his strong belief in humanity. His songs were a unique example of ascetics, mysticism and divinity.After he passed away on the 17th of October 1890, at Chheuriya, at the age of 116, he was laid to rest at the place of his meditation.

    The old Bengal lyric tradition of which the oldest extent was found in the Charya-poems of the Siddas. Natha mendicants attended in the post-Muslim times to the Baul songs on one hand and the Vaishnava-padas songs of Vaishnavas on the other. With a dash of Islamic spirit these became, Muslim Baul songs which are heard from Muslim Bauls over Bengal"Ö

    Lalan Shah was a Baul as well as a mystic mendicant whose allegiance could be discovered in the sophistic ideals. The subject and motifs of his devotional songs are varied, he gathered these reference from his precepts as well as of his own experiences, while traversing the long-stretched devotional path-a-path paved by both the Islamic theology and the continental traditions mentioned earlier. Lalon, a powerful and gifted instrument, it may be safely said, echoed the voice of the eternity, eternal pangs of human soul with the fullest devotion, sincerity and ecstasy. There was not a single Baul throughout the country who was not influenced by Lalon or his songs. He composed thousands of mystic songs- which were not only sung and recited but were also responsible for uplifting the eternal human pangs, which bleed with the sorrow and pathos of human destiny.

    You are Allah, the preserver, and the protector.

    You can make the floating sink and the sinking you can bring ashore
    You touch me with your hand and I call out your name.
    You made the Prophet Noah cool the fury of the flood;
    And then in compassion you made the flood to recede.
    Have pity on me, the mighty Lord, of the Universe."
    Where is the key of the devotional knowledge? Lalon replied:
    The key to my door is held by others
    I cannot open the door and see the treasure.
    Gold lies piled up in my room, But the transaction is made by another;
    I am gravel-blind and cannot see him.
    If one day I can reach the watch-man,
    He will give me charge of the door.
    I cannot say I know him not,
    And I follow the path of depravity.
    Oh, mind, this key-holder,
    is the jewel of a man
    Says Lalon, I got the treasure
    but was unaware of its value.

    Where lies this mystery of human soul?
    Where from I came and where shall I go? Lalon's answer:
    How does the strange bird
    flit in and out of the cage,
    If I could catch the bird
    I would put it under the fetters of my heart.
    The cage has eight cells and nine doors.
    With laten
    opening here and there,
    Above is the main Hall with a mirror chamber
    O my mind, you are enamoured of the cage;
    little knowing that the cage is made of raw bamboo,
    and may any day fall apart
    Say Lalon, forcing the cage open
    the bird flitted away, no one knows where.

    Lalon died in 1890, and his mortal remains rest in Seuria, now the holy pilgrimage of Bauls and the lovers of Bauls songs. Amazing is this that he was born on 1st Kartik and died on the same date.
    (Dr. Ashraf Siddique, The Independent, October 30, 2003)

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    Lalon Shah, the Bauls and their Practices

    In Bangladesh there is a category of Sufi mystics, male and female who travel from place to place carrying with them folk musical instruments and a begging bag made of torn off cloths called 'anchla'. These people are better known as Bauls. In Persia, the place of their origin, the Bauls were obscure as a sect because of their erotic and esoteric approach to life. They are neither Hindu nor Muslims. They are known for iconoclasm, disregard of caste and social formalities. They worship Man as the center of all creation and preach humanism. They love music, which speaks of human body as the microcosm and soul as an elusive bird or the unattainable Man of the Heart. In many places of Bangladesh, they have religious resort or 'Akhra'.

    Here they halt overnight or stay for a short- while sharing bed and food and singing devotional mystic songs. They also take 'ganja' (cannabis indica). The Bauls are not born in a family but are inducted to the cult by the 'Guru' or 'Shain'. At a certain stage, The 'Guru' or 'Shain' is similar to 'Pir' of the Sufi sects and they have also such names as 'Murshid' or 'Darvish'. The category of 'Guru' or ' Pir' includes both entombed historical figures and living practitioners.

    In Bangladesh, the Sufi tradition bears the name of 'pir' who are known as spiritual leaders. These people have a number of followers known as 'murid' or disciples. In Baul-Sufi category as it is found in Bangladesh and Indian part of West Bengal, however, the disciples are known as 'shishya'.

    The word 'Pir' is being used in all categories of the Muslim mystics to denote spiritual leader but the 'Guru' is only used by the Hindu - Buddhist mystics and also by the Sufi Bauls in the Subcontinent. The Hindi 'Baura' represents the same denomination as of the Bauls. The Baura spiritual leader is also called the Guru. The Bauls, however, use some other Sufi terminology as 'Murshid', 'Darvish' and 'Shain'. In Sufi mysticism as well as in Baul cult 'Shah' is commonly used to identify their class. The word 'Gosain' refers to the Vaisnava religious sect. Although, the Bauls claim that they differ greatly from the Vaisnava, they, however, have many things in common with each other.

    In Bangladesh, the Pir and the Guru phenomenon have also given birth to a series of sub-cultures. The Pir, however, enjoys a special and wide-cultural milieu between the Ulema; the most learned in religious teachings and the Shaikh who has attained the mystic height in the Sufi religious tradition. The word 'Awliyah' suggesting a friendly and mystic attachment with Allah is often used to denote a 'Shaikh'.

    The 'Pirs' as holy men in the mystic hierarchy, used to enjoy a sort of authority similar to those of the Brahmins who hold the highest position in the Hindu religious order. During the Sultans and more particularly in the Mughal period, the Pirs and the mystics in the name of 'faquir' exerted tremendous influence in the political arena also.

    The Bauls of Bangladesh today enjoy a sort of power structure as they shape themselves into a religious community with Lalon Shah as their spiritual leader. Every year, they arrange two religious festivals like 'urus' of the Sufis but the Bauls call these festivals as 'sadhu-sangho' or 'motsob' or 'mossob' corrupt of mohotsab, one during the ' dol-purnima' in line with the Vaisnava and the other on the occasion of the death anniversary of Lalon Shah in the month of October. The word 'mohotshab' may refer to grand or gala festival of the Bauls. Actually the festival stands as the congregation of the saintly persons, known as 'Sadhu-Sangho'. Thousands of the Bauls, male and female, attend the religious festivals and stay in the Mazar for three consecutive days singing and feasting.

    They are now an organized group centering on the Mazar of Lalon Shah. In Kushtia, the Bauls who live in Seuria village where Lalon Shah once lived and then died there have been playing a key role in the administration of the Mazar and the Baul community.

    The Government has set up a cultural complex spending around Tk4 crore for the preservation of the songs if Lalon Shah and their study. A section of the Bauls apparently followers of Mantu Shah opposed the construction of the cultural complex within the Mazar premises because they considered it as an intervention in their religious freedom

    The Baul Guru also enjoys the role of a religious leader like the Pir of Sufi sects. He has innumerable followers or Shisya who consider him very powerful in changing their fate because of their belief that he has mystic contact with the spirits and underworld. In all their activities concerning life and property the impact of the Baul Guru is thus tremendous. I know a number of Baul Gurus who have amassed huge property in the form of 'Najrana' (special kind of respect payable through gift both cash or kind or both.).

    This study is an attempt to explore the religious cult, in the context of our cultural heritage. In Bangladesh there are various Sufi sects with their respective Pir heads. They are considered not only holy but are also believed to have power to play a decisive factor in the life present and the life hereafter of the devotee. These Pirs have both rich and poor, high and low as their followers. The Bauls on the other hand consist mostly of poor, low caste, forsaken, divorced or widowed women. But now-a-days, the middle class and the youth are also found joining the cult. In fact, the Bauls have gained tremendous popularity over other religious cults or sects

    This paper is also intended to identify the strength of the cult, which has made it a popular folk religious community in Bangladesh. It appears that the Bauls largely belong to the Muslim community but they do not observe the Muslim Shariah and, on the other hand, they are more close to Sufi beliefs and practices. There is no doubt that the cause of their attraction to the Baul cult is their music. The Guru, however, enjoys an elevated position among his disciples and maintains an economically otherwise solvent life.

    Diksha or initiation ceremony

    A Baul is not born, he is made. If anyone is willing to accept the Baul faith, he or she is inducted into the Baul cult after being properly initiated by the Baul Guru. In fact, initiation or diksha is considered sine qua non to the Baul faith. When a Baul is initiated, a ceremony is arranged for him or her or for the couple who are initiated jointly, by other Bauls. Woman or female plays the most vital part in Baul cult. Without woman partners the cult loses its significance. Woman is also considered a ' chetan guru' or one who is awaken or conscious of all activities in the cult. Lalon says:

    "kothai acche re din daradi shain lalon bole, chetan guru sango loye khabir karo bhai"
    Where is my lord of life
    Identify Him with the help of your guide who is always awaken and takes care of you.

    The Initiation or Diksha ceremony is called by the Bauls and followers of Lalon Shah as 'bhek' ceremony. It refers to one's induction to the ascetic life. The Initiation changes the whole life pattern of the persons. They are separated from the life they were leading with their children and others. They can not maintain social intercourse. The persons who intend to be initiated are taken to a secluded place or hut .It is called the ' secret chamber'. The Guru or their spiritual guide then comes to them and gives them necessary instruction not witnessed by others. Only three persons, the guru, the man and woman are there.

    Here the persons to be initiated undergo certain process or rituals with the guru that is never disclosed to others. On the following day, the couple is taken to a purifying bath either to a river or in a pond. A 'khilka' is a new white cloth which stands as the symbol of 'kafaon' as used by the Muslims for a burial cloth and is given to the couple who undergo initiation process with this end in view that the persons who are being initiated are also taken as dead to the life which they led previously.

    They are now considered dead while still living . In Baul terminology, it is taken as 'jyante-mora'. 'Jyante'is one who is alive or living.And 'Mora' is taken as dead. The initiating couple then taken to the shade of a big 'chadoa' or cover which is held by four persons, of them, two are women taking the four corners of the 'chadoa' or shed while the others who are already initiated help the initiating couple dress in a 'khilka'.The male initiate is then covered with a 'pagree' or turban. Underneath his outer garments the initiate is then made to wear a very tight-fitting underwear or a catche-sexe known as 'dor-kowpin' or 'kapni'.It is a tiny loin cloth worn by the ascetics of India and Bangladesh.

    This consists of a cord which is tied round the waist and over which a yard-long piece of white cloth about six to eight inches wide is draped in front of the genitals and pulled between the legs and over the cord in the back. The remainder of the cloth is then secured by twisting it round the part passing the buttocks. The initiate is then given a shoulder - strap cloth bag known as 'anchla-jhola' to carry small items. The initiate receives a kind of necklace or 'tasbi'(a rosary of beads) from the Guru. He is also given a water pot and a stick .his female partner known as his ' sheba-dashi'or one who is always ready to serve the male partner is then dressed in a similar fashion. She however receives the assistance of female Bauls who dress her in a white sari without border together with 'khilka'

    The male counter part uses white 'lungi'. Lungi is a long loin-cloth usually worn by the Muslims. The dress of he initiates is called 'bhek', the garb of ascetics. The Guru then takes the pair to the secret chamber and confers 'vij-mantra' or 'kalma', a mystic word or words which the initiates recite as it is instructed by the guru

    The Guru then offers 'prem-bhaja'consisting of a flour mixed with four fluids of the human body (urine, male semen, and menstrual blood of women or phlegm and feces ).This prem-bhaja is sometimes made into the shape of small marbles while at other times it is formed into small round cakes. Sometimes female juice called ' rasa' as it oozes out is also mixed with human milk in the making of 'prem-bhaja'.

    The Guru also shows them different method of sexo-yoga sadhana leading to birth control because after they are initiated they would not be allowed to have children .The initiates then take the names of Allah, Hari , Muhammad, Krishna, Karim and Kala

    As the two are initiated, they are brought out from the secret chamber blind folded with both hands tied with a white strap. Then a mock funeral procession is held.
    They are led by the Guru to the Mazar of either his dead Guru or to the Mazar of another senior Guru. Generally the 'Diksha' or Initiation ceremony takes place during 'urus' of Lalon Shah at his Seuria Mazar located at the Lalon Academy premises. They now move around the mazar seven times singing mourning or funeral songs, a kind of dirge which recount how the initiate and his female partner have forsaken or renounced once for all their previous life. They also sing in the name of one Bharati Goshain, who in her life renounced rich and aristocratic life and took begging for her livelihood. Then, go from door to door begging, as they do not care for anything worldly. They cannot conduct normal social life or participate in any social activities. They have no claims or responsibility towards the members of their family, which they have forsaken.


    Among the Bauls, Lalon Shah or Shain is held in high esteem. He is the oldest Baul spiriutual leader who died 113 years back at the age of 116 in the village Seuria where his Mazar is now located. The 'Sadhusheba' was introduced by him when, he organized the annual Baul festival on the occasion of Dol-Purnima.

    Lalon Shah used to call his festival as 'massava' or 'mahotsava'. On the occasion, people belonging to low caste group and Muslims used to visit him and, they were also entertained by him. For three days, the festival continued. The food he served and the rituals connected with it was called 'Sadhu-Sheba' or service to saints (sadhu).

    In the Baul cult meat of all kind is strictly forbidden. Fish, vegetable, yogurt are served. The meals are served three times a day. In the morning a sparse breakfast is servevd. It is called 'Balya -Sheba'. Lunch and supper are called 'Purna-Sheba'. These two are full meals. When taking meals together the Bauls will pronounce: 'Alek Shain or Allah alek shain' jointly in one voice. Prof. Anwarul Kqarim, The Independent, October 2003)

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    Praise the creator through songs and a novel path

    Mysticism is a type of human experience, which cannot be explained in terms of materiel estimation. Lalon Shah was a mystic person- a Baul poet. So much has been Lalonís influence on Baul philosophy and Bauliana in Bangladesh that every year hundreds of devotees and admires come to Lalonís Mazar from all over Bangladesh, The centre of the ĎBaul Shamratí is 240 kilometers away from Dhaka. Lalon belonged to the Baul community- a group of supplicant singers noted for the catholicity of their religious views. Baul means a class of unorthodox religious devotees singing devotional songs in a special mood. Lalon Shah composed numerous songs and his songs mainly focused on hymns body mystery, self-knowledge and the search for ultimate knowledge. Most of the people say Lalon Shah was (Bauls Shamrat) a royal personage of the Bauls.

    Baul-culture is not very easy to realize, as it has rather elaborate levels of philosophy and understanding. Though a few basic qualities are common among the Bauls: they leave regular life and embrace the life of a wanderer and live in comparatively harsh situations among detachments. They lead a life searching for truth in the mystic domain of Baul philosophy.

    They periodically give feasts, in which a large number of the devotees are invited. The host and hostess receive every guest with due reverence. Their feet are washed as they arrive, and they are then conducted to their seats.

    Fish, vegetables, and sweets are consumed; ganja and bhang freely smoked; mystic songs sung; and musical instruments, such as Saringi, dugdugi, and Khunjuri are struck and played upon.

    In this Mahatsab- or Sadhu-Seba, as it is called- the devotees, in their mystic language, discussed how much each has acquired in the domain of spiritualism or sanctity

    The first and preliminary injunction they give to the would be disciple is to give up ordinary dress for Gerua- basan, (Gerua- a piece of cloth dyed scarlet) Kapni, (a small piece of cloth used instead of breeches by devotees and labouring people) or Khika (a sleeveless long coat used by the devotees and in imitation of the loose garment of the dead.) to wear iron bala (bracelet) on the wrist, not to shave and let the hair grow, take a long smoking-pipe, a cimta or pair of pincers for taking fire, to drink water out of Kisti, to give up prayer (namaz and fasting), to use narcotic drugs, bhang and ganja, and to recite or repeat their mystic formula many times as an act of worship.

    Lalon Shah had a liberal attitude to all religions. Even paganism was acceptable to his receptive mind. However, there is controversy about the precise religious faith of Lalon Shah. Some claim that he was a Hindu and others maintain that he was Muslim. But the question of the religious persuasion of Lalon Shah is not so important as to the quality of the songs written by him.

    Lalon Shahís background as a common man and his concern for the spiritual betterment of humanity are both clearly revealed in the songs. Lalon Shah believed that one must strive to find out the meaning of existence and the mystery of creation and never swerve from the path of truth. This thought of course, is not stunningly original, but the processes through which Lalon Shah arrives at his path continues to attract people who renounce common social settings and come out in search of truth
    (Monirul Alam, The Independent, October 2003)

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    Lalan Fakir and the search for the Achin Pakhi

    Mysticism has always been an integral part of the thoughtful Bengali psyche. However modern we claim to be, every Bengali worth his or her salt feels the pull of the roots and the quest for something beyond the material world is always present. Religion plays an important part in our lives but organised religion sometimes fail to provide the right answers for the innermost questions. It is perhaps the major reason why the more orthodox form of Islam found it extremely difficult to find a foothold in this region. It is the mystic Sufis like Shah Jalal, Khan Jahan Ali, Shah Makhdum, Mahi Sawar, et al who were more influential in the spread of Islam.

    Now, Lalan Fakir is not a traveller in their paths. He is more like the other great sage of the sub-continent, Kabir. Like the dohas of Kabir, Lalanís song speaks about the special bond that exists between the creator and creations. Both hit out against the self-serving clergy and their message transcends religion. Today, his followers belong to all religion. But more than that, Lalan songs are greatly appreciated by the educated urbanites.

    . Many who do not believe in the Baul philosophy are also moved by Lalonís melody. The well-known intellectual Serajul Islam Chowdhury is one such person. "I am a materialist. I believe in this world and the other one interests me but little. However, I love the music of Lalon for its sheer lyrical quality. The keen interest that modern Bengali literati have for Lalon is nothing new. Rabindranath Tagoreís profound interest in the mystic poet is quite well known. But, more of that later. To understand Lalon, we have to know about his beginnings.

    Lalan Fakir was born around 1774 in Harishpur, Jhenaidaha - a district of Bangladesh. Many today question whether he was a Hindu or a Muslim. It was a question that would have mattered very little to the man in question. Yet the fact is, he was born in a lower cast Hindu family. According to all indications he apparently led an unremarkable life until during a pilgrimage he caught the dreaded small pox. His condition rapidly deteriorated and even his friends left him thinking that he was dead. Then happened one of the almost miraculous incidents that seems to be common of many great personalities.

    A Muslim woman brought him to her home and she and her husband nursed him back to life. They introduced him to the mystic Muslim saint Siraj Shai. This religious personality had a deep impact on Lalanís mind and in several of his songs we find him mentioning Siraj Shai. As he was in better health he went back home. But a rude shock awaited him there. His family refused to accept him as back because of his staying in a Muslim home and eating with Muslims.

    There is no evidence to suggest that Lalan converted to Islam. In any case the Muslim clergy never accepted Lalan as a Muslim. These incidents developed in Lalanís heart a marked disdain for orthodox religions. An important part of his message has been directed against the hypocrisy surrounded with religion. He expressed his belief in the universal message of God and against petty rituals and rigidity. He expressed his beliefs through his superb songs and through his music he pretty soon built up a large following.

    He had become a mendicant by travelling on foot and singing of love, humanity, and God. Later on he settled down in Chhenuria, Kushtia. Now, interestingly the family of Rabindranath Tagore were the zamindars (land lord) of that area. Rabidranath was looking after the family estate and regularly visited the area. He was introduced to Lalan and developed a deep affinity toward the man. Many of Tagoreís songs have the stamp of Lalanís philosophy. Lalan died in 1890 at Kushtia. More than a century has passed after his death. Yet Lalan and his message are still relevant.

    US Embassy and Pally Baul Samaj

    baulsThe Cultural Centre of the American Embassy has initiated a project in collaboration with Pally Baul Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (PBS) in order to promote and preserve our folk tradition. Folk and Baul songs reflect our traditional values, heritage and spiritual dimension, invite people irrespective of castes and religion and colour. These are the songs that provide the concept and vision of an indiscriminate society and a non-violent approach towards mankind. The Sufi-mystics--both male and female--travel from place to place in gerua attire, carrying musical instruments like ektara, dotara, khanjani and dhol and a bag called anchala: they are the traditional bauls and boyatis (musicians). They are the ancient community with melodious voice and gifted mind. But the existence of these artistes is now at stake because of poor institutional support unemployment and financial security.

    'The younger generation of the country are drifting away from our own cultural tradition and have very little idea about our folklore heritage and the travails of the artistes related to this field', said Ferdousi Najma, the president of Pally Baul Samaj Unnayan Sangstha. 'For reviving the folklore tradition we need massive campaign, support and patronage from the countrymen', she continued. The PBS has already started working on conservation of the folklore lyricists, musicians, singers and their works in pure form. The organisation is collecting information and manuscripts of folksongs and endeavouring to develop the value of the artistes by providing them financial assistance (Daily Star, October 31. 2004).

    Images of Lalon-'Khachaar Bhetor Ochin Pakhi, Kamne Ashe Jae'Ö

    'Khachaar Bhetor Ochin Pakhi, Kamne Ashe Jae'Ö Lalon and the power of his words and music hardly need any introduction, transcending the bounds of race, religion and the politics of identities. Lalon Mela, an annual celebration of Lalon Fakir's philosophies and music is organised by the Lalon Academy for three days around the time of his death anniversary in the Bengali month of Kartik (around November). The event is held in Cheuria, Kushtia, Lalon's birthplace where fans, followers of his philosophy, lovers of his music from all over the country and also from India meet, play music and have discussions and exchange ideas among themselves.

    Last Modified: November 3, 2008

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