The transcendental: Baul Songs

We all have at some point of our life listened and loved that one song or part of a song in a language that we don’t understand. It’s true what people say about music that it knows no boundaries. Such an association I had with the Baul songs of the Bengal folkculure where I do not understand Bangla and hence, do not understand the meaning. Yet ironically, at the inception of  my relationship with the Baul music lie the lyrics of many Baul songs. Unfortunately, it was through the translation, the English one and not the original one. Behold  for instance these lines:

He who is able

To be born

At the door of death,

Is devoted eternally…

Die before dying,

Die living.

                                            – Gosain gopal

      Beautiful lines? Thoughtful? Yet the essence is lost in the translation. And lyrics sans music is then only a body minus soul. (Just try to read your favourite song in its translation in another language).  Like any other great piece of music, in a Baul song the content, the intent, the singer, the way the song is sung together form the spirit of the song. The Bauls sing about love, god, spirit and beauty.

So exactly who are the Bauls? Bauls are called “mystic minstrels” of Bengal. They can be termed as nomads who are detached from the land and move from place to place singing in search for the god. Bauls have many sects constituting both Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. You could mostly see a Baul with an iktara or dotara and dubki.

Bauls have a strange relationship with the god up there and the earth down here. At one  place, they talk about a direct relationship with the god. On the other hand they also have a relation to the soil, however detached. It seems that with a close and intricate connection with the ‘element’ these Bauls wish to go beyond the ordinary, the mundane. The songs are deeply philosophical and introspective. They capture in their philosophy the world with its depth and at the same time look for transcendence. They talk simultaneously of the transient and the eternal.

On the other shore

Of the ocean

Of one’s own self,

Quivers a drop of fluid-

As the origin of all.

But who can cross the seas

To reach it?

The root of all

Is based in you.

Explore the base to reach the essence…

-Haude Gosain

Another  one is-

A man unknown to me

and I

we live together

but in a void–

a million miles

between us.

n: center;”>My eyes blindfolded

by worldly dreams

cannot recognize him,

or understand.

                – Lalan Fakir

      The following lines on beauty illustrate Bauls’ engagement with both the carnal and the spiritual aspect of love. The song draws  a line between the physical aspect of beauty and  the spiritual part of the beauty.

Plunging  deep into the sea

of beauty,

some can swim

and others sink.

The jewel encrusted

On the hood of a snake

Enriches the man

 who can tame the beast.

Those unaware of the flavours of feelings

 are bitten to death.

The jewel resting

At the bottom of the sea

Is gathered by the diver

To heighten his chance.

Those unable to dive to the depth

Choke and die.

Lust mingles with love

Like water with milk.

And a connoisseur as pure as the swan

Is able to distill it.

       This last song has reverberations in some of the popular songs of the Hindi cinema. The beginning lines resonate with “ wahan kaun hai tera, Musafir”. Yet the treatment of the song must be quite different.

Who is there for you

To call your own,

My heart?

For whom do you shed

Your futile tears?

Brothers and friends-

Let them be;

The world is there.

Your own dear life

Is hardly your own….

You have come alone,

You will go alone….

                                                Lalan Fakir

   The songs and the tradition of Bauls has a lot more to it. This was only a sketchy piece on it. Why don’t you yourself give it a shot.



All the songs have been selected from The Mirror of the Sky by Deben Bhattacharya

Deepika Mehra

Looking for the meaning of my life, I have reached writing.

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