Baul- The Folk Music of Bengal


Baul is one of the few widely known and appreciated types of folk music in Bengal. Baul is not only a kind of music, it is basically a Bengali religious sect. The members of the sect are themselves called Bauls, and the songs they sing are named for them, Baul-gAn (Baul songs). It has been suggested that, etymologically, the word derives from Sanskrit word "Vatula" means "affected by the wind disease, mad". On the other hand, it might be derived from Sanskrit word "Vyakula" means "restless, disordered".

The Baul costume consists of a half-dhoti and an alkhalla ( saffron robes). Another noticeable identifying signs of Baul is their hair style. They don't cut their hair, so a manner has been devised for coiling it neatly atop the head in a bun. They also wear a kind of necklace made of beads formed from the stems of the basil plant (tulsi).

Among the three B'sof Bengali folk music - Baul, Bhaoyaiya and Bhatiyali- Baul is distinguished from the others textually as religious music. The texts of bhatiyali and bhaiyaiya, though they may concern of Radha and Krishna, are mainly about the problems of love in separation or unrequited love. In Baul-gan, however, though songs of similar nature occur, they are thought of as allegories on the state of separation existing between the souls of men and the spiritual ground.

The instruments, extensively used by the Bauls are Gopiyantro, khamak, dotara, ghungur, nupur and duggi. Gopiyantro, often called "ektara" means one string and that is the most popular instrument for a Baul singer. The ghungur or nupur are always used in conjunction with gopiyantro or khamak. The baul singers also use "dotara" ( two strings) as their paraphernalia. Kartal/mandira and premjuri are used as the adjunct idiophones by the singers.

Some exponents of Baul music

Lalon Phakir(1774-1890) is the most famous Baul of all ages. The attitude of the Bauls regarding caste has been nicely put by him, "What form does caste have ? I have never seen it, brother, with these eyes of mine!"

Purno Chandra Das is the most widely known Baul today. Like Purno, his father, the late Naboni Das Khepa, was the best-known Baul of his generation. From his early childhood, Purno travelled widely with his father, learning his songs and performing with him. At age seven he won a gold medal for his singing at a music conference at Jaipur, the pink city of India. Although Purno Das has become widely popular as an entertainer, he is criticized both by his peers and by some of the urban elites for his lifestyle and for having transplanted Baul-gan to new performance context.

Another exponent of this area is Yotin Das Baul. He is originally from the Dinajpur area of North Bengal but he spends much of his time on the road, performing at various village festivals. His manner of performance is more sedate and mellifluous. That's why he is not that famous as he deserves on the basis of his repertoire and musical competence.

Sonatan Das Thakur Baul, another Baul artist was born at Khulna, Bangladesh. Sanatan is particularly appreciated for his attractive dancing which, like his singing, has more conscious artistry about it than that of most Bauls. He is one of the few Bauls who is occasionally asked to perform on All India Radio Calcutta.

Some Baul songs.

Related topic: Folklore of Bengal

Reference: The music of the Bauls of Bengal by Charles Capwell.

achatt1@gl.umbc.edu