Dr. Farooq's Study Resource Page

Baul Songs

Carol Salomon

Courtesy: Donald S. Lopez (ed).
(Princeton University Press, 1995), pp. 187-208

The Bauls of Bengal belong to a heterodox devotional (bhakti) tradition which was influenced by all three major religions of the Indian subcontinent-Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam-and yet is distinctly different from each of them. They come primarily from economically and socially marginal groups, and live on the fringes of both Hindu and Muslim society, with the majority of Hindu Bauls residing in the state of West Bengal in northeastern India, and most Muslim Bauls (generally called by the generic term "fakir") in Bangladesh.

Bauls travel from place to place, singing their mystic folk songs to the accompaniment of an ektara, a one-stringed drone instrument held in one hand, and a dugi, a small drum hung on the shoulder and played with the other hand. It is mainly through these songs that they give literary expression to their beliefs and practices; only rarely do they compose any treatises. Baul songs are short compositions consisting of a refrain and three or four verses ending in a signature line (bhanita) in which the name of the poet, and often that of his guru, are given.

They are composed in colloquial Bengali, using imagery from daily life-activities such as fishing, farming, sailing, trade and even robbery, foreclosure, and litigation-as spiritual metaphors.

The Bauls and their songs are an important component of Bengali cultural identity. Yet middle-class urban Bengalis have ambivalent feelings toward the tradition. On the one hand, they often idealize the Bauls, regarding them as almost saintly figures who are free of social conventions, inhibitions, and prejudices. They also highly value their songs for their musical and literary qualities, and consider them one of the main types of Bengali folk songs. But on the other hand, they often condemn or deny their tantric sexual rituals.

The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose thought and writing were substantially influenced by the Bauls, is credited with bringing Baul songs to the attention of middle-class Bengali society. In 1915-1916 he published twenty songs of the great Baul poet Lalan Fakir in the literary journal Prabasi. He also had in his private collection two notebooks containing a total of 298 songs by


Lalan that are among the oldest and most authoritative sources of Lalan's songs, It was largely Tagore and his associate Ksitimohan Sen who elevated the Bauls to the status of a cultural symbol. This idealization took place at the expense of the Bauls' esoteric aspect, and had a deleterious effect on scholarship, leading scholars to eschew field work and focus exclusively on their humanistic beliefs. As a result, Baul sadhana (religious practice) was given short shrift. Scholars mistakenly characterized the Bauls as practicing different sadhanas, united only by a common spirit of extreme unconventionalism. In 1968, Upendranath Bhattacarya published his ground-breaking study The Bauls of Bengal and Baul Songs (Banglar Baul o Baul Gan), based on many years of field work. In this book he proved that Bauls, whether Hindu or Muslim, practice more or less the same sexual rites, and that these rites are central to Baul religion and to an understanding of their songs. Though subsequent field work done by scholars has corroborated his findings, the old romantic image of the Bauls continues to hold sway today.

Although there are many outstanding Baul poets, Lalan Fakir, also known as Lalan Shah, is considered to be the greatest of them all. He lived in the village of Cheuriya, in present-day Kushtia District, Bangladesh (formerly part of Nadiya District, India) where he died in 1890, purportedly at the age of 116. No Baul poet has had such widespread popularity in both West Bengal and Bangladesh and as great an impact on Bengali literature as Lalan.

Not much is known for certain about Lalan's early life, but both Hindus and Muslims lay claim to him. It is clear from several of his songs in which Lalan complains at the outset that people always ask him about his religious affiliation that even his contemporaries were puzzled about it. For example, one such song, "Sab loke kay lalan ki jat samsare," opens with the following verse:

Everyone asks: "Lalan, what's your religion in this world?" 
Lalan answers: "How does religion look?" 
I've never laid eyes on it.
Some wear malas [Hindu rosaries] around their necks, 
some tasbis [Muslim rosaries], and so people say 
they've got different religions.
But do you bear the sign of your religion 
when you come or when you go?

Lalan maintained silence concerning his birth religion for two reasons: first, as is the Baul custom, he had renounced the world and severed family ties when he became a Baul; second, he was strictly nonsectarian, believing that there is only one true religion-the "religion of man," in Tagore's words. According to the earliest biographical accounts of Lalan, the first of which was published in an obituary in the journal Hitakari on October 31,1890, just two weeks after his death, he was born to Hindu parents, contracted smallpox while on a pilgrimage, and was left for dead. He was found by a Muslim, some say by his guru Siraj Sai, who nursed him back to health. The story of Lalan's Hindu birth cannot be uncritically accepted, since the anonymous author of the obituary, which is the oldest and most reliable account of Lalan's life, states that he was unable to verify


it. There can be no doubt, however, that more recent legends ascribing to Lalan a Muslim birth are apocryphal, as they have an obvious ulterior motive; they did not surface until the 1960's when Bengali Muslims, searching for an identity rooted in the culture of Bengal rather than deriving from Islam as practiced in the Middle East, began to raise Lalan to the status of a cultural hero.

The Roots of the Baul Tradition

Scholars have placed the origin of the Baul sect anywhere from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century. Baul songs provide no clues as to how far back the tradition goes. They are primarily transmitted orally from guru to disciple and from singer to singer, although they may also occasionally be written down in notebooks. As they are passed down, the language tends to be modernized, thus giving no indication of the date of composition. To my knowledge, the oldest songs that can be dated are those of Lalan Fakir. Notebooks of his songs are also the earliest manuscript evidence of Baul songs that have been discovered. Nor is it possible to date the tradition by tracing the occurrences of the word haul in medieval Bengali literature. The word, derived either from Sanskrit vyakula, "confused," or vatula, "mad," is found in Bengali texts dating back to the fifteenth century, where it generally has its literal meaning "mad" (d. Hindi baur).

The Bauls have presumably been so named because, to the average Bengali, they do indeed seem mad in their extreme unconventionality. They reject commonly accepted beliefs and practices such as the caste system and worship in mosques or temples. Their lifestyle is also unusual. In theory, at least, Bauls are supposed to subsist on alms from begging (madhukari), although in practice many earn their living by singing professionally or by engaging in other occupations. Moreover, their appearance often differs from that of the general population; Hindu Baul men in particular dress distinctively, with their long hair twisted into a topknot, long loose white or saffron-colored upper garments, and patchwork Coats made of rags. To the Bauls, however, "mad" does not have a pejorative connotation; rather it has the positive sense of "mad with love for God." In fact, pagol and k.)epa are two Bengali words for "mad" that Bauls often proudly affix to their names.

Not until 1870, with the publication of Bharat Barsiya Upasak Sampraday ("Indian Devotional Traditions) by Aksay Kumar Datta did the Bauls appear in the pages of history. Whatever the date of its origin, there can be no doubt that the heyday of the Baul tradition was in the last century and early part of the present one; it was during this period that the thousands of Baul songs that comprise the present-day corpus were composed.

The Bauls as a Tantric Tradition

The Bauls' tradition. is eclectic, drawing from tantric (Sahajiya) Buddhism and tantric Hinduism (primarily Vaisnava Sahajiya, but also Saiva-Sakta), Bengali.


(Gaudiya) Vaisnavism, and Sufi Islam. They are essentially a tantric yogic sect, and as such share common ground with other tantric yogic traditions. For example, like other tantrics, they believe that women embody the mystery of the universe and hold the key to liberation, since every woman is an incarnation of the sakti (female power), the manifestation of the Supreme's creative energy. Also like other tantrics, they hold that the body is a microcosm of the universe in which the Supreme resides, and that it is the only instrument for gaining liberation and conquering death. Moreover, as is true of many tantric traditions, the Bauls do not believe in going against man's nature by suppressing sexual instincts; rather, through sexual union involving yogic practices of breath control, they seek to regain the state of cosmic unity that existed before the creation of the universe. Furthermore, in the manner of all tantrics, they place great importance in the guru who gives the adept indispensable guidance and instruction that cannot be found in any written text. Finally, Baul songs are composed in an ambiguous style that resembles the sandha bhasa ("intentional language") of the Buddhist tantric Caryagiti or Caryapad (Carya songs; about tenth to twelfth centuries C.E.), the oldest extant texts in Bengali, as well as the enigmatic language of many other esoteric Indian traditions with a tantric background, such as the Sants, Naths, and Vaisnava Sahajiyas.

Sufism and tantrism, both being mystic traditions, have several essential features in common that facilitated their synthesis in Baul ideology. For example; both Sufis and tantrics are opposed to discursive learning and knowledge. The goal of both is to return to the original nondual state before creation. Sufis strive to experience the "Day of Alast," the day of the primordial covenant referred to in the Qur'an (7:172) when God, who was the only being in existence, asked mankind, who had not yet been created, "Am I not your Lord?" (alastu bi-rab- bikum). Sahajiyas endeavor to reach the state of sahaja; the word sahaja, from which the Sahajiya tantrics take their name, literally means "easy," "natural," "innate," and the sahaja state refers to the innate state of absolute unity that existed in the time before the creation of the cosmos. Both Sufis and tantrics believe that the body is a microcosm of the universe, that God is within the body, and that the creator and the created are one and the same. Both identify the divine with light, although light-theology generally plays a more central. role in Sufism than in tantrism. Both revere the spiritual guide, the guru or murshid on whom all spiritual. progress depends. Finally, the Sufi practice of dhikr (remembrance of God by repeating his name) involves breathing techniques that resemble those used by tantric and yogic traditions.

Where the Bauls depart from the majority of tantric traditions and most closely resemble the Sufis and the Vaisnavas, both orthodox and Sahajiya , is in the importance they attach to love in the realization of the divine. Like Sufis and orthodox Vaisnavas, the Bauls conceive of love as the yearning of the individual for the divine. Baul songs about love are often expressed in terms of viraha, love in separation. The Bauls are continually searching for the ever-elusive God within, the Man of the Heart (moner manus). Perhaps no Baul has used more evocative


imagery to describe this frustrating search than Lalan Fakir. "The Lord is near, but seems far away. Don't you see? He's hidden from you like a mountain by the hair in front of your eyes." ("Amar apon khabar apnar hay na" ["I'am Out of Touch with Myself"]). Like the tantrics, however, the Bauls believe that the means to experience divine love is through human love; through the union of the physical forms (rup) of man and woman, their divine nature (swarup) can be obtained.

Baul Religion

As is true of mystics in general, the Bauls believe that the truth cannot be found in books and that external rituals are empty, futile acts. They reject the authority of Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas and Puranas as obscuring the way to the divine: "Vedic clouds darken the sky. The jewel of day doesn't rise" (Lalan Fakir, poem 10). Similarly, they reject the authority of the Qur'an as interpreted by orthodox Muslims. The Bauls, like the Sufis, assert that the Prophet taught two types of doctrines, one exoteric (zahir), recorded in the Qur'an and meant for the general public, and the other esoteric (batin), only hinted at in the Qur'an and aimed at the select few who are able to grasp its meaning and who pass it down from heart to heart. Shari'at, Islamic law, is for followers of the exoteric path, while Ma'rifat, mystic knowledge, is for followers of the esoteric path. The Bauls regard Marifat as superior to Shari'at; whereas Shari'at requires blind faith and devotion, Marifat leads to a vision of the divine (see poem 4).

Since, as will be discussed in some detail below, everything is contained within the microcosmic body, all worship not centered on the body is useless. Pilgrimage, whether it is the Muslim's hajj to Mecca or the Hindu's pilgrimage to Varanasi, is merely a waste of time and effort: "Pilgrimage is just walking for nothing until you're ready to drop. You can take care of your business in Pero [Pandua, considered an efficacious pilgrimage place for exorcising ghosts] from your very own porch" (Lalan Fakir, "Calo dekhi man" ("Come On, My Mind"]). The merit gained from such ritualistic acts may secure for the worshiper a place in heaven, but it will be of no help in escaping from the cycle of birth and death. Worship in mosques and temples and at the tombs of saints is likewise of no value: "Temples and mosques block the path to you. . . . There are many locks on the door of love. The Puranas, the Qur'an, tasbi and mala - O guru, what torture, sobs Madan, dying of grief' ("Tomar path dhekyache mandire masjide"). Asceticism and celibacy are also ridiculed, since lust cannot be conquered just by withdrawing from the world: "Some men swear off women and retreat to the jungle. But do you think they don't have wet dreams?" (Lalan Fakir, poem 9).

The Bauls not only reject external rituals, but also, as mentioned previously, strongly condemn caste. In this, they resemble the Buddhist and Vaisnava Sahajiyas, the Gaudiya (Bengali) Vaisnavas, the Sants, and other bhakti (devotional) traditions. To the Bauls, caste is an artificial distinction created by man and hypocritically transgressed by him when it suits his purpose. "Does a man lose caste


if he eats thence a whore serves him, in secret?" asks Lalan ("jat gelo jat gelo" ["Outcaste! Outcaste!"]). The Bauls are likewise fiercely opposed to sectarianism. In words remarkably similar to those of the Sant poet Kabir (sabda 84), Lalan sings in his famous song "Sab loke kay lalan ki jat samsare" ["Everyone asks. . ."]: "Circumcising a man makes him a Muslim. But what's the rule for a woman? I recognize a brahman man by his sacred thread. But how can I recognize his woman?"

In religions that reject scriptural authority, the guide who teaches the adept the practices of the tradition is all important. The Bauls believe that God is within every human being, but he is more fully manifest in the guru or murshid who has attained liberation and is a perfected man (siddhapuru,:;, insan-i-kamil). The guru or the murshid is regarded as an intermediary (barzakh) between man and God. The Prophet Muhammad (see poem 15) and Caitanya (often referred to in songs by his sobriquet Gaur "fair-complexioned" [see poem 14]) represent the fullest manifestations of God on earth.

The Bauls call the divinity by a number of names, reflecting their eclecticism, such as Allah and Ahad ("the One"), Krsna, Man of the Heart, Uncatchable Moon, Unknown Man, Natural Man (sahaj manus), Uncatchable Man, Golden Man, Unknown Bird, or simply Lord (sai). But no matter what they call the divine, the underlying conception is the same. The Bauls, like all tantrics, hold that the: godhead is androgynous. At the same time, however, they identify it with semen and the male. In addition, the supreme is equated with light, breath, and the self. Although the tantric conception of the deity is at core of their belief, the Bauls' intense feeling of pain at being separated from the divine, so poignantly expressed in song after song (see, for example, poems 1-3 and 5), reflects the influence of Vaisnava and Sufi traditions.

The Gross and Subtle Bodies

The Bauls, like other tantric yogic practitioners, conceive of the body as having two forms. There is a material or gross body (sthu!a sarira) made up of the skeleton, muscles, organs, etc., and having nine or ten openings or "doors." (The ears, nostrils, eyes, mouth, anus, and sexual organ constitute the nine openings; in the Baul tradition, the tenth door may refer to the female sexual organ or to the two-petaled lotus located between the eyebrows.) But there is also an invisible subtle body (suksma sarfra). The Baul conception of the subtle body for the most part resembles that of the Hindu tantras and of other yogic texts, but also reflects the influence of Bengali Sufism and has some idiosyncracies of its own as well.

The Bauls adopted from the Hindu tantras the system of cakras (centers) arranged along the spinal column from the perineum to the top of the head. These cakras are visualized as lotuses of varying number of petals and are often referred to in Baul songs by the number of petals rather than by name. The seven principal cakras in ascending order are as follows: the muladhar cakra at the base of the spinal column,. with four petals;the svadhisthan cakra in the region of the genitals,


with six petals; the manipur cakra at the level of the navel, with ten petals; the anahata cakra at the level of the heart, with twelve petals; the visuddha cakra in the region of the throat, with sixteen petals; the ajna cakra between the eyebrows, with two petals; and the sahasrar cakra at the top of the head or above the head, with a thousand petals. Sometimes, however, the Baul conception of the cakras differs somewhat from the usual Hindu tantric view, reflecting Buddhist tantric and Vaisnava Sahajiya influences. For example, the hundred-petaled lotus seems to have been taken from the Vaisnava Sahajiya system. But as in Vaisnava Sahajiya texts, it is variously described; sometimes Baul poets seem to locate it in the heart and other times, in or near the sahasrar.

Muslim Bauls also describe the body in terms of mokams (Arabic maqamat), "stations" or "stages." In Indian Sufism there are generally four stations on the path to God: nasut (human nature), malakut (the nature of angels), jabarut (divine power), and lahut (divine nature). Sometimes a fifth, hahut (divine essence) is added. The Sufis of Bengal equate the first four mokams with the muladhar, manipur, ajna, and anahata cakras, respectively. In addition, the Bauls include another mokam, the la mokam, equivalent to the sahasrar or ajna cakra, giving a total of five or six stations, depending on whether hahut is included. La mokam, literally "no place," is so called because it represents transcendent space where all dualities are reintegrated into the Supreme.

The subtle body contains a network of numerous channels or naps that serve as conduits for breath. As in Hindu and Buddhist tantrism, three naps are of prime importance in sadhana. The Bauls refer to them by the Hindu tantric terms ira, pingala, and susumna: The ira is to the left of the spinal column, the pingala to the right, and the susumna is in the middle. These naps are identified twith the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati. The place where they come together in the muladhar cakra is named the Triveni (see poem 12) after the confluence at these rivers in Prayag (Allahabad), which is a famous Hindu pilgrimage place. The Triveni is an important locus in sadhana.

The Microcosmic Body

The Bauls give no credence to heaven or hell, or to liberation after death. For them it is only possible to escape from the cycle of death and rebirth and gain liberation while one is still alive and has a human body. They seek to reach a state called "dead while alive" (jyante mara), a state in which the adept is dead to the phenomenal world and all consciousness is drawn inward. By experiencing his own death, the Baul defeats Yama, the god of death, who has no power over those already dead. .

The Baul saying, "Whatever is in the universe isih the receptacle [that is, the body]," sums up the doctrine of dehatattva, "the truth in the body."The Bauls, like other tantrics, take this saying literally and locate cities, mountains, rivers, pilgrimage places-virtually everything on the map-in the human body. Lalan Fakir sings ("Kiba ruper jhalak dicche dvidale" ["What Beauty Flashes on the Two-


petaled Lotus"]): "He has no other worship.. The worship of the body is the essential thing.. Pilgrimage places and vows-in this body you'll find it all.." And in another song, using Islamic imagery, he sings ("Ache adi makka ei manab dehe"): "The original Mecca is in this human body.."

Most important of all, the Supreme resides in the human body and can only be reached through it.. As Jadubindu puts it in his song "Khujle tay mele apan deha mandire": "Search and you'll find him in the temple of your own body. The father of the world speaks in a sweet, melodious voice..'" The Bauls reject worship of a transcendent God because the existence of such a divinity is only a conjecture (anuman); it cannot be proven. In contrast, the Supreme who is imminent (bartaman) can be directly experienced, or as the Bauls say, "caught.."

Male and female principles (puruja and prakrti or sakti are contained within the microcosmic body of each person, mirroring the macrocosm.. The male principle, equated with semen, resides at the top of the head in the highest cakra, the sahasrar.. Here the Supreme exists in a state of perfect unity without any qualities or form; here he is the atal lsvar, "motionless Lord.." Since in the sahasrar everything is integrated into the motionless Lord, there is no duality between enjoyer and enjoyed, between God and the devotee, and the Baul is unable to feel the bliss of the Lord's presence. The Supreme takes on an effulgent form and sports in the two-petaled lotus, the ajna cakra in the middle of the forehead, where semen is believed to be stored.. (Both the sahasrar and the ajna cakra are associated with the storage of semen, but the Bauls place more emphasis on the latter.) It is here that he can be directly experienced by the devotee. A Baul who succeeds in sadhana (religious practice) sees multi-colored lights filling this cakra.

Other parts of the body such as the eye, are also associated with the manifestation of the Supreme. Lalan, using the symbol of the bird for the Supreme identified with the soul (see poems 4, 5, and 8) sings in "Dekh na ebar apanar ghar thaariye" ("This Time Search your Own House"): "The bird's nest is in the corner of your eye..." As the name Man of the Heart (maner manus) implies, the heart is another abode of God. "Diving into the Ocean of the Heart" (del dariya) to learn  the ultimate truth is a recurrent image in Lalan's songs (see poem 12). In addition, 'as noted previously;, the hundred-petaled lotus is mentioned by Baul poets as a (place where the Supreme dwells: "The Dark Lord sits on the throne of the void in the hundred-petaled lotus" (Lalan Fakir, "Par ga namaj ... " ["Pray to Allah ..."]). Finally, the active form of the Supreme, called the sahaj manus, "Natural" or "Innate Man," or adhar manus, "Uncatchable Man," becomes manifest in the lowest cakra, the muladhar, during a woman's menstrual period. It is at this time that the Bauls perform their sadhana to "catch" him.

The female principle, the sakti or prakrti, is located at the base of the trunk in the lowest cakra, the muladhar, and is conceived of as a coiled serpent called kundalini. The sakti is also identified with menstrual (uterine) blood which the Bauls believe to contain the female agent of procreation analogous to the male agent in semen, and which is thought to result in conception when combined with semen.. Its appearance in the muladhar is often described as a flower without


roots (see poem 4). Although man and woman each contains both male and!female principles, the woman is considered to be superior to the man, at least the the purpose of sadhana, since it is in her body that the sahaj manus (Natural Man) becomes fully manifest. The male practitioner's success in sadhana is dependent on her help. As the Baul Haure Gosai puts it in his song "Keno parbi jete premer pathe" ("How Will You Be Able to Go on the Path of Love?"); "In that land woman is king." But although women are esteemed for their ritual importance, the sadhana is largely male-oriented; it is described from the male point of view and done mainly for the benefit of the male practitioner.

The body in its unrefined "raw" state is not fit to withstand the rigors of sadhana. For sadhana to be successful it is necessary to bring under control the six enemies (lust, anger, greed, infatuation, vanity, and envy} and the ten sense organs (the five organs of perception and the five organs of action). Unbridled lust (kama) personified by the god Kama (also called Madan) is man's worst enemy. Lalan, using the stock metaphor of a house for the body, sings (poem 7): "The thief who drove me into exile-I see he's come along. Madan's drum is irresistible. Flames of lust burn the inner rooms of my house." And yet, true love is not possible unless lust is there first. The two are inextricably linked. In order to effect the transformation of lust, kama, into true love, prema, the male practitioner imagines himself as a woman. By "becoming a woman," it is felt, his union with a woman will no longer be motivated by desire for physical pleasure. As a result, he will be able to conquer his lust, thereby preventing the ejaculation of semen.


Baul sexual rituals closely resemble those of the Vaisnava Sahajiyas and the earlier Buddhist Sahajiyas. The Bauls practice sexual intercourse with seminal retention during a woman's menstrual period. The aim of these rituals is to reunite the dual principles that were separated when the world was created. The Bauls seek to reverse the cosmic process that leads to death and rebirth, proceeding "upstream" (ujan) , against the natural current, back to the sahaj state, the original state of nonduality that existed before creation. The return to origins, or to the "homeland" (svades), as the Bauls sometimes call it, is achieved within the' microcosmic body on several planes.

First, the adept makes his semen flow upward back to the sahasrar through the middle of the three naris, the susumna. Semen is equated with life itself. Its preservation results in a long life span and its loss, in early death. For this reason, it is of vital importance that sadhana not end in ejaculation. Once a Baul has taken initiation (bhek or khilafat), he is not supposed to father any children. Second, the Baul practitioner returns the sahaj manus to the sahasrar. This retrieval of the sahaj manus is the main focus of sadhana and the act on which its success hinges. The Bauls believe that on the third day of a woman's menstrual period the sahaj manus, who feels an irresistible attraction to the sakti in menstrual blood, descends from the woman's sahasrar to her Triveni (the place in the muladhar


where the three naris meet). Through coitus the sahaj manus is separated out of menstrual blood, attracted into the male practitioner's penis, and brought back to the sahasrar. The resulting feeling of bliss that the adept experiences is called "catching the Uncatchable," "catching the thief' (see poem 6) or "being dead while alive." This is also what is known as the sahaj state. Third, the adept awakens the kundalini sakti (serpent power) within his or her own body by means of yogic practices of breath control and sexual intercourse and likewise draws her up to the sahasrar through the susumna where she is reintegrated into the Supreme. In his song "Harike dharbi jadi age sakti sahay haro" ["If You Want to Catch Hari, First Get the Sakti's Help"], the Baul Gosai Candi sings: "In the mulaadhar is the mother of the world, and in the sahasrar is the father. If you unite the two, you won't die or be born again." And finally, the Bauls ritually ingest semen, menstrual blood, feces, and urine. According to Baul belief these bodily excretions are homologous with the elements and their consumption effects reabsorption of the elements into the Supreme, while at the same time replenishing the body with substances considered vital to one's existence.

Baul Songs

Baul songs are often composed in an ambiguous style characterized by technical terminology, code words that may have several meanings, obscure imagery, erotic symbolism, paradoxical statements, and enigmas. Although this style is typical of songs on esoteric subjects, it can be found to some extent in those on other themes, too. The language of the songs is intended to veil their ritual significance from the uninitiated who would find these esoteric practices objectionable, and at the same time to reveal to the initiated the ineffable truth which defies logic and cannot be communicated directly through ordinary discourse.

At the most basic level of the ambiguous style are code words or phrases that are the building blocks of the esoteric songs. Some metaphors are common to the language of tantric texts, such as "sky" for the sahasrar cakra and "moon" for semen and the Supreme. Others are  peculiar to the Bauls; for instance, "new moon night" to signify menstruation, or "full moon on the new moon night" to indicate the appearance of the sahaj manus in menstrual blood. Poets freely invent code words, so that many of them are idiosyncratic, such as Lalan's "city of mirrors" (poem 2) symbolizing the ajna cakra. Moreover, the same symbol may have several meanings depending on the context, further complicating the task of interpreting the songs. Thus "moon," in addition to semen and the Supreme, can also designate the female, as in "the moon's new moon night" (that is a woman's menstrual period). Numbers are often used as cipher? For example, the number Sixteen, whether it modifies "guards" (poem 6), "enemies" (poem 9), or "rich men," refers to the ten senses and the six enemies (see above). Sometimes more than one number can indicate the same concept; nine or ten modifying doors


(poem 5) stand for the nine or ten openings of the body. In one song Lalan even mentions "nine and a half doors" (poem 11). 

Sometimes an entire song is an extended metaphor. This is often the case with dehatattva songs. The body may be depicted as a house (poem 11) with two pillars (legs), nine rooms (the cakras; although the standard Hindu tantric system lists seven, they can vary in number depending on the tradition), a basement (muladhar), and an attic (sahasrar) in which a madman who is the Lord sits; or a bird cage (poem 5) with nine doors, housing an unknown bird (the soul); or a broken-down boat (poem 10) constantly leaking water (semen); or a tree of beauty (poem 13) that produces moon fruit (offspring). Everything from a watch to the city Mecca has been used in Baul songs to symbolize the body. 

Occasionally, an allegory is composed around a central metaphor, as in Lalan's song, "A Thief Keeps Breaking into the Palace" (poem 6). Here the "thief" symbolizes the sahaj manus and the "palace" (rangmahal) is probably here the two-petaled lotus where semen is believed to be stored. The "lion-gate" also seems to be located in this cakra. The "watchman" stands for breath. "Patrimony" is a code word for semen (also in poem 10) and "the swiping of a loincloth" (like "the looting of a storeroom" in poem 7) signifies the spilling of semen. The meaning: of the allegory is as follows: control of semen is dependent on control of breath. If during ritual intercourse the mind is distracted and the adept fails to.control his breath, then the thief-the sahaj manus-will rob him of his patrimony-semen. 

Parodoxes in Baul songs are of two types: those that do not seem to have any esoteric significance other than hinting at the ineffable and paradoxical nature of the nondual sahaj state, and those that when decoded yield a hidden meaning alluding to secret doctrines. Lalan's 'Just Dive into the Ocean of the Heart and You'll See" ("Del dariyay dube dekho na"; poem 12) is one example of a song with self-contradictory, "upside down" (ulta) expressions. Some statements such as "the dumb speak" and "the deaf hear" do not seem to have any specific symbolic significance. Others, like "waves surge without wind," have sexual import; the "waves" refer to the menstrual flow that "surge without wind" because they are enclosed in the vagina. The enigmas in the last verse of this song can similarly be interpreted in terms of dehatattva. Taken together they describe the mystery of conception and birth. The "mother of the world" who "floats in the sea" is the sakti, the female agent of procreation in menstrual blood. The "father" who is in the belly of the sakti (here, referring to the woman herself) is semen. Lalan says "when he is born he drinks his wife's milk" because semen is equated with the child produced from semen as well as with the father who engenders the child. Enigmas are occasionally created by using letters of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. In Lalan's song "An Unknown Man Roams the Land" ("Ek ajan manu", phirche dese"; poem 4), the "unknown man" who signifies the sahaj manus is described as: "zer on aliph, zabar on mim." "Zer" is the vowel marker i, and "aliph" stands for Allah, while "zabar" is the vowel marker a, and "mim" symbolizes Muhammad. The solution to the enigma lies not in the phonetic yalues of "zer" and "'zabar";'


as one would expect, but in their positions and literal meanings. "Zer" is placed below a letter and means "inferior," whereas "zabar" is placed above a letter and means "superior." Thus by referring to the "unknown man" as "zer on aliph, zabar on mim" Lalan is saying that this figure is "inferior" to or beneath Allah and "superior" to or above the Prophet. Often enigmatic imagery paints a surreal picture, as in the third verse of the song about the unknown man: "The strange flower without roots" is the sakti, and the "river of love" is the menstrual flow. The "passionate nightingale" signifies the sahaj manus (also often symbolized by a bee or fish) who is attracted to the sakti in menstrual blood.

Though the meaning of the songs may sometimes be obscure, their simplicity, vigor, and felicity of expression, their humor and dazzling imagery, and their aphoristic statements that apply to a specific religious context as well as to every day life make them some of the best poetry in the Bengali language. 

There is no standard, authoritative edition of Lalan's songs. Since published editions are full of errors, I have based my translations on manuscripts transcribed by Lalan panthi fakirs and on oral versions of the songs. These texts may differ substantially in some places from those in printed collections.

Further Reading

See Charles Capwell, "The Esoteric Beliefs of the Bauls of Bengal," Journal of Asian Studies 33:2 (1974), 255-64; and The Music of the Bauls of Bengal (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986). Also useful is Shashi Bhusan Das Gupta, Obscure Religious Cults, 3rd ed. (Calcutta: Finna K. L. Mukhopadhyay, [1946], 1969). Edward C. Dimock, Jr.'s seminal work is The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-sahajiya Cult of Bengal (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1966), Chap. 8 on the Bauls. His more recent work on the subject is "The Bauls and the Islamic Tradition," in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, edited by Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987), pp. 375-88. See also Carol Salomon, "A Contemporary Sahajiya Interpretation of the Bilvamangal-Cintamani Legend, as Sung by Sanatan Das Baul," in Patterns of Change in Modern Bengal, edited by Richard L. Park (East Lansing: Asian Studies Center, 1979), pp. 97-110; and "The Cosmogonic Riddles of Lalan Fakir ," in Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions, edited by Arjun Appadurai, Frank J. Korom, and Margaret Mills, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), pp. 267-304.

Translations of Baul songs may be found in Deben Bhattacharya, Songs of the Bards of Bengal (New York: Grove Press, 1969); Brother James, Songs of Lalon (London: Unwin Ltd., 1969, reprint Dhaka: University Press Limited, 1987), and Abu Rushd, Songs of Lalon Shah (Dhaka: BangIa Academy, 1991 [1964]). See also Alokranjan Dasgupta and Mary Ann Dasgupta, 1977 Roots in the Void (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi and Co., 1977).



The title of each song, which is the same as the first line of the song, is given in Bengali after the number.

1 Amar moner manuseri sane

When will I be united
with the Man of my Heart?

Day and night 
like a rainbird
I long for the Dark Moon,
hoping to become his maidservant. 
But this is not my fate.

I caught a glimpse
of my Dark Lord in a dream, 
and then he was gone
like a flash of lightening
vanishing into the cloud it came from, 
leaving no trace.

Meditating on his image, 
I lose all fear of disgrace. 
Poor Lalan says,
He who always loves, 

2 Ami ekdino na dekhilam tare

I have not seen him even once--
my neighbor
who lives in a city of mirrors 
near my house.

His village is surrounded 
by deep boundless waters, 
and I have no boat 
to cross over.
I long to see him,
but how can I reach 
his village?


What can I say
about my neighbor?
He has no hands, no feet, 
no shoulders, no head.
Sometimes he floats high up in the sky, 
sometimes in the water.

If my neighbor just touched me, 
I wouldn't feel the pain of death.

He and Lalan are in the same place, 
yet five hundred thousand miles apart.

3 Sadhya ki re amar se rup cinite

Will I ever be able to recognize him?
Night and day, blinders of delusion
cover my eyes.

Someone keeps stirring
in the northeast corner of my room. 
Am I moving or is he?
Groping, I search myself. 
I just can't see.

The two of us,
this stranger and I,
live in the same place.
But when I try to catch him,
he's five hundred thousand miles away.

I got tired of searching.
Now I just sit and shoo flies. 
Lalan says, What's the trick 
of being dead while alive?

4 Ek ajan manus phirche dese

An unknown man
roams the land.
You have to know him. 
You have to know him 
and honor him too.


Rely on Shan'at 
and finding him
is out of the question. 
You can reach him 
only through Ma'rifat,
if you get over
your state of delusion.

A strange flower 
without roots
blooms on the banks 
of the river of love.
From time immemorial 
a passionate nightingale
has been drinking the flower's nectar.

I've heard tell of a man:
zer on alif, zabar on mim. 
Lalan says,
Don't get lost in confusion. 
Turn to a murshid
and you'll learn the solution.

5 Hay cirodin puslam ek acin pakhi

What a pity!
I spent my whole life
raising an unknown bird.
Yet I never learned the secret of his identity.
The anguish of it
brings tears to my eyes.

I can hear the bird's chatter, brother, 
but I can't see how he looks.
I see only this thick darkness. 
If I could find someone 
to reveal his identity, 
I'd get to know him.
Then my heart would stop throbbing.

But I don't know my pet bird.
There's no end to the shame I feel. 
What am I to do? Any day now


that bird's going to throw dust in my eyes 
and fly away.

The bird's cage has nine doors.
Through which one
does he come and go,
playing tricks on my eyes? 
Siraj Sai says, Lalan, 
lay a trap in his path 
and stay there.

6 Ran mahale sid hate sadaJ

A thief keeps breaking 
into the palace.
Where does this thief come from? 
If I could catch him, 
I'd imprison him, 
shackling his feet
with the chains of my heart.

At the lion-gate is a watchman,
vigilant day and night.
What spell does the thief 
cast over him? 
At what hour
does he break in?

Sixteen guards surround the building, 
men of unlimited powers.
Even they can't detect him.
Whose hands should they bind 
with rope?

Today the thief stole all my patrimony.
He even swiped my loincloth. 
Lalan says, What a grudge 
this thief suddenly holds 
against me!

7 Bhulbo na bhulbo na bali

I won't forget. 
I won't forget,


But when it's time for action, 
my resolve wavers..

I won't forget, I say.
But my nature doesn't change. 
Seductive glances
from the corners of her eyes 
drive me crazy and wipe out 
divine wisdom.

A man's character is colored
by the qualities of his friends; 
so I learned from experience.
When I took up with bad companions, 
my good intentions vanished.
I landed in trouble. Now I'm at my last gasp. 
My shame can't be washed away.

The thief who drove me into exile- 
I see he's come along.
Madan's drum is irresistible. 
Flames of lust bum
the inner rooms of my house.
I've forgotten the pilot of my mind. 
What more will the sinners do?

I put on a clown's costume 
and got lost in my act.
If I had kept company with good men,
if I had known good companions, says Lalan, 
would that robber have looted my storeroom?

8 Rat pohale pakhite bale de re khai

When dawn breaks, 
my bird anounces: 
"I'll eat now."
I resolved to follow 
my guru's orders, 
so what can I do? 
How can I leave?

I answer: "My soul, 
say Krsna's name


and set me free."
But he doesn't care for the name, 
He just keeps screeching, 
"I want to eat."

Who can raise such a bird?
He'd like to suck the ocean dry. 
How to satisfy him? 
I've lost my senses,
been sapped of my strength, 
turned into a total glutton.

I'm Lalan, the drooler.
My bird got sick of his perch.
Lalan says, What's a guru to you, anyway, 
on a full stomach?

9 Kon dese jabi mon calo dekhi jai

What land
will you go to, my mind? 
Come on, let's see
where you become a saint.
So you want to go on a pilgrimage'. 
No sinners there, you say?

Some men swear off women 
and go off to the jungle. 
But do you think
they don't have wet dreams? 
When the tiger
of your own mind
is devouring you,
who can stop him?

Your adversaries 
are all inside you. 
They make trouble 
night and day, 
drive you crazy 
wherever you go.

Traveling or staying put--
it's six of one,
half dozen of the other.


This you've heard over and over. 
Siraj Sai says, Lalan, 
you're such an idiot!

10 E desete ei sukh holo

So this is the happiness I find here,
and yet I don't know where else to go. 
I got a broken-down boat
and spent my life bailing water.

Who is mine and whose am I?
I set no store by my patrimony. 
Vedic clouds blacken the sky. 
The jewel of day doesn't rise.

Will this sinner be so lucky?
Will the merciful moon have mercy on me? 
How much longer must I go on this way, 
rowing my boat of sin?

Who in the world can I blame? 
My worship fell far short.
Lalan says. How long before 
I get to the feet of my Lord?

11 Dhanya dhanya boli tare

I've got to hand it to the fellow 
who built a house like this,
with its foundation up in the sky!

The house has just two pillars, no more, 
and their bases aren't attached to the floor. 
How will this house stay in one piece, 
when it's battered by a raging storm?

It has a basement and nine rooms, 
even an attic at the very top. 
There a madman sits,
in solitude, the sole Lord.

Upstairs and downstairs, 
one after the other,
are nine and a half doors.


Lalan asks, So which one 
do I open to get in?

12 Del-dariyay qube dekho na

Just dive
into the Ocean of the Heart and you'll see. 
You can learn the deepest secrets.

The city on the ridge
is an extraordinary place,
built with astounding skill.
There's no water in the lakes, 
but the land is flooded.

Would you believe such strange business 
if you just heard about it?

At the slippery quay of the Triveni 
waves surge without wind.
The dumb speak, the deaf hear, 
and a halfpenny tests as gold.

This story is not fit to be told.
The mother of the world floats on the sea. 
Lalan says, The father 
is in her belly,
and when he is born,
he drinks his wife's milk.

13 Cad ache ca de ghera

The moon is surrounded by moons. 
So how do you intend to catch 
that moon today?

The radiant beauty of millions of moons 
and in 'the middle., the Uncatchable Moon' brilliant light--
Just glance at that mass of moons 
and they start to spin. 
Be careful! Be careful!
Make sure you don't black outl


Moon fruit grow
on the tree of beauty. 
Every now and then
you can see them flashing. 
I try to take a look, 
but my eyes fail me.
The rays of beauty are dazzling.

This city called "invisible" 
is built with strange skill. 
At night the sun rises, 
by day lamps bum. 
Those who know
what's on the ridge 
have eyes that see.
Lalan says, They have seen the moon.

14 Janbo he ei papi haite

Hey Gaur,
I'll find out from this sinner
if you really came to save mankind.

You gave out the treasure of love 
to everyone in the city of Nadiya. 
Well I'm a rotten fellow
and don't know what love's all about. 
Hey Gaur, you didn't even glance at me.

The touch of your pure love
can make a wooden puppet come alive. 
But I'm worthless and wretched 
and never worship God.
I just keep sitting on the wrong side 
of a bad road.

Nearly all the trees
on the Malaya Mountains 
have heartwood.
Everyone knows only bamboo trees 
are hollow.
Lalan has a heart like bamboo- 
empty of love.


15 Tomar mato dayal bondhu ar paba na

We'll never get another friend 
as compassionate as you again. 
You revealed yourself, a Prophet. 
Don't desert us now.

You are God's companion,
the true pilot' to the other shore. 
Without you we will never see 
our destination.

We people of Medina
were like wildmen in the forest. 
You made us wise. 
We are content.

You gave us the divine law 
and brought us to the path. 
Don't sneak out on us today.

Who but you
can govern this way,
oh herald of religion?
Lalan says, A light like this 
will never shine again.


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Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon
Lalan Shah Lalan Fakir Lalon Giti Lalon Geeti Lalon Songs Baul Bauls Spiritual songs Carol Salomon