Baul Music of Bangladesh

Baul Music is a form of folk music, unique to Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. Immensely popular in the 19thCentury and early 20th Century, it is still possible to encounter a Baul singer in far flung villages of Bangladesh or even in the trains that traverse the country. The word Baul means “afflicted with the wind disease” and the Baul singers are traditionally wandering minstrels singing their particular form of folk music.

The lyrics and music are soul searching, quite comparable to the genre of Sufi music and the modern western folk music such as the works of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. The lyrics in Baul music urge man to search for God within himself and decry the role of mosques and temples in the quest of God. The songs have been passed down in Bangladesh as an oral tradition and though the tunes are characteristically their own, they are based, perhaps unknowingly, on certain ragas of Indian classical music.

Baul tradition of Bangladesh is regarded as a fusion of the essence of Buddhism, Hindu worship and Sufi Islam .It may have originated from the tantrik Buddhism of undivided Bengal in the 9th and 10th centuries. Bauls were usually frowned upon by society as dropouts whose songs were not in keeping with the orthodox religious beliefs of most people of the times.

It was Indian poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore who evinced a great interest in Baul music and brought it in the limelight. He was greatly impressed and influenced by the works of a leading Baul singer of his day, Lalon Fakir. Tagore always brought in a Baul minstrel in his plays and also categorized some of his own songs as Baul. Tagore’s acknowledgement of Baul traditions did much to change the attitude of Bengali society towards Baul music and singers.

Baul singers usually traveled alone and had their characteristic musical accompaniments. They usually carried either a khamak, a string instrument with one or two strings attached to the head of a small drum or an ektara, a plucked single string drone. Other instruments were a khanjani, a tambourine without jangles, mandira or kartal which are small bell-shaped cymbals or ramchaki, a pair of wooden clappers with jangles.