The Baul music is one of the few forms of Indian folk music known beyond the borders of the country. But before being musicians, Bauls are mainly followers of a religious belief, which manifest themselves through their music and spread. The Bauls of West Bengal has a common thread across the geographical region of Bengal in India to Eastern Europe.
They dress with a normal dhoti, but cover with alkhalla. In the upper body, sometimes they wear shirts with curious patchwork, with squares of different colors. The color orange of the cloth is a symbol of renunciation. They do not cut their hair and wear the necklaces and mala, prayer beads made of tulsi seeds, a plant considered sacred, like basil or rudraksha.
The etymology of the name of their name is made generally traced back to the Sanskrit term Batula, which can be roughly translated as crazy and which is closely related with the word which indicates the wind. The alternative seems to be the derivation of the end Vyakula, which means restless, but in both cases, the meaning of the name is still clear.
The Bauls can be divided into two categories, those of narrow ascetic compliance and those that are devoted primarily to music. It traces its origin to the disciples of the mystical Vaishnava Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Jayadeva, who composed in the twelfth century the Gitagovinda, the mystical love poem embodied in that between Krishna and his beloved Radha, one of the texts the most beloved and revered in the country.
Their belief also shows different influences, such as Sufism and Tantra and is therefore largely attributable to the Bhakti movement. They deny customs such as the separation of castes and the worship of idols, rejecting the concept of deity as an other entity, seeking the God within or Moner Manush, while women of the community do not suffer the usual restrictions of gender.
They may remarry or live alone with the utmost respect and freedom. The Bauls also differ in some attitudes and issues with the Sadhus such as the prohibition to use cannabis, consume meat or begging.
The music of Baul is clearly distinguishable from Indian classical music and is played with ancient instruments of popular origin and then, it does not require any special studies. It is essentially a kind of sect composed of itinerant minstrels, beggars mystics singers, who devote their lives to dancing, singing and music, preaching the same intimate joy of the human life and the divine presence brotherhood in the heart of every man.
Often they live in pairs and adopt abandoned children, passing on their lyrics and music by following the classical Indian tradition of Guru-Shishya parampara. Baul is not born, but becomes only by choice and after an initiation ceremony.
Musical instruments are generally built by themselves like the Ektara, an instrument with a single string, Dugi, a small drum, Dotara, a tool with a long handle to 4 strings, Khamak, a tool that combines percussion and strings, Korotal, Indian cymbals, Ghungur and Nupur, the ankle bells and Bansuri, the reed flute.
The ballads of Bauls as mentioned generally celebrate the heavenly love, transcending religions. Some of the most celebrated composers are Lalan Shah. The lyrics of their songs and their style of Bengali culture strongly influenced life, especially during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that profoundly marked also the poetic vision of Rabindranath Tagore.
Sri Nabani Das Khyapa Baul was the legendary leader of the category, who was a close friend of Tagore and his already ancient lineage then went on with the work of his son Purna Das Baul, the eighth generation of the lineage. He is a figure still celebrated in Bengal, who collaborated with Bob Dylan in the 1960s, who wanted the picture on the cover of his album, contributing a lot to the discovery of a western genre and a unique and charming way of life.
Their music is typically always appreciated during the mela, the fairs and markets in the area. The Bauls are unconventional communities of men and women, who give up their property and practice a religion of the heart, looking for a state of bliss through music.
Baul singing is a form of yoga that lets you reach the ecstasy of union with the divine. Singing means to surrender to the beauty of the present moment and the compelling and engaging baul songs, captivates emotionally that have also captured UNESCO listing as the Baul is among the masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage.
At Jaydev Kenduli is now a terracotta temple built in 1683 in the place where, it is said, once lived the great poet Jayadeva, who sang in the poem Gita Govinda that inspired many of the baul compositions. According to legend Jayadeva one day, left the house to bathe in the Ajay river. The day was Makar Sankranti and in honor of Krishna and the poet bard, the Baul began gathering in Kenduli to sing in celebration of that date.
Today in the party participate in fact even many professional musicians, in search of fame and money, and the event has become a bit commercialized. There are about 200 pavilions where you can watch the musicians. Each baul choose where to go, sing and dance 2-3 songs and then moves from evening until dawn.
Among the many musicians present you can still witness the spectacle of a true Baul, who with bated breath stirs deep emotions and elevates the audience almost in a trance to dance in unison.