Baul: Rhythms of Bengal



The heart of West Bengal countryside painted by paths of red earth, eucalyptus forests and a lively folk music tradition is the goal as unusual as ideal for fans of oral traditions, folk instruments and street minstrels. It is not uncommon to encounter, between village markets and rambling local trains, Baul singers and musicians who hum tantric songs of love and ecstasy, an esoteric cult born from Tantra, Sufism and Vaishnavism.

The exploration in search of folk music of Bengal provide a great excuse to make a stop in the most pleasant and interesting places of history and indigenous art, starting from the most equipped auditorium in Kolkata, where it is not uncommon to stumble across a Dervish, Baul and Fakir music concert in Rabindra Sadan auditorium.

For a more informal and intimate music session, away from the spotlight of the city, you can sit around a fire in front of the mausoleum of Sufi saint Shah Meheboob alias Data Saheb at Patharchapuri, in Birbhum where every Thursday evening gather Bauls and Fakirs, which is the day when the mystics bear homage to the Guru or Murshid. Patharchapuri also houses one of the most magnificent mosques of Bengal.

You can also make base in the quiet town of Shantiniketan and from there take the daily pursuit of the musical traditions of Bengali folklore. Fulcrum of the artistic creativity of Rabindranath Tagore, the epicenter of the poetry and painting and the local sanctuary of handicrafts and tribal culture, Shantiniketan is a placid town in the reach of curious travelers, which is only about three hours from Calcutta.

On Saturday sit together with Bauls for a musical afternoon in the adjacent Sonajhuri forest, where in a decidedly ethnic-chic market gather local artisans and small and large groups of Baul musicians holding cymbals and tambourine and you will be on ecstasy walking between the silk and khadi stalls and demonstrations of the bamboo crafts.

A great stop for a day trip for folk songs is undoubtedly the Jaydev Kenduli, a small town on the banks of the Ajay River. According to legend it is the birthplace of the poet Jaydev, revered as ancestral Guru of the Baul community, who is considered the mentor of the ancient songs of love in Sanskrit dedicated to the divine couple par excellence, Radha and Krishna.

Refresh yourself at the foot of the giant, large and shady banyan tree that stands, away from the town center and enjoy the sounds of the first minstrel carrying an inordinate amount of colored quartz necklaces, rudraksha seeds and a typical mandolin called dotara, with its handle usually carved with a peacock head. It is advisable to take advantage of the stage to take a look at the medieval temple dedicated, precisely, to Jaydev and entirely covered in terracotta panels richly decorated with bas-relief.

With a scoop of extensively rich culture of India from the flavor of colorful dances, food and clothes, Bengali culture is the richest in all its forms.