Folk Tradition of Bengal (and Rabindranath Tagore)

by Joydeep Mukherjee | 2018 | 49,317 words | ISBN-10: 8186036989 | ISBN-13: 9788186036983

An English study regarding the Folk Tradition of Bengal and its influence on Rabindranath Tagore—an important Bengali polymath from the 19th century who excelled in philosophy, arts (painting), literature and music. This research tries to initiate the semantic aspect of “folk” through the help of various dictionaries....

Chapter 1.2 - Name of Baul (wandering minstrels)

To begin with Baul, the research must make a mention that they are mainly music minstrel partly separated from family surrounding and they come to be known as dedicated ‘sadhus’. Baul is the conglomeration of action and consequent reaction to folklore, Buddhist rituals and thought process, Islamic Sufi concept Philanthropic concepts of Vaishnava and yogic process which are carried out for more than thousand years. They are human centric and ‘guru’ centric. ‘Guru’ takes a prime importance in both their action and thoughts.They think without ‘guru’ everything is ‘guruttohin’ that is unimportant. Therefore, they distinctly follow the path trodden, shown or followed by their ‘gurus’ or teachers.

They are above of any cultural bias and superstition. They are the real ‘untouchables’ from the perspective of social hierarchy but are really untouched by any sort of shortsightedness and religious rigidity. They have ‘the clear stream of reason’ that directs them to reach to the world of perfection. Therefore, they believe in optimistic philosophy as an object of life. Wide circumspection is their strength. Soil is the source of Baul and they are tuned by folklore. They adhere to the theory of man, manush tatto. Subsequently they turn out to be deadly against any trace of race, complexity of colour, biasness of books, the contamination of caste and rotation of rebirth. They are the worshippers and sons of soil, the earth, a place where people toil to achieve success. Women sources restore power in them and rejuvenate their inept and indifferent souls. Hence, the religion they propagate is of their own stemming out of the simplicity of their feeling and thinking and is, therefore, pure, unpolluted, colourful and rich.

However, in the beginning the research tries to focus on its etymology. The word is first used in Shree Krishna Vijaykavya written by Maladhar Basu:

Mukul mather chule nangta j Baul
Rakkhase rakkhase bule rane


“They are naked Bauls who resembled Rakkhas roaming around forest and barren places.”

In Chaityanya Charitamrita the word is repeated for five times. It is worth mentioning that these words are poetically used with a rich tinge in it. Indubitably it adds salt to the age old discussions of the theory of Baul:

Baul k kohio loke hoilo Aul,
Baulere kohio hate na bikai chaul
Baulk kohio kaje nihiko aul
Baulk kohio iha koriyache Baul


“Tell to a Baul that he has become an ‘Aul’, informs him that rice is not getting sold in the bazaar. A Baul has no skill in any work. Tell him this is told by none other than a Baul.”

Most remarkably these four lines delineate a world of action and activity. At the same time it brings into focus the speciality of their characters and features. Basically the word ‘Baul’ means (udas) indifferent: indifferent to money, popularity, reputation, jealousy and petty power politics of the society. There are endless debates regarding its origin. Few think it is derived from Hindi ‘Baul’, denoting mad. They are self-motivated, self-concentrated and self-satisfied unaffected by any pomposity of outside world. Socio-religious tussle cannot infuse any change in them. They are mostly self-driven in all respects of life. Though economically challenged, they are quite oblivious about it. Others think that Baul is devised out from Sanskrit ‘batul’ and ‘byakul’, another term suggesting ‘madness’, an anxious personality.

Normally the question comes that why it is so confusing and problematic. Answer is simple. It is not term given and addressed by them. The readers may trace the use of Baul the texts like ‘Shree Krishna Vijay’, composed during 15th and 16th century. The writers used these terms only to mean mad and ‘senseless people’ [definitely about external world]. Critics also view that the word recurs quite several times in the conversation between Shree Chaitnya Mahapravu and Adwaitacharya. Different parts of Bengal still call Bauls ‘mad’ because of their nature and characteristics for being quite different from the average trend of people. It is their belief that Bauls are termed because of their disordered nature and appearance. Some opine that in Northern part of India there is ‘bouven’, a minority part which is very similar with Bauls in all terms. There may be a possibility that emigration from that place due to any unavoidable circumstance forces them to settle in undivided West Bengal and later on as per the similarity they came to be known or named as Baul. It is worth mentioning that Bauls are adjectified as ‘aul’. It is a conjecture that ‘aul’ comes from ‘akul’ and Baul comes from ‘byakul’; both having the same connotation that is ‘restless’. During that period of that time people used term ‘batul’ only to mock them because of their uncouth nature and song culture.

Hence, critics opine that ‘batul’ may be one source of the word, a word that refers to the petulant people who are baseless and uncontrolled by their nature. Dr. Brajendranath Sil avers that ‘dhaul’ is the root of Baul. Abdul Halim thinks ‘dhaul’ is originated from ‘dhaulia’, an Arbi word. This theory is very specific in the sense that later on Muslim singers came to be popular as ‘dhaul’ and the word recurs in their songs quite frequently. Most importantly ‘byakul’ (restless) and ‘batul’ (talkative) are the roots of the words behind such history. The reason is during that point of time these wayside singers are not at all considered as respectable or position able. Here the word ‘batul’ also denotes a characteristic meaning that is ‘apadartha’ i.e. good for nothing in English. It is also believed that Aul Chand was the first practitioner and propagated the concept of Baul. After constant transformation through generation after generation, people receive the term as Baul, though they are still called ‘aul’ Baul. It may be due to this reason.

In the first half of 19th Century critics try to fix the meaning but it has been used in different ways and in different notations. S.M. Lutfar Rahman thinks Baul is an indigenous group of singers. The word Baul is twice used; one in first act and another in the second act of Bidigdho Madhab. Here also the characters are very close to those in every aspect in relation to the Bauls. Rahaman considered ‘bajir’, ‘bjjil’ or ‘bjjal’ may be the other etymological sources of the word. He also of the opinion ‘bajri’ used by the Buddhist philosophers may be one of its sources. Gene [BIJ] is the creator of human being. People who try to restrict this genetic transformation are called ‘bajradhar’. That is why Mr. Rahman thinks worshipper in ‘bajra’ theory, i.e. ‘bajradhan’ is the root of Baul. Ahamad Sharif again viewed the same with a pinch of salt in it saying Buddhists are popular as ‘bajrakul’. Hence, here Bajrakul is very close to be threaded with Bauls.

Finally, it can be stated that there are some critics who are of different view regarding its meaning, shift of meaning and the consequent evaluation as an after effect dating and ranging from the earliest texts like Charyapada, the original text of Bangla as language, and systems / rituals like Nathpantha to modern Bengali texts and analysis. To bring the discussion to a nutshell, the research decrees that Baul is a group rather religious group of singers who sings as a troupe and is seemed as a ‘samproday’ (tradition), people of a sect and a cult of culture named approximately one thousand years ago. Though religion is their invariable identity, surprisingly they are not the strict followers of any traditional practised religion or religious rituals of society. For them no religion is ideal, only own nature is real that nurtures the sole spirit within the soul. Belonging to different religious beliefs and practices by birth, they renounce all ramifications of religion considering them as backlogs that hinders free movement. It is their originality and novelty that flies the faces of so called cultured educated elite people of Bengal. However, they may be identified either Hindu or Islam or whatever, it is their local name nominated by their neighbours but the brand name in today’s technical language is Baul.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: