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 1.4 - Modern trend of Bauls

Song is the supreme form of art. Music must be interpreted as a part of culture, the product of human society. Society is the mirror of human being. Therefore, anything in this world can properly be understood, evaluated and digested from the perspective of human society. Here it means that the songs by Bauls have undergone a drastic change. To measure such major change and its influence can properly discussed if the research points out the reflexions.

Obviously everything is in the process of progress through the transformation of ‘tradition’. It is definitely a game of ‘tradition and individual talent’. The phrase is / seems to be ambiguous. But it is as simple as this that it is talent which transforms and transfixes the ‘tradition’ making a trend and it is individual talent which helps keep a balance between ‘tradition’ and the subsequent transformation with the invent rather evolution of technology. Here the research tries to trace the traditional Bauls and transformed Bauls tangible in time.

21st century is the other name of ‘digital world’. Everywhere there is infallible sign of modernity. Here the struggle for existence’ is very vibrant and vigilant, the slight indifference and negligence can derail or slacken the process of improvement and can cause extinction. Therefore, it is too difficult to believe especially for those traditional stereotypical minds that Bauls also moulded their age old model and modulates a specific pattern to motivate their followers or move the process for ‘further progress in specialization’. ‘Tradition’ is root and root can never be changed, a deep rooted notion among people. As Bauls are intensively connected to the soil, such a change meaning a change for the sake of modernization is not widely accepted even though it is permeable. But naturally there should be a negotiation between tradition and modernism. Hence the research prefigures to focus on the aspects of ‘tradition’, traditional change and its effect on so called traditional minds.

Bauls also got affected by the international market. As a result they imbibed catchy words and slightly westernized terms with musical interludes. Now-a-days Baul compositions comprise the structure of metaphorical songs through the use of enigmatic jargons known as ‘sandhya-bhasa’ (dark language), intrusion of socio-political references without any base and complete inversion of gesture.

Shwatinath Jha states:

From 14th century onwards the subject matter of Baul songs started to extend. The advancement of communication and technology helped them flourish their songs and make their voice reach toward the global audience. Bauls in course of their journey to the abroad came to know about western culture, they started to fuse alien times, techniques, gimmicks in their songs, although they assimilate this influence in their songs in their own way (p.56).

During the time of survey, the research has observed a number of songs which are distinctively demarcated by specific working, rhythm, singing style and mode of representation. Modernized instruments make those songs either accordant or discordant irrespective of different classes / types of audience. Birbhum especially Suri, the capital city of the district, Bolpur Shantiniketan part is the cradle for them. There in different ‘akhras’ (a type of small muddy room meant for practice thatched with straw) and ‘ashrams’ the livelihood of the present Bauls is uniquely different from the earlier and makes a stark contrast with past. They are more sophisticated in terms of choice and manners. They composed to lure the young ones according to their taste.

Here the research can show the change:

Age tribenir khabar janre mon / Tatta jene matta hole kam
Ripu tor hobe domon / Sadhan kor Tibeni hobe nirupan


“Heartily you have to be in search of Tribeni, the place of confluence burning the all expectations and the carnal desire. To dominate heart and soul over such petty attractions, one must undergo ‘sadhana’, deep meditation.”

Come faster my young brother/ Rajrajeswar darshane
Here pure love-e bhasi sobe/ Present hoye klanto ashrame
Jahar for we vogi lanchona/ be careful tai vulona
Always koi ei leg vabona/ nothing fear tar shomon|


“Control your trust, transform your best into love and destroy your best with pure love to successful in ‘sadhana’.”

Akhra’ or ‘ashram’ concepts are rare at present. Many of them started living in city especially in a well connected place where communication, earning and audience are mostly available. Field work says that in West Bengal Bauls are interspersed in Krishnanagar (Nadia District), Murshidabad, capital city of Murshidabad district, Suri, Rampurhat, Ilumbazar, and Bolpur (Birbhum district) areas. Amongst them Bolpur is a tourist place, Tarapith is a ‘shakatipith’ and Joydev is famous for Baul Mela (fair). Naturally these places because of such reasons / rather extra facilities became the centre of attraction for the Bauls. Consequently many beggars / insolvent people from the surrounding places took interest in them, started listening their songs and style, following them and after few days / years they also start their business almost in the same fashion. Therefore, the aesthetic appeal or authenticity becomes a grave concern simply because they are merely imitators, not born Bauls.

Here the research includes of such lyrics devoid of any flavour of artisan:

Gari cholche ajob kole/ Diye mati poripati
Agun jalai hawar bole…
E garir bol bearing harek spring tar
Emon fit kora akbar thread kete gele
Nebe na to r jora|


“Oh! Dear driver, drive your car fast, by turning your starring to the right or to the left, and by feeding oil to the engine … when the engine of the body becomes out of order, the wheel of the soul remains but where is the salvation?”

It is merely a buffoonery of salvation. The research here offers a real taste of salvation through traditional Baul:

Bhakti bina se dhon mile na
Ache bhakti rattan amulya rattan
Ajatone pabe na|


“Devotion is the essence of salvation otherwise salvation is insolvable. Those who have devotion are possessed with real wealth.”

Here the research includes another song where the immaturity and impurity will be quite feasible:

Tor khorid kora mobile er wrong number e koris call
Tar khabar ki pabi? Mon tui bol
Hello chere Hari bol|


“You are miscalling to a wrong number from your newly purchased new phone. How can you get to talk to him? Therefore, instead of hello you speak to Hari.”

Further comparison between traditional and modern compositions will extract the meanness and shallows of such cult. It adds to such imperfection:

Ogo sakhi, tui ki tai parbi?
O je baro kothin pirit/ seshe rastai bose kandbi


“Oh it is really tough how you will do it. The tight bond of love will make you cry endlessly.”

Piriti khathaler antha / lagle pore chare na
Gole male gole male pirit koro na|


“Love is like the gum of jackfruit. Once you are in it, you cannot make yourself free. Therefore, where there is trouble, you should not make any initiative to love.”

Therefore, the clearer picture is that traditional Bauls were very careful or serious about their art. In modern language they focus on perfection while modern Bauls focus on commercialism, ‘sadhna’ is their way to achieve such goals while professionalism is their way to capture temporary popularity.

Now-a-days Bauls are directly connected to political parties and sometimes act upon political parties and act upon political agendum. It the research takes back a look on the epistemology, they render themselves the sons of soil which is of slightly greyish or saffron, a colour symbolizing sacrifice. Therefore, root wise they are miles away now from its root. Only they are concerned about profile and prolific market demand though it is key to survive in this world of challenges. The research can refer to one of such songs which is composed on Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal. The purpose is clear like daylight.

It can be stated how careless and indifferent recently Bauls are that they are quite oblivious about the aesthetic value.

Purush banar sajaye bere hoyeche nari
Purushera galai diye dari nachche bari bari
Bidyan jato lekhapora nari dekhle hoi sob bhera
Bolbo ki narir khomota nari hoye rajjer korta
Jemon raja temni proja saja dicche vari


Today’s educated women are so powerful now that they can dictate what men will do. For that men have lost identity and receive their early form i.e ‘monkey’. King and his descendents are now same and identical no more different in hierarchical stratum of society and are dethroned from their posts.”

It has no appeal from any angle. Neither it has any base nor away reason. Hence, it is nothing but a nuisance to cultural minds where creation is not natural but forced.

Thus, it can be said that recently Bauls are tasteless, baseless and overall valueless. They are gradually replaced by narrowness of feeling, petty politics and professional publicity. Royalty of romanticism, mystery of mysticism, subtlety of symbolism, metaphoric meaning, playful projection of words and completeness of composition are beyond their imagination/thinking and even their reach. Too many catchy words demean the process very cheap. It is as if a ‘chaste maid in cheap side’. Along with these they are under the whirlwind of fusion, a rich composition or confluence of two different patterns or genres such as a blend between classical and modern. Successful composition of fusion is hallmark of artistic faculty. But what Bauls are doing now is not a fusion rather ‘diffusion’, a blend of English and Bengali language. On the other had the invasion of English troubles the foundation of Baul tradition. Therefore, they express their desire to go to foreign land: “Ami jai London e te batasete bhese” (Translation: I am going to London by air. My body and mind don’t permit me to stay in Calcutta … Someday when I come back, I’ll also get on the metro rail. Now, I’ll also get on the metro rail and I am going London by air).

At last, it can be concluded that in an age of ‘globalization’, Bauls try to traverse the globe which is very natural. Therefore, they probe into different facets of life and delineate the themes. Success of such experimentation is not the point but they have to be extra cautious regarding their traditional and identical certainty, an identity which will uplift them to the global people which itself will invitation to visit their lands. Therefore, at this context of folk music, amidst the tug of tussles between Bauls and non-Bauls, reality and non-reality, the real Bauls of Bengal must sustain and survive with their traditional identity, so that globalization cannot fade the global reputation and make their ethnicity frighteningly unfamiliar and alienating. Therefore, a ‘delicate balance’, a title of a novel of Rohinton Mistry, between root and foot for the purpose of progress must be maintained. Otherwise mechanical mechanization which is a part of globalization will kill the moner manush of man, the Baul.

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