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L&M SPECIAL

The divine search: Baul singers of Bengal

Life&More July 15, 2019
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Benoy K Behl

The seemingly-miraculous achievements of Indian civilisation, consistently over the ancient and medieval periods, have been because of a great sense of dedication. This dedication has come from a deep study of the science of life. Philosophy has been a way of life of the Indian people.
What is remarkable is that the most sophisticated ideas of Indian philosophy have been a heritage of the people. Even the most common people have been deeply aware of the philosophic truths.
Today, even in the fast-changing and commercializing world, pockets of traditional Indian thought and tradition survive.
The Bauls of Bengal are among these.
I have lost my caste but I am not yet satisfied. I hunger for more, my beloved friend, my Lord…My whole life is burning – Now what do I do, oh Lord?… I cannot sit still any longer and my mind is no longer content to stay at home…
I suffer so deeply – my beloved friend, my Lord…I have lost my caste but I am not yet satisfied. I hunger for more, my beloved friend, my Lord… (translated from Bengali)

In 2005, UNESCO included Baul singing in their list of the worlds master pieces of oral and intangible heritage.
The word Baul probably comes from the Sanskrit viyakul meaning impatiently eager. Some consider them to be insane, in a divinely inspired way. Indeed they are far from the sanity of the materialistic and mundane world.
In this world, some are insane with the nectar of love…Others crazed in their avarice for material goods…They are immersed in their physical desires; they do not pay any heed to truth…I could never find someone who is as insane as I am…I could never become completely insane…Because I could never find someone who is as insane as I am… (translated from Bengali)
They are ecstatically impatient to lose themselves. To lose their own identities, to see themselves as a part of the greater one. That one which is also within.
Oh you crazy mind of mine…And I told my mind to go to Vrindavan…You will be able to see the wonderful things happening there with your own eyes…This mad mind of mine tells me that it is busy with material objects and wealth……Hence it will not be able to leave behind this wealth and go to Vrindavan…(translated from Bengali)
The Bauls have very simple way of looking at life. The images that they use in their songs are very uncomplicated images, something which touches upon the everyday life of people.
…if you want to board this train you must have a ticket of “bhakti”…Which one of you wants to board the train of Krishna’s love? Come with me…This entire train is made up of 4 classes, “dharma, artha, kama and moksha” –Passengers designated to each of these compartments board only those particular ones…Which one of you wants to board the train of Krishna’s love? Come with me…(translated from Bengali)

Today, Bauls are found in trains, railway stations, platforms, on the road, in village corners, almost everywhere. It is a carrying forward of the tradition in modern times. Whereas earlier people used to gather in the villages to listen to the Bauls. Today here he is often in the crowded railway trains and people are entertained by him.
It is wonderful that villagers living in such remote places in this country, are so deeply versed in philosophy. In fact that is one of the amazing things about India. Philosophy was never kept as a subject to be studied at the universities. It was always something which was used in daily life it was practiced in daily life by the people, by the common people, by everybody. As a matter of the fact, some of the most important epics and scriptures of Indic philosophy were written by the most common people.
The concept of the illusory nature of the material world maya or mithya has been known to all Indians since times immemorial. They have sort different ways different paths to escape from this web of the illusion of life and to attain knowledge.
Brahma is “nirakaar” (formless) But He manifests Himself in many forms– The one who has attained divine or true knowledge Knows that in “kalyug” man is the avatar of Brahma All worship is fulfilled in the recognition of man as the true Guru (translated from Bengali)
This is the treasured heritage of the Indian people. A vision of life which looks always towards the eternal. A vision which recognizes material aims and objects as only ephemeral things, a “passing” illusion. The search is always for that which is beyond, that which can only be found within.
True knowledge in Indian thought is always experienced knowledge. Knowledge which is known, knowledge which is felt deep inside, knowledge which transforms one’s life. That is Knowledge, not that which is just read from books.

Benoy K Behl is a film-maker, art-historian and photographer who is known for his tireless and prolific output of work over the past 43 years. He has taken over 52,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage and made 144 documentaries which are regularly screened at major cultural institutions worldwide. His photographic exhibitions have been warmly received in 72 countries around the world.

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