The Bauls and Baul Traditions

Shri Devdutt Pattnaik, in his article ‘From Kali to Krishna : A love song’, refers to the Bauls, while describing that the the blood sacrifice demanding Tantrik tradition of Kali and the vegetarian Brahmanical Vaishnava tradition of Krishna – come through in phrases and couplets that make up some of the songs of Baul minstrels.

That made me search for some more references so as to fully comprehend the meaning of the article.

Interestingly, internet search throws up a huge amount of information on the Bauls.

I have presented some of those materials selectively here below, for the purpose of supporting the full comprehension of the original article.

Wikipedia introduces the subject like this:

The present-day Baul, playing thier traditinally favored Ek Tara
A Baul Ektara_player

“Baul (Bengali: বাউল) are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims.[1][2] They can often be identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments. Not much is known of their origin.”

“Though Bauls comprise only a small fraction of the Bengali population, their influence on the culture of Bengal is considerable. In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.[7]

You Tube has several interesting sets of clips depicting Baul Songs. One such clip has also following additional information:


The Bauls are mystic minstrels living in rural Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. The Baul movement, at its peak in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has now regained popularity among the rural population of Bangladesh. Their music and way of life have influenced a large segment of Bengali culture, and particularly the compositions of Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Bauls live either near a village or travel from place to place and earn their living from singing to the accompaniment of the ektara, the lute dotara, a simple one-stringed instrument, and a drum called dubki. Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vasinavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them. Bauls neither identify with any organized religion nor with the caste system, special deities, temples or sacred places. Their emphasis lies on the importance of a person’s physical body as the place where God resides. Bauls are admired for this freedom from convention as well as their music and poetry. Baul poetry, music, song and dance are devoted to finding humankinds relationship to God, and to achieving spiritual liberation. Their devotional songs can be traced back to the fifteenth century when they first appeared in Bengali literature.

Baul music represents a particular type of folk song, carrying influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song. Songs are also used by the spiritual leader to instruct disciples in Baul philosophy, and are transmitted orally. The language of the songs is continuously modernized thus endowing it with contemporary relevance.
The preservation of the Baul songs and the general context in which they are performed depend mainly on the social and economic situation of their practitioners, the Bauls, who have always been a relatively marginalized group. Moreover, their situation has worsened in recent decades due to the general impoverishment of rural Bangladesh.”

Unesco has also recognised Bauls and their traditions as the cultural heritage.

And here is one clip that provides a contemporary look at the Bauls and their songs. The song – Hrid majhare rakhibo is sung in a train compartment and has captured several noises and disturbances of the train halting at a station, as well.

It also has this additional piece of information:

“The word Baul comes from the sanskrit word ‘Baatul’ which means mad . Bauls are a group of wandering singers or bards , who have dedicated their lives to music and spirituality . It might also be viewed as a rebel against the regulative prohibitory norms of orthodox Indian society . Vaishnavism , Tantric yoga , Vedanta and Islam together form the base of their philosophies . Though they have existed much before , baul movement recieved a special impetus right after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in middle ages .

Originally Bauls used to roam from village to village in search of food and alms. In changing times they have resorted to do the same in new environments, such as a Public train.”


P.S.—The Gujarati translation of Shri Devdutt Pattnaik’s article   can be seen at this blog writer’s accompanying blog, as કાલિથી કૃષ્ણ – એક પ્રેમ ગીત — દેવદત્ત પટ્ટનાઇક.