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.


12 Replies to “The Bauls and Baul Traditions”

  1. Very good informative article.
    Baul-geeti has acquired its own independent status in Bengali folk literature. I am not an expert on the subject but this tradition could be seven centuries old. Chaitanya has something to do with it. His style of dancing and singing along the way was unique and spread immediately because people could directly relate with it. (now followed by ISCON.
    Chaitanya himself was a rebel. In fact the entire Bhakti movement was a revolt against the traditional, straight-jacket, ritualistic religion which offered no solace to the ordinary people who also had to bear the brunt of the Muslim rule. The tradionalists had compromised with the new rulers and the agreement worked for one thousand years! The new Rulers never disturbed the dominant classes of the Indian society. So the common masses suffered from both ends which led to the popular Bhakti cult. With the liberal policies of Akbar, the pressure came down and the rebellion also lost its shine.
    I suppose, the Baul art, perhaps, was revived during the Renaissance period, just as Kali Pooja acquired the new meaning, with Mothe India and all that. The resurgent Bengal was looking for something to be proud of, and found a treasure in the form of Baul.
    Tagore;s “Tomaar Daak..Tabe Aekla cholo re …(tari jo hak suNi koI naa aave to ekalo jaane re..) seems to be in the baul mode. It has the same rhytham.
    Since you are looking into the matter, please confirm my queries.

    1. Thanks for very informative inputs.
      I would search for the replies to your queries and would come back ASAP.

  2. simply wonderful. I enjoyed the music while marvelling at the simplicity of life and traditions. Folk music is present and has been for ever in almost every culture every where, and it never looses its charm come internet or what advancements in tehnology. Thanks for teaching me about this side of life. I , may I, am reblogging it please>

    1. You do not need to ask , not now nor ever, to re-blog or use the material that I have put across on my blogs. Since, that would happen to be adapted or collated from other sources, hardly my own original, I would take care to show the credit to the original sources.
      Indeed, folk music, in every culture has rich treasures – both of sheer music as well as knowledge, since that used to be one of the very strong medium for communicating knowledge and traditions, before the modern science intervened.

      1. Thanx for the permission sir, but I have already taken the liberty and went ahead, I was too excited and now people, the few that care to go to my blog will be directed to your wonderful post and will enjoy.

  3. I love the baul songs. This tradition needs to be kept alive and nurtured. In that regard blogging on this topic by many people is needed.

    1. From what can be seen, from whatever material and references available on the internet, there appears to be quite an amount of literature on the history of Baul traditions that may have been recorded systematically, but probably remains buried in the precincts of library and universities.
      Some of the contemporary persons in the world of music seem to be exploring ways and means to bring them to the masses. Obviously, in that process, some amount of modernization may be inevitable and may lead to some compromise in the presentation of the purity of the traditional baul civilization, that may ultimately get popularized
      However, you are absolutely right that such rich heritage does need more exposure to the world today in order to preserve itself.

  4. And of course, how can we forget that a few Hindi film songs of the Golden Era are based on adaptations of Baul originals. I know SD Burman has composed a few (perhaps, “jaane kya tune kahi” from Pyaasa?), and probably others such as Salil Chaudhary and Anil Biswas.

    1. One of the most relevant exmanple of such song that comes to my mind is: Aan Milo An sahani – Manna Dey , Geeta Dutt- Devdas. – Bimal Roy has used even the traditional baul dress and singing style in the picturaization of this song.

    2. One of the most relevant exmanple of such song that comes to my mind is: Aan Milo An sajaai – Manna Dey , Geeta Dutt- Devdas. – Bimal Roy has used even the traditional baul dress and singing style in the picturaization of this song.

    3. One of the most relevant exmanple of such song that comes to my mind is: Aan Milo An sajna – Manna Dey , Geeta Dutt- Devdas. – Bimal Roy has used even the traditional baul dress and singing style in the picturaization of this song.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s