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Visit Tagore’s Santiniketan to experience the soul-stirring music of Bauls, the mystic minstrels of West Bengal.
Who Are They?
Bauls are a distinct religious and musical sect which draws from both Hinduism and Islam, local to Bengal. Their music and lyrics will appeal to anyone thirsty for melody and meaning.
Come with curious ears and an open mind. Baul gaan is unlike anything you’ve heard before. Some call it folk music, others might even call it devotional; it is both, and neither of these things. Bauls sing to the Divine. They give it no name and don’t seek for it in idols or books or in places of worship. They search for it in mankind, looking for the Moner Manush (ideal human).
Their songs are mostly in Bengali. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the language. As one Baul told me, “sangeet means only sur; bhaasha hobey na”. The melody is enough to move you.
The Baul’s sonorous, earthy voice is supported by a few instruments, some or all of which may be played by the baul himself. The dotara is a fretless sarod-like instrument that plucks at your heartstrings. The duggi is a small drum to keep rhythm. The Baul may also wear ghungroos and sway, dance and whirl in the frenzy of his music.
Baul gaan is meant to be heard, seen and felt.
Where You Can Meet Them:
Bauls are found mostly in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. They perform in local trains and village fairs.
After exploring the charms of Tagore’s Santiniketan and the university he founded, take a cycle rickshaw to the nearby Baul Ashram and persuade a Baul to sing for you. Watching a Baul call out to the Divine in his thatched circular hut is an unforgettable experience.
Any time of the year, although the Poush Mela in December sees hundreds of Bauls gather at Santiniketan to celebrate the harvest season.
Their music has influenced Tagore and his repertoire of Rabindra Sangeet. This in turn has inspired the work of music directors of SD Burman to Shantanu Moitra. The allure of Baul gaan runs deep in our veins, even if we don’t know it!
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