The Baul philosophy with its distinct identity rests on different thoughts or genres. The Baul songs represent these ideas in a soulful way. The main thought of Baul is surrendering to the ultimate by freeing oneself of earthly attachments. A man tied with material things when denied becomes fatalistic and depressed. Baul philosophy says negative thoughts surface when one does not feel the presence of God inside or within one’s being. The Bauls want to attain God .through their songs. These songs therefore show the varied emotions, seeking the presence of the ultimate, the sadness of one’s inability to attain him, seeking shelter in the Guru, and giving oneself up soulfully towards the aspiration of the ultimate. The desire of men makes him blind towards attaining the truth. Keeping aside the various distinction of caste , religion and other thoughts of segregation, Baul philosophy states that Bhakti or devotion is the true path to wards the ultimate Goal of self realization and truth. The various genres or thoughts or classifications state this basic philosophy.
The body is like a cage, thus spoke Lalan Fakir. The Bauls believe Moner Manush (The loved one) blooms like a flower within the body .Mankind should go in search of that flower. The songs of this doctrine emphasize the birth of human being and the human form. This genre has a direct correlation with the ‘Tantric’ school of thought The body epitomizes the ultimate truth. Metaphors of various kinds are used in the songs. The body is sometimes thought of as field for growing crops whereas sometimes it is thought of as boat or a ship which should be steered towards the right direction for attaining the ultimate truth. Some of the songs goes like this:
Sufism is replete with the thoughts of soul and the after soul. Mind, spirit, knowledge, emotion, feelings etc. reside within the body. Baul philosophy as in Atmattawa believes that knowing oneself is knowing the divine. The spirit or the soul guides the human body. So it is of prime importance to worship the soul along with the body. The songs of this genre eulogise the free spirit and its sings of its supremacy.
The Bauls and Fakirs believe one can not be a Baul if not initiated (Diksha) under Guru and follows the path directed by him. Gurus are placed in high esteem. Guru is one who has attained divine grace through austerity. He knows God. One can reach God through Guru. One should unconditionally surrender to Guru. They believe Guru will free him from earthly attachments.
In Baul-Fakiri songs, the divine is referred to in various names, such as Moner Manush, Sahaj Manush, Adhar Manush, Sonar Manush, Bhaber Manush, Alekh Sai, Achin Pakhi etc. They believe that one should understand the Supreme Being or Moner Manush by heart and one should unify with Him through respect and prayers, just as a river meets and dissolves into a sea. However, in this philosophy, the Supreme Being is a spiritual soul, unlike a divine soul as described in other religions. The Bauls talk to Him through music.
Prem or love is an important content of Baul songs. These have both physical as well as spiritual love. The devotee makes physical love with his partner as directed by Guru. This physical relationship has special method and rule. The Bauls call this the confluence of man and nature. There are people who are against this and have protested calling it indecent. The Bauls in their song say they graduate to platonic love from this physical relationship. Bauls call this Jante Mara. There are many songs that mention this. This is also mentioned in other words like Apta Prem, Sahaj Prem, Shuddha Prem, Adhyatma Prem.
Baul is a worshipping sect. This worshipping is known as Bhajan-Sadhan. The methods and rules of Bhajan-Sadhan are mentioned in some Baul songs directly. The complexity, uncertainty and mystery of Bhajan-Sadhan have been mentioned time and again in these songs. The inner meanings of these songs are almost impossible to understand if one is not conversant with the path of Bhajan-Sadhan.
The Bauls-Fakirs speak about universe and creation of humans through their songs. If heard carefully one can understand the impact and influence of Sufi, Vaishnav and Nath doctrines.
In Nadia, we see many variations of Baul Fakiri music and also see Bangla Qawwali, which was lost about 130 years back and then revived by the Gorbhanga Fakirs with a few researchers. Bangla Qawwali is getting very popular now, including amongst the young generation. We can also see that Sufism in Bengal evolved from Chaitanyadev’s Bhaktibad Movement and Baul Fakirs are Sufis of the East and their Sufi Qawwali numbers are helping them getting high level of recognition to global audience.
Baul-Fakiri music is a flourishing art form today although the scenario was bleak till 2004. Interventions by the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre (EZCC) of the Government of India between 2004 and 2008 greatly helped revive and rejuvenate the music with 272 artists of Nadia playing the lead role. Basic skill-building and advanced training, market promotion and linkages, and exchange and collaboration were undertaken to strengthen the artists and the art form. By 2010, Baul-Fakiri music was resurrected with a discernible rise in the artists’ income. During 2010 and 2011, further initiatives were undertaken with the support of the European Union (EU) to take Baul-Fakiri music to national and international platforms. These efforts paid off and the music form gained great popularity across India and abroad.
Bauls and Fakirs are now invited to perform at events in cities across the country and beyond all through the year. These include fairs, festivals and religious functions, as well as private occasions like weddings. New audiences in urban areas have added to the demand for this music. The leading artists are singing in films as well and touring the world with their bands and cutting albums.
Since 2011, Bauls and Fakirs have performed at the World Peace Music Festival ‘Sur Jahan’ (previously known as ‘Sufi Sutra’) with international teams. This has brought them more fame and recognition. They are a strong voice today in a world tormented by conflict and war.
Over the years, Akhras or the places where the artists come together to sing, have increased in number phenomenally. The Akhras are now seats of practice where junior singers and musicians from local areas come to learn from the Gurus. There is a living museum in Gorbhanga where skill transmission takes place on a regular basis. Singers from one Akhra often travel to other Akhras in other districts too and stay there for days to learn more about the music. However, there is no monetary transaction involved in these skill transmissions.
Simple words, heart-touching tunes and instruments like Ektara, Dotara, Dhol, Khanjani, Flute, Dubki etc. have enchanted the audience the world over. Even mainstream music salutes Bauls, Fakirs and Sufis and gives them the space they deserve. Artists of these songs come from marginalized sections of the society. They live in various districts of West Bengal but predominantly in Birbhum, Nadia, Bankura and Murshidabad.