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. Bauls believe Moner Manush (The Loved One) blooms like a flower within oneself. One should search for that flower. The body includes the mind, spirit, knowledge, emotion and other feelings. All of them are directed by ego. One’s own ignorance, inability and despair are reflected with sorrow in the Bauls and Fakirs’ songs. Songs of this doctrine emphasize the birth of human being and the body. The genre has a direct link with the Tantric school of thought. The body epitomizes the Ultimate Truth. Metaphors of various kinds are used in the lyrics. The body is sometimes thought of as a field for growing crops and sometimes as a boat or a ship that is to be steered in the right direction to attain the Ultimate Truth.
Sufism is replete with the thoughts of the soul and the after-soul. Mind, spirit, knowledge, emotion and other feelings reside in the body. Baul philosophy as in Atmattawa believes that knowing oneself one can know the divine. The spirit or soul guides the human body. Therefore the soul must be worshipped along with the body. Songs of this genre eulogise the free spirit and underscore its supremacy.
Bauls and Fakirs believe one cannot be a Baul without being initiated (Diksha) by a Guru or Mursheed and, once initiated, one must follow the path directed by him. However, only one who has attained divine grace through austerity can be a Guru. He knows God and, therefore, one can reach God through him. But to do so, one must unconditionally surrender to the Guru, keeping faith in him to get freed of all 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 aspect of Baul songs. It includes physical and spiritual love. A devotee makes physical love with his or her partner as directed by the Guru. However, this physical relationship has a special method and rule. The Bauls call this ‘the confluence of Man and Nature’. Bauls believe that they can graduate to platonic love from the physical one. They call it Jante Mara. There are many songs which mention this. It is also referred to in other names, such as Apta Prem, Sahaj Prem, Shuddha Prem and Adhyatma Prem.
The Bauls are a worshipping sect. Their form of worship is called Bhajan-Sadhan. The methods and rules of Bhajan-Sadhan are mentioned in many Baul songs directly. The complexity, uncertainty and mystery of this form of worship are mentioned vividly in these songs. The inner meanings of the songs are almost impossible to comprehend if one is not conversant with the philosophy and path of Bhajan-Sadhan.
Bauls and Fakirs speak about the universe and the creation of human beings through their songs. If one hears carefully, one can understand the impact and influence of Sufism, Vaishnavism and Nath doctrines on the Baul-Fakir philosophy.
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.