The Bauls of Bengal (Mystic Minstrels)

The mystic Baul music cult is not just exclusive to Bengal but also has a distinct place in the antiquity of world music.

The word “Baul” has its etymological source in the Sanskrit words “Vatula” (crazy), or “Vyakula” (twitchy), and is often used to define someone who is “haunted” or “wild.”

They can often be recognized by their unique attires and musical devices. Lalon Shah is viewed as the most famous Baul saint in antiquity.

Who are the Bauls of Bengal?

The Baul or Bauls (বাউল) of Bengal are the mystical ministerial groups from Bengal region with mixed elements of Vaishnavism and Sufism, including Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley.

Who are the Bauls of Bengal
Who are the Bauls of Bengal?

Bauls organize both a syncretic spiritual group and a melodic custom. Bauls are a very mixed group, with many factions, but their association mainly entails of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims.

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Initially, the Bauls were simply rebels who banned the outdated social models to form a separate group that supported music as their religion.

“Baul” is also the term set to the type of folk music established by this creative cult. They can often be recognized by their unique clothes and musical devices.

It’s easy to recognize a Baul singer from his unedited, often looped hair, saffron robe (alkhalla), a chain of beads made of basil (tulsi) stems, and of course, the single-stringed guitar (ektara).

Music is their only basis of nutrition: Bauls live on all that they are offered by residents in return, as they move from place to place, riding, in effect, on the vehicle of their trance.

The origin date is not precisely available in the books of history but we can assume that the cult of travelling musician’s dates back to the 9th century CE. Not until the mid-18th century are they noted by historians as a main, recognizable cult.

Origin and History

The origin of the word Baul is debated.

  1. Some modern gurus, like Shashibhusan Dasgupta, have proposed that it may be resultant either from Sanskrit word Vatula, which means “liberal, lashed by the wind to the point of losing one’s saneness, god’s crazy, apart from the world, and a chaser of reality”.
  2. Or from Vyakula, which means “twitchy, restless” and both of these origins are reliable with the current logic of the word, which means the enthused folks with an elated zeal for a divine life, where a being can grasp his merger with the endless beloved.
Origin and History
Origin and History of the Bauls of Bengal

The source of Bauls is not known correctly, but the word “Baul” has appeared in Bengali texts as old as the 15th century.

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The word is found in the Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura as well as in the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja.

There are 2 types of Bauls: Ascetic Bauls who discard domestic life and Bauls who live with their families.

Ascetic Bauls reject family life and culture and live on charities. They have no fixed house but move from one akhda to another.

Men wear white lungis and long, white tunics; women wear white saris.

They carry jholas, shoulder bags for alms. They do not produce or rear kids. They are treated as jyante mara or dalits.

Women dedicated to the facility of ascetics, are known as sevadasis “service slaves”. A male Baul can have one or more sevadasis, who are related to him in the act of dedication and religious zeal.

Practices of the Bauls of Bengal

Baul music rejoices holy love, but does this in very plain terms, as in assertions of love by the Baul for his bosh-tomi or life mate.

Practices of the Bauls of Bengal
Practices of the Bauls of Bengal

With such a liberal version of love, it is only usual that Baul religious music excels religion and some of the most famed Baul creators, such as Lalon, criticized the levity of sacred partitions:

Everyone asks: “Lalan, what’s your religion in this world?”

Lalan answers: “How does religion look?”

I’ve never laid eyes on it.

Some wear malas [Hindu rosaries] around their necks,

some tasbis [Muslim rosaries], and so people say

they’ve got different religions.

But do you bear the sign of your religion

when you come or when you go?

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The famed Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was greatly inclined and stirred by Bauls. Here is a famed Rabindra Sangeet deeply inclined by Baul theme:

amar praner manush achhe prane

tai here taye shokol khane

Achhe she noyōn-taray, alōk-dharay, tai na haraye–

ogo tai dekhi taye Jethay shethay

taka-i ami je dik-pane

English Translation

The man of my heart dwells inside me.

Everywhere I look, it is he.

In my every sight, in the sparkle of light

Oh, I can never lose him–

Here, there and everywhere,

Wherever I turn, he is right there!

The below is a version of the famous Baul song by Gagan Harkara:

Ami kothai pabo tare, amar moner manush je re.

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English Translation:

Where shall I meet him, the Man of my Heart?

He is lost to me and I seek him wandering from land to land.

I am listless for that moonrise of beauty,

which is to light my life,

which I long to see in the fullness of vision

in the gladness of heart.

Video: Bauls of Bengal

Bengal’s chief poet the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote about the Bauls:

“One day I chanced to hear a song from a beggar belonging to the Baul sect of Bengal.

What struck me in this simple song was a religious expression that was neither grossly concrete, full of crude details, nor metaphysical in its rarefied transcendentalism.

At the same time, it was alive with emotional sincerity, it spoke of an intense yearning of the heart for the divine, which is in man and not in the temple or scriptures, in images or symbols.

I sought to understand them through their songs, which is their only form of worship.”

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Who can’t touch the effect of Baul songs in Tagore’s Rabindra Sangeet? The spiritual nature of Tagore’s lyrics is also a creation of his kinship to these nomadic bards.

Edward Dimock Jr. in his: The Place of the Hidden Moon (1966) writes:

“Rabindranath Tagore put the Bauls on a higher-than-respectable level by his praise of the beauty of their songs and spirit, and by his frank and proud acknowledgement of his poetic debt to them.”

The Baul form also enthused many other popular poets, authors, and lyricists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Music of the Bauls of Bengal (Baul Sangeet)

The Bauls of Bengal pour out their emotions and feeling while singing songs, but they will never bother to write down their songs, as this is the part of their oral ritual.

The Music of the Bauls
The Music of the Bauls of Bengal

It is said of Lalan Fakir (1774 -1890), the utmost of all Bauls, that he composed music nonstop and sang songs for decades without ever stopping to improve them or write them down to memorize it.

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It was only after his demise that people thought of gathering and collecting his rich list.

The lyrical melodies are mostly logical, taking the form of symbols on the state of separation between the possible soul and the mystical world.

Time and again, the lines moralize on love and the holy oaths of the core, faintly disclosing the secret of life, the natural laws, the verdict of purpose and the final mix with the heavenly.

The music of the Bauls, Baul Sangeet, is a specific type of folk song. Its lines carry effects of the Hindu bhakti activities and the suphi, a form of Sufi song typified by the songs of Kabir.

Their music signifies a long legacy of speaking religion through songs in Bengal, as in the Shahebdhoni or Bolahadi sects.

Their lyrics link a deep sense of religion, a desire for cohesion with the heavenly. The main part of their idea is “Deha tatta“, holiness linked to the body rather than the mind.

They seek spirituality in human beings. Abstract topics are dwelt upon simply and in humble verses.

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They strain remaining single and unconsumed by the desires of life even while loving them. To them, we are all a gift of deific power and the physique is a shrine, music being the trail to attach to that authority.

Propagation of Baul Music

The propagation of Baul music is done by the community formed by the Bauls of Bengal. These are most non-communal folks out of all the religious groups.

Propagation of Baul Music
Propagation of Bauls of Bengal Music

As a group, they have no official faith, for they only trust in the faith of music, union, and amity. Mainly a Hindu drive, the Baul attitude piles together diverse Islamic and Buddhist points as well into its teachings.

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Besides customary ideas drawn from the rustic ordinary life, Baul songs have always been tending to unite change and keep pace with public and fiscal novelties.

For example, modern Baul works discuss obscure stuff by using the jargon of modern, urban and technical lexes, and it is not rare to hear Baul desists having mobile phones, radio channels, football matches and television.

Baul Musical Instruments

Bauls use a diversity of original musical instruments to enhance their works. The “ektara,” a one-stringed drone tool, is the shared instrument of a Baul singer.

Baul Musical Instruments
Bauls of Bengal Musical Instruments

It is impressed by the epicarp of a gourd and made of bamboo and goatskin.

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Other generally used melodic equipment like “dotara,” a multi-stringed tool made of the wood of a jackfruit or neem tree; “dugi,” a small hand-held earthen drum; leather tools like “dhol,” “khol” and “goba”; chime tools like “ghungur,” “nupur,” small cymbals called “kartal” and “mandira,” and the bamboo flute.

Countries Associated with the Bauls of Bengal

Initially, the region of Birbhum in West Bengal was the seat of all Baul activity.

Countries Associated with the Bauls of Bengal
Countries Associated with the Bauls of Bengal

Later, the Baul area pushed to Tripura in the north, Bangladesh in the east, and parts of Bihar and Orissa in the west and south respectively.

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In Bangladesh, the areas of Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh, and Tangyl are famed for Bauls.

Bauls from far off spaces come to contribute in the Kenduli Mela and the Pous Mela – the 2 most vital fairs held in West Bengal for Baul music.

The ritual is so vital to Bengal that it’s hard to think of Bengali ethos sans the Bauls.

They’re not only a basic part of Bengal’s music, but they’re also in the mud and air of this land and the mind and blood of its people.

The soul of the Bauls is the soul of Bengal, ever-flowing in its culture and values, works and talent, faith, and holiness.

Mission of Entertainment

Bauls of Bengal are poets, creators, choirs, dancers and artistes all turned into one, and their task is to entertain.

Mission of Entertainment
Mission of Entertainment for the Bauls of Bengal

Through their melodies, breaks, signs, and poses, these wandering tramps feast the note of love and trance to lands far and wide.

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In a land empty of powered acting, Bauls of Bengal singers were the main source of entertainment.

Folks still love to watch them chant and dance, their account of folk tales and even comment on modern issues through very tuneful songs and a very high-pitched version.

Though their words speak the verbal of the village folks, their songs are tempting to one and all. The tunes are humble and thru, freely expressive, pleasant, and needs no special gen for gratitude.

Every year, in the month of Falgun (February to March), “Lalon Smaran Utshab” (Lalon memorial festival) is held in the grave of Lalon in Kushtia, Bangladesh, where Bauls and fans of Lalon from Bangladesh and foreign come to achieve and highlight the sages of Lalon.

Lalan Fakir – The King of Bauls of Bengal

Out of all the Bauls of Bengal, Lalan Fakir is considered to be the true King of all the artists. Most of the other artists consider him as their guru and sing his songs.

Lalan Fakir
Lalan Fakir: King of the Bauls of Bengal

Lalon also known as Fakir Lalon Shah, Lalon Shah, Lalon Fakir (Bengali: লালন; 17 October 1774 – 17 October 1890; Bengali: 1 Kartik 1179) was a popular Bengali dreamer, Baul saint, spiritual, lyricist, social crusader and theorist.

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Viewed as an icon of Bengali ethos, he stirred and inclined many writers, public and spiritual theorists with Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and Allen Ginsberg though he “banned all divisions of class and faith”.

Widely famous as an essence of spiritual patience, he was also suspect of heresy during his era and after his death.

In his songs, Lalon proposed a society where all faiths and views would stay in the accord. He created the institute known as Lalon Akhrah in Cheuriya, about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from Kushtia railway station.

His followers reside mostly in Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Every year on the event of his death anniversary, thousands of his followers and factions collect at Lalon Akhrah, and pay respect to him through fete and debate of his tunes and viewpoint for 3 days.

Other Notable Baul Singers

Among the current Baul singers, the names of Purna das Baul, Jatin Das Baul, Sanatan das Baul, Anando Gopal das Baul, Biswanath das Baul, Paban das Baul, and Bapi das Baul are well-known.

Other Notable Baul Singers
Other Notable Bauls of Bengal Singers

The undisputed ruling king of the Bauls of Bengal in the present date is Purna das Baul.

His dad, the late Nabani Das “Khyapa”, was the most famed Baul of his group, and Tagore gave him the title “Khyapa”, meaning “wild“.

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Purna Das was tempted into the folds of the Bauls of Bengal music from his early childhood, and at the tender age of 7, his song won him a gold medal at a music conference in Jaipur.

Shah Abdul Karim (15 February 1916 – 12 September 2009) was a Bangladeshi Baul performer. Dubbed “Baul Samrat”, he was given the Ekushey Padak in 2001 by the Government of Bangladesh.

Some of his prominent songs include Keno Piriti Baraila Re Bondhu, Murshid Dhono He Kemone Chinibo Tomare, Nao Banailo Banailo Re Kon Mestori, Ashi Bole Gelo Bondhu and Mon Mojale Ore Bawla Gaan. He referred to his compositions as Baul Gaan.

Bhaba Pagla (1902-1984) was a famed saint-composer and a vital guru from East Bengal. He has been a divine preceptor for several Bauls and his songs are very prevalent amid Baul musicians.

India’s Bob Dylan

Denoted as the Baul Samrat, Purna Das Baul, bring together Baul songs to the West during an eight-month tour of the US in 1965.

India's Bob Dylan
India’s Bob Dylan: Bauls of Bengal

He went with stars like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Robeson, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, et al. Dubbed “India’s Bob Dylan” by the New York Times in 1984, Purna Das Baul has played with Bob Marley, Gordon Light-foot and Mahalia Jackson and the likes.

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Baul Fusion

Along with sons Krishnendu, Subhendu, and Dibyendu, Purna Das Baul is planning a distinct tour of the US, future to reunify an array of top stars around Baul music.

Baul Fusion
Bauls of Bengal Fusion

Their union band ‘Khyapa’ is all set to reveal their Baul fusion at the US folk-rock-jazz-reggae fest in 2002.

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Then there is the striking tour of the US and Japan with recitals in New Jersey, New York City, and Los Angeles. Purna Das is also eager to line in Mick Jagger to sing Baul Gaan in Bengali on stage and record.

‘Khyapa’ is also optimistic about a show with Bob Dylan, the long-time friend of Baul Gaan.

Global Bauls of Bengal – Bands

Past this year, the famed French Theatre de la Ville asked the global Baul band ‘Baul Bishwa’ group at its Musiques de Monde (the World Music) see in Paris.

Global Bauls of Bengal
Global Bauls of Bengal

Led by Bapi Das Baul, an 8th generation Baul artiste, the group has achieved at numerous places around the world.

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In this situation, the joint effort of Paban das Baul and the British musician Sam Mills (“Real Sugar“) to yield Baul fusion music for global viewers is visible.

To represent the music of Bengal, Paban Das music has also been used by Microsoft in its World CD-ROM Atlas.

Such pains to globalize Baul music are being fervently censured by the critics of Purna das Baul for apparently uprooting the Baul legacy.

But don’t you think this is a usual course in the growth of Baul music – a step that desires to keep the custom thriving and flexing?


Although Bauls of Bengal include only a small portion of the Bengali people, their effect on the ethos of Bengal is extensive.

In 2005, the Baul custom of Bangladesh was involved in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Which city is Baul Gaan?

The city of Baul Gaan is West Bengal, India. However, it has spread its roots to all across the world, created by the Bauls of Bengal.

What is Baul Gaan?

The music of the Bauls of Bengal, Baul Sangeet, is a specific type of folk song. Its lines carry effects of the Hindu bhakti activities and the suphi, a custom of Sufi song typified by the songs of Kabir.

What are the characteristics of Bauls music?

Typically, in Baul music, in Baul-gan, which means Baul folk music, the 3 most important characteristics are an unmeasured outline that may head the recital of a song; the use of only 2 types of the meter; and the alteration of meter that may occur during the recital of a song.

Who introduced Baul Gaan?

The tunes of the Bauls of Bengal and their life influenced a large band of Bengali ethos, but nowhere did it leave its stamp more sturdily than on the work of Rabindranath Tagore, who spoke of Bauls in several dialogues in Europe in the 1930s.