Oh, when will I unite with the Being of my soul
When will I unite with Him!
Like the Chataka bird who eagerly waits for raindrops
Even I wait for the sight of my Lord.
But that is not to be. It is a matter of great luck
In the above verse, the earnest cry of a Baul to unite with the Supreme is aptly captured by Lalon Fakir, a renowned Baul mystic. The verse depicts the beginning of a Baul’s journey to reach the beloved Supreme. Not only does this journey embody a spiritual tradition, but is also rooted in deep philosophy. Soulveda explores the cultural confluence that is said to have shaped the Baul tradition during its infancy.
The Baul and its origins
Twentieth-century historian Niharranjan Roy, in his book Bangalir Itihas, traces the origin of Baul to the Aryan ages. Roy establishes that the convergence of Buddhist and Tantric traditions framed the Baul philosophy to a significant extent. In his words, the native Bengali practice of Tantra and the worship of Goddess Shakti (the feminine energy) went against the patriarchal ideologies of the Aryans. These natives were thus banished from society. A Buddhist monk, Asanga, perceived this as an opportunity. Buddhism was just beginning to take shape as a movement then. In order to provide momentum to the practice of Buddhism, the monk invited the outcast natives to be part of the Buddhist tradition. Even though Roy does not attribute a name to the tradition that took shape thus, he clearly indicates the shaping up of a community, which going forward, had practices similar to that of Baul.
Buddhist and Tantric traditions aside, the Sufis too had an influence on Baul. In fact, according to Banglar Baul, Sufi Sadhana and Sangeet by the Arabian reformer Abdul Wahhab, the Turkish invasion of Bengal brought a turning point in the history of Baul.
They had eventually left their families, renouncing the material world, wandering the deserts in search of the divine. This journey of the Sufi to unite with the ultimate is said to have influenced the Baul deeply.
Withstanding prejudices and social barriers, the Baul mystics of Bengal have come a long way in their journey to unite with the Supreme. They are, however, far from reaching their destination.