Baul, Folk, and Bangladesh: A Cultural Perspective

By Rubayat Rahman Chowdhury

Bangladesh is among the world’s most extravagant banks of social legacy, with the grace of its language, writing, reasoning, traditional music, design, painting, cuisine, expressions, and religion. This social legacy was fundamentally created as a result of various politics and other norms in recent years. As a post-colonial country, the social legacy of Bangladesh is like that of India since the two nations were subject to British organisation. Occasions such as the partition of India in 1947, the language development in East Pakistan in 1952, and independence in 1971 helped in shaping it as a country. Different social exercises like plays, verses, tunes, compositions, and celebrations portraying the sublime aspects of fellowship alongside contrasts in the strict convictions and practices, language and ethnic diversity, biological and territorial distinctions and so on bolstered the country-building process. Among many components of social legacy, Baul is thought of as one of the foremost. The solid presence of Baul in Bangladesh plainly shows how the reflection tradition (Tantric, Vaisnava, and Sufi) of Baul continues to resound with people. In acknowledgment of its significance, Baul was declared by UNESCO as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in 2008. 

Bauls, the followers of Lalon Fakir, have a place in a local area and they adhere to a few liberal directions of their murshids or masters. Lalon melodies, otherwise called Baul tunes, are distinct from other tunes. They are essential for the practice of a faith created by Lalon Fakir.

Folk Music In Bangladesh

The diverse culture of Bangladesh has progressed over a long period. During the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th and mid-20th centuries, noted Bengali scholars, spiritual leaders, creative people, researchers, specialists, masterminds, music writers, painters, and producers played a huge role in the upgradation of Bengali culture. The way of life in Bangladesh is composite and shows up in different imaginative forms, including music, dance and drama; workmanship and specialty; folklore and folktales; dialects and writing; logic and religion; cooking and culinary customs; and, obviously, celebrations and festivities. 

Poila Baishakh, the first day of the Bengali calendar, is the biggest common celebration in the country. Bangalis all over the planet shake off the previous year’s  lethargy and hail the new year with rejuvenation. Baishakh brings a whirlwind of merriment and festivities, the greatest of which are Chhayanaut’s Borshoboron at  Ramna Botomul and Charukala’s Mongol Shobhajatra. 

Bangladesh is associated with music. Its folk music, specifically, resounds through the towns and play a vital part in celebrations like Chaitra Sankranti, Poila Baishakh, Baishaki mela, Nabanna, Paush Parban, Halkhata, Poila Falgun, and  others. 

Apart from Tagore’s exemplary “Esho Hey Baishakh Esho”, folk tunes like “Ailo Ailo Re Ronge Bhora Baishakh Abar Ailo Re”, “Baje Re Baje Dholar Dhak”, “Abar Jombe Mela Bottola Haatkhola”, “Tomra Ektara Bajaio Na” and “Melaye Jaire” rule during Baishakh festivities all  through Bangladesh and globally. 

Bangladesh has a rich practice of folk melodies, with verses established in the energetic custom of otherworldliness, enchantment, and dedication. Such folk tunes additionally rotate around a few different subjects, including adoration and despair. 

Folk music might be depicted as a sort of old music, which springs from the core of a local area, in view of the regular style of articulation, uninfluenced by the guidelines of traditional music and contemporary popular melodies. Any mode or structure made through the blending of tune, voice and movement can be called music. Accordingly, the blend of folk melody, folk dance and folk tune can be called folk music. 

Generations of writers have enriched Bangla folk music, of which Baul melodies are the most astounding. Baul melodies, created by Lalon Fakir, are a combination of Vaishnavism and Sufism. Baul tunes started from the Bauls—enchanting and, for the most part, vagrant vocalists and performers whose music and lifestyle impact Bangali culture. The straightforward yet profoundly philosophical verses, tunes, and regular cadence of Bangladeshi folk music encompass areas of strength for articulation and the enduring appeal of adoration, bliss, and distress. 

In Bangladesh, folk music encompasses an extraordinary assortment, with tunes dwelling on the way of life, celebrations, and perspectives on life, nature, and social issues. This classification is not quite the same as other music types due to its unmistakable mode as well as the extravagance of its seventh note. Folk music has an essential style of creation and can be ordered into four groupings—first, tunes comprising ‘Sa Re Ma Pa’; second, ‘Sa Ga Ma Pa’; third, ‘Sa Re Ga Pa’; and fourth, ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’. 

Folk music corresponds to this, as does traditional music; the last grouping stems from folk music. All folk melodies the world over, for the most part, include the pentatonic scale, which is traceable in Bangla folk tunes as well as in Santhal and Garo-Hajang melodies. 

Folk music has an extremely impressive base and reputation, because of the valuable contributions by spiritualist-poets of our country like Lalon Fakir, Siraj Shai, Hason Raja, Abbasuddin, Khursheed Nurali (Sheerazi), Radharaman Dutta, Durbin Shah, Arkum Shah, Shah Abdul Karim, Bijoy Sarkar, Pagla Kanai, Ramesh Shil, Kangal Harinath, Kangalini Sufia, Miraz Ali, Ukil Munshi, Rashid Uddin, Jalal Khan, Jang Bahadur, Umed Ali, Shah Alam, and numerous other uncelebrated writers. 

Folk has come to be involved in Bangladeshi life more than other Bangla music. The music and dance styles of Bangladesh might be divided into three general  classifications: traditional, folk, and contemporary. Folk can be categorised into six classes: local, practical, humorous, work, love, and Baromashi.
“Porthom Baishakh Maash/Na Purey Romonir Aash/ Bondhu Jani Roilo Kon Deshe Re Shyamachanda/Tumi Ar Na Ashila Deshe”  is a passage from a well-known Baromashi by Shyamachanda while “Baishakh Mashete  Sadhu Phute Nana Phul/ Modhupaney Lobhe Proverb Oli Beyakul” is another Baromashi, by Roshpoti. 

Folk music can likewise be arranged into a few sub-genres like Baul, Bhandari, Bhatiali, Bhawaiya,  Dhamail, Gombhira, Jari, Pala, Gajir Gaan, Poter Gaan, Kirtan, Kobi Gaan, Sari, Murshidi. There are rooftop beating tunes, wedding melodies, peaceful tunes and so on. 

Baishakhi melas or fairs are organised in many places, with vocalists, artistes, and conventional plays and melodies. Horse races, bull races, bullfights, cockfights,  pigeon flying, and boat races are other Poila Baishakh festivities. 

Not many writers have composed sonnets on Baishakh. We can refer to certain sonnets that emphasise the features of the month. “Baishakh” by Rabindranath  Tagore; “Proloyollash” by Kazi Nazrul Islam; “Nakshi Kanthar Maath” by Jasimuddin; “Baishakh” by Farrukh Ahmed; “Baishakhi Gaan” by Sukanta Bhattacharya; “Baishekh” by Al Mahmud;  “Paila Baishakh” by Alauddin Al Azad; “Baishakhe Rochito Pongtimala” by Syed Shamsul Haq and “Noboborsho”, “Hello Baishakh” and “Asho Borsho-Noboborsho” by Ashraf Siddiqui are among them. 

There are some significant Khonar Bochons (folk precepts on nature and agribusiness) themed on Baishakh. “Botshorer prothom ishane kid/ Shey botshor borsha hobe khonayekoy”, “Poushe goromi baishakhe jhara/ poyla ashare bhorbegara”, “Chaitrekhar/ Baishakhete Jhar-Pathor/ Jaishthe tara phute/ Tobejan be borsha bote”, “Baishakher prothom jole/ Ashudhan dwigun phole”, “Maghe mukhi/ Falgune chukhi/ Chaitre Lata/ Baishakhe Pata”, “Choite lagaile Ada/ Baishakhe lagaile adha”, “Baishakh Squash e Holud Ro/ Daba pasha felia though”, “Choite Baishakh elagaiya jhal/ Sukhe kataye Borshakal”, “Baishakh-Jaishther Brishtipaate/ Bansher charadibopute” are a  few striking examples. 

Before radio, entertainment was generally provided to an audience by folk singers. With the arrival of modern technology, numerous folk melodies were modernised. Metropolitan folk and the blending of western songs with our folk music have given it another aspect. A few groups, including Joler Gaan, with the dream of disseminating Bangladeshi folk music, are well known in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh has a lot of folk instruments including Ektara, Dotara, Dhol, Banshi, Mandira,  Khanjani, Sarinda, Khamak, Dugdugi, Har, I, Kumkum, Juri, Jhunjhuni and cymbals. The instrumentalists are not, predictably, sustained and we barely find any sarinda or khamak player in Bangladesh. 

Various specialists, including Kangalini Sufiya, Rathindranath Roy, Indra Mohan Rajbongshi, Fakir Alamgir, Bari Siddiqui, Kuddus Boyati, Momtaz and Firoz Shai, have undertaken to infuse new life into Bangladeshi folk music. Westernisation of music has crept into the Bangla music  industry, yet folk music is still generally well known and youthful performers are  starting to tread the path shown by these established artistes to restore folk to its earlier stature. 

Music associations and schools like the Bangladesh Shilpakala Institute and Chhayanaut play a major role in promoting Bangla folk music. Holding customary live performances and shows; rousing interest about the rich legacy of folk music among the youth; expanding sponsorship to help folk thrive; establishing robust institutes for folk music and safeguarding a  wide range of folk music can bring back the brilliant past of our folk music heritage.

Traditional Melodies: Bauls and Others

The characteristic Bengali is inseparably linked to the community’s music and culture. According to musicologists, the foundations of the music go back to eight hundred years, when there was no polar distinction as now between a work of art and popular music. Bengali society’s music is consistently considered removed from ordinary life and rooted in ethnicity with only conventional genres common. Some researchers point out that countless current melodic styles are exceptionally impacted by compositional style (Bhattacharya, 1969). With increasing urbanisation, the contemporary gets inextricably linked with urban melodic practices while rustic networks are turning out to be very resistant to the cutting-edge ones. Some  enduring styles incorporate Baul, Bhatiali, Bhawaiya, Palagaan, Jhumur, Gambhira, and others (See, Khan, 1987) and they address a close-to-home articulation of the provincial masses. Bhatiali, Gazirgaan, Bhaoiya, Shari, Jari, Baul, Murshidi, Punthi,  Palagaan, and others are still popular in rural Bangladesh. Anthems which are called Gatha or Geetika in Bangla are the earliest assortments of such music. Mymensingh Geetika is one such assortment of anthems from the district of Mymensingh. Behula Lakhinder and Yusuf Zulaikha are additionally exceptionally well-known melodies of Bangladesh. The Manasamangal Kavya is one of the most established Mangal Kavya, where Manasa is  accepted as one of the most impressive goddesses, revered by Hindus all over Bengal for  her command over snakes. 

Kabi are another kind of songs composed by Kabilas (citizen writers). Kabilas make up well-known stanzas before the crowd. The mysterious Baulgaan with beats of the Dhol and the Ektara communicates the feelings, sentiments, dreams, and reasoning of Baul. Other than the convictions and practices of the Baul, the Gazir Gaan is also sung in various parts of Bangladesh under various names. It is an amazing portrayal of resilience and social uniformity among individuals from various rural communities as a form of insight and custom. Bhatiali is sung by the boatmen of  Bangladesh while paddling boats on huge waterways. Like Bhatiali, Sari (or Shaeri) melodies are sung during the boat races in the months of storms. Likewise, Bichhedi Gaan (melody of partition) largely focuses on the distress of separation from the beloved, while there are various songs for the rites and rituals of marriage called Biyer Gaan. Various regions have different kinds of Biyer Gaan and they are extremely popular in rural locales. 

Murshid (influenced by Sufi thought), Jari Gaan (the Kabila custom of including both Hindu and Muslim), Harikeertan (involving reciting of names of Krishna  and Ram), and Keertan (offerings to Sri Krishna and Sri Chaitanya)  are different types of music connected with various convictions and practices. In northern Bangladesh, there are two engaging types of popular theatre with music called Gambhira and Alka. Jatra, another type of theatre with some music, has been around for a long time. Alongside these, Baul has been a prominent melodic genre among rural people—linked to music as well as religion. Bauls are viewed as a distinct group, generally as men who strum a one-stringed instrument (Ektara), wear ochre garments, and are minstrels. The practice of Baul arose as a way of thinking, known as Baulism, from the middle of the 18th century. 

Effects of Urbanisation, Modernisation, and Globalisation

With urbanisation, various melodic genres, including Baul, are seen as resistant to present-day trends. Accordingly, a  large number of the urban youth bands are taking the initiative to use Lalon Fakir’s melodies in fusion music; they are not subverting the Baul way of thinking but, rather, advancing Baul reasoning in the new age. The concepts of values, secularism, and humanity are part of the Baul way of life and they are attempting to propagate such thought. Traditional Bauls, on the other hand, continue to stay away from western instruments and utilise the conventional ones like the Ektara, Dotara, Dhol, Mandira, Khaman and so on. 

Contemporaneously, due to changes in the general public, Baul has turned into a subject of commercialisation. The course of commercialisation and modernisation is bringing about another turn in the path of Baul music from its subculture existence to global popularity. It is thus bring about changes in dress, non-verbal communication, hair, adoption of contemporary instruments, and likewise. 

A new generation of Bauls is embracing contemporary clothing and standpoint. There is enquiry whether these Bauls are inevitably distancing themselves from true Baul thought, or framing a neo-logic without remaining true to Baul roots.  At present, Baul music has a ubiquity among young music enthusiasts of both the upper and working classes in metropolitan cities. Numerous Bengali groups have explored different avenues regarding Baul tunes in their fusion music with present-day instruments. A few young people and others point out that the riddle of globalisation ought to be inserted in Lalon Fakir’s way of thinking, particularly for Lalon to endure among adolescents and to disseminate Baul thought globally. However, if modernisation of Baulism would do it good, ultra-modernisation might destroy it. 

A large number of city bands are popularising Baul among the young. Some see this as positive as it is helping in keeping Baul alive among the larger audience; however, many reputed traditional Baul singers find this flawed. It is pointed out that a Baul vocalist becomes one by being instilled in Baul thought. In Baulism, singing is a minor part of the entire performance. The enhancement of stages for performing Baul is fading from akharas. The introspection and contemplation which is central to Baul is no longer accorded the same importance with the new trend of Baul fusion music. 

Ultimately, Baulism is a set of principles for otherworldly political and social ways of thinking. Thus, Lalon Geeti is only a part of it. Yet, to keep pace with modern times and to increase reach, the tunes of Lalon are being given a makeover with the utilisation of contemporary instruments. In this, the ‘base tune’ is in some way or the other getting lost and, now and then, the verses of old Baul melodies are getting altered and hence the inferences are being obliterated. 

There is considerable churn over the way ahead—over whether Baul should be marketed and popularised, whether the changes being made to it are in order and whether it makes sense to promote this music among the young in sync with their culture to help preserve Baul philosophy for the future.


About the author: Rubayat Rahman Chowdhury is from Bangladesh. A writer and photographer by passion and a digital marketing expert by profession. Aged 28, currently working at Walton Mobile, a leading mobile manufacturer in Bangladesh.


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