Baul – Etymology
The word “Baul” is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word “Vatula” which means someone who has gone crazy due to the wind element (residing in our body) which rose to the head and misbalanced the mental state. Scholars like Sashibhushan Dasgupta have suggested another meaning to it. According to him, the term “Baul” came from the Sanskrit word “Vyakula” which means restless or someone who is always on a move.
Bauls are maverick Bengalese sect who essentially have gurus or spiritual guides but are devoid of dogmas, rituals, religious institutions, scriptures, or social bindings. A Baul releases themselves from all worldly preconceptions on the search of absolute “Truth”, divine entity or spiritual self. His wandering feet tread the whole world. His mystic heart yearns for the Omniscient, indestructible and unchangeable cause. His lonely apathy finds expressions in their songs which are mostly based on “Deha tatwa” or science of the body.
Bauls believe that the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of this creation are one and resides in our own body. They also believe that it is possible to find his beloved, the “Brahman” or as they say “moner manush”, the nearest and dearest one.
The great universal phenomenon is the manifestation in the form of “Sai” or “Alekh Sai”* in a Baul’s heart. He realizes the unlimited within his limited body through their secret organized “Sadhana”.
A baul’s motive is to find the truth through their earthly lives. He sees the whole creation in his own nature and his gross existence.
There is no space for communal controversy. They don’t follow any “ism”. They don’t have any community instead they propagate a religion of life. They believe that the divine cannot manifest in a heart having confused ideas and religious disputed ideas. The absolute can only emerge from a clear, loving and open heart. This is the seat for the “One”.
Though the philosophy of the Baul’s seems simple, down to earth and eccentric but within its core lies the highest form of Vedic ideas and concepts known as Vedanta or “Upanishads”.
The simplified Vedanta
Baul sect basically evolved from the “Sahaja yan” from Buddhism and also known as “Sahajia” but the philosophy essentially follows Vedantic concepts.
Much later, this Baul philosophy has been infiltrated with Sufism, Islamic concepts, fragmented Buddhist philosophies and southern Vaishnavism. The present form of Baul is a mixture of these fragments and has lost its true form but still, that taste can be found in some remote parts of Bangladesh and in West Bengal.
They say that our lives collectively are a projection of the supreme entity or self. IT has assumed multiple forms for IT’s own playful purpose or “Leela”. Eternal bliss is the pillars of this divine play and the base of bliss is pure love. This love is the signature of the absolute and an integral part of IT’s existence.
The Baul’s philosophy is based on Vedantic concepts. This philosophy states that the present form our existence is actually the reason and stuff which were used to create this universe. So logically it is derived that in the beginning only “I” existed. But due to the evolution and its re-iterations, the memory of our (read “my”) true nature has been shrouded by illusory projections.
This is the essence of Vedanta. The Baul awakes to this reality and expresses his feelings in simple lyrics (apparently simple while reading but the true meaning is concealed in it and to decode these lyrics, one has to have a good understanding of Vedanta, Yoga and the yogic part of Tantra).
A Baul wanders from place to place singing meaningful songs with his “ektara” or a single-stringed musical instrument. This way he reaches to the mass and delivers spiritual knowledge. A typical Baul knows that this world is an illusion and we as a physical entity are the part of this illusion. So avoid “Maya”, they travel so that they do not get emotionally attached to a place or a person.
By following a philosophy, which is Vedantic in nature and through the practice of a specific form of “Kriya Yoga” (pranayama and few yogic practices), a Baul or Fakir can attain the highest level of consciousness.
Well, the Baul’s consider “Adi ripu” (Kama) or lust as the main obstacle on the path of salvation. So they have designed a controlled practice of copulation which also incorporates a specific breathing technique in which they restrain the seminal ejaculation and reverse the flow through some yogic procedure sometime known as “Vajroli Mudra”.
Retaining the seminal fluid as they call it “Vindu Dharana” is the toughest part of their spiritual practice. Whoever attains this level is leveled as “Sai” (Swami) or the master of this illusory world.
The culmination of any spiritual efforts results to the realization if the supreme. Life after realization is free from all desires and full of love and ecstatic bliss. A person after absolute realization finds himself or herself in all and necessarily sees all within him or her.
Baul’s generally use a single-stringed musical instrument which is known as “Ektara” (Ek means one and tara or taar means string). This is used to keep a tune which helps is keeping a base note while singing so that the octave remains stable and doesn’t fluctuate.
But there is another hidden meaning about “Ektara”. This concept is related to the yogic system of chakras and kundalini (read more). The two necks are the “Ida” and “Pingala” Nadi and the single string which is in the middle tied to the top of the joined neck and the gourd resonator is the “Sushumna” Nadi. The lead singer plucks the string to maintain the note and also to remind himself about the “Sushumna” Nadi which lead to “Sahasrara” or the culmination of human life. This single stringed instrument signifies singularity. So not every Baul’s is authorized to hold an “Ektara”. The spiritual leader or Guru gives permission to use this instrument when he feels that the ascetic is ready for it.
There is another instrument known as “Dotara” which means two strings. Though this instrument contains four strings it has two twin strings scaled to a single octave. These twin strings are known as “Yugala” or twin. From this “Yugala” or twin came the term “Do” or two joined with “Tara” or string.
Holding “Dotara” signifies that the Baul is still in duality and need to improve more to attain the mindset of singularity.
Today, the concept of authorization has loosened a lot and these instruments are used without following its concept.
Salvaging the wreck
Urbanization has taken a toll on the rural life and an aspiration of physical comforts along with name, fame, and money has distorted and morphed the spirit of the Baul songs.
These Baul’s were a taken abroad and given platforms to display the spiritual concepts through songs but as the real meaning of these songs are concealed and not easy to grasp so people either misinterpret or become easily bored with it. In fear of losing the platform, modern Baul lyricists compose songs with shallow meaning with a tint of physical love. This distortion has already destroyed the originality and the spirit of Baul’s way of sadhana.
Baul concepts are standing on the verge of oblivion. This is the high time to re-invent and re-establish this wonderful form of self-realization. This philosophy has many things to give and can prove to be the most relevant machinery to restore and serve humanity.
“Ami kothay pabo tarey, amar moner manush jere”
Where can I find the One, who is closest to my heart?
This is the eternal quest of the Bauls. This was the search for all our ancient sages. This is the search of us.
Let us join hands and strive to bring back the normality and divine love that flows with simplicity and touches the absolute within us.
Let us establish the feeling of “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am that).
*Alekh Sai – Alekh means which cannot be seen and “Sai” means Master. So the Baul’s searches for the absolute who is the master of the creation and is still unseen. [Author’s note]