THE BAUL ART

THE BAUL ART

1.jpgDoes anything exist like Baul Art? The conventional answer should be no. But, as Baul-Fakir ideology is a loosely forged ‘ism’ churned out by centuries in the rather undefined cultural scenario in Bengal, ‘Baul Art’ should not be a wild concept either. Artists have portrayed all other ‘isms’; quite a few tried to transform the spiritual thoughts into art forms- the most famous among them perhaps being the artworks related to Tantrik Buddhism. The snap above perhaps suggests how ‘Kam’ or sex is to be controlled. The lyrics below may shed some idea on this.

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3.jpgOne of the important messages in the lyric just above is to enjoy the physical company of a woman with a feel for the womanhood “meye na hoi-a je meyer sathe kore romon ekanta tar hobe poton”. It is difficult and also perhaps undesirable to transcribe the text in English. The text essentially says without this feeling of womanhood, one really cannot enjoy a woman. The idea, though a bit complicated, is very much true for the knowledgeable ones. This will also be the basic foundation of ‘Jugal Sadhana’ or ‘Dual Worship’ so very famous in Baishavite sects. “Dual Worship’ effectively means an attempt undertaken jointly by a man and a woman to find the identity of the Supreme. Physical relationship between the male and the female remains an integral part of the idea. “Deha Tatya” hence remains an important part of the Baishnavite sects also. Baul & Fakirs do not exactly follow the ‘Jugal Sadhana’ or ‘Dual Worship’ as actually they are more individualistic in their approach, neither do they believe in the ‘Supreme Powers’; however they acknowledge the necessity of the intense knowledge about the body, to overcome common allurements. They are also primarily seekers of a higher plane of human existence; and hence feel it necessary to have their own ‘Deha Tatya’ to free the mind from the various pulls of the body.

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5.jpgThe Bauls & Fakirs however do not have any sacred text to follow; and hence no central control on its concepts. In a way they can be called atheists, as they feel that the human being is the best creation to ever tread on this planet Earth and everything that needs to be attained should be achieved in this earthly life only. The function of the human body, through which life is created anew again, remains a primary focus of attention to them. They have formed an intricate idea of human body and generally believe in ‘Deha Tatya’- a secret search into the domain of body function. Even here there is no explicit text of Deha Tatya; but the ideas are frequently referred to in Baul and Fakir songs, through which some idea on this can be formed. The ideas have some similarity with practicing Yoga; but the spiritual interpretations vary widely from the Hindu concepts. Steadfast denial of the existence of gods/super powers/after life dramatically changes the interpretation of Truth. Bauls & Fakirs basically try to rediscover their mind, after a thorough knowledge of the bodily function of their beings, to rejoice the human life. They do not believe in ‘Atma’ and neither the ‘Paramatma’. To them God is just ‘Anuman’ (Guess) and the human existence is ‘Bartaman’ (the existentialist’s present tense!). The Bauls religiously belong to the ‘Bartaman’; and steadfastly avoids the ‘Anuman’ as according to them ‘the assumption of existence of god’ is a flawed premise to embark on any kind of spiritual search. They are after all the greatest humanists of Bengal.

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Many of their terminologies are immensely interesting.

Like ‘Parakia Prem’, which in conventional Bengali language would mean an extra marital affair, to the Bauls and Fakirs it would mean getting into sex without the desire of having a child. In effect, according to the Bauls, one can have a ‘Parakia Prem’ with the spouse when an offspring is not the desired result. The opposite of this is the ‘Swakia Prem’ that aspires for an offspring. A bit of contemplation would be enough to feel the difference between the two. Bauls and Fakirs intend to conceptualize the difference and consciously put that in practice. This is a practical outcome of the secret search into ‘Deha Tatya’ by the clan. So, Deha Tatya is a much-encrypted concept in the psyche of the Bauls and Fakirs; much of their spiritualism revolves around this ‘Deha Tatya’ but not entirely confined to it. In fact there are wide spaces outside the nuances of ‘Deha Tatya’ to which Bauls and Fakirs are interested. After all humanism is a much wider concept than the intricacies of bodily functions. However the ‘body’ remains a sacred abode for the Baul and Fakirs; and hence ‘Deha Tatya’ almost an essential subject of contemplation.

7.jpgThe ‘Deha Tatya’ of the Baul and Fakirs however is not a well-defined text like the Yoga, though some yogic or tantrik ideas are often reflected in lyrics related to Deha Tatya. Accordingly reference to tantrik forms, or the Lotus (Yogic/Tantrik) forms with number of petals signifying different states of spiritual realization can be found often in Baul lyrics. The Art works that I chanced upon with much astonishment also consisted of several examples of such Lotus forms. To derive an explanation of such art works can be a bit difficult as ‘Deha Tatya’ is a secret Sadhana; it can be only known through practice with the right frame of mind. From my part I naturally enquired about a few of them, the Baul sadhak was in rather good mood to suggest me a few points- but mysteriously and mischievously refrained from explaining much in details. However as I was already a bit exposed to Baul philosophy (mostly by reading), Buddhist Tantrik Art (courtesy Lamaji of Santiniketan, our neighbour) and the significance of Lotus Designs (just out of curiosity when I was covering the Lotus flower in the flora & fauna section of Patha Bhavana Praktoni) I tried to join the loose ends and managed to sense the art works accordingly.

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Please take note of both the lyrics and the artwork as displayed above. The artwork has an interesting explanation. After a Sadhak attains the highest knowledge about ‘Man’ from within his own bodily and intellectual experiences; the ‘Sahasradal Padma’ (ref to the lyric above) is then represented in an inverted form over the head of the Sadhak. The petals of that ‘thousand petal lotus’ points downward suggesting that the nectar now flows from the flower and drops on the Sadhaka. The nectar now is sufficient to nurture and stimulate the Sadhak, and he now does not require nutritious inputs from this worldly life to sustain himself. In short, this is a state when the Sadhak attains the highest state of human perfection.

10.jpgThe moot and crude point about this deliberation is that such thoughts neither can be expressed in words and also probably in art form; these are matters to be felt within. But still, I was fairly surprised to find these realizations in art form. It suggests that the Baul & Fakir realizations on ‘Deha Tatya’ can be translated into art form. This is a new area, as Baul and Fakirs take the lyrical route to express their thoughts and feelings. Whether an art-route can be taken to express such thoughts can be a very exciting area to explore. Honestly speaking along with large number of Baul singers, it will be interesting and revealing to find a few Baul painters as well! I really do not know if that can be a valid form of Sadhana; but my limited intellect fails to understand why it cannot be? When there is a feeling, there should be art in all formats.

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12.jpgConsidering the ill effects of commercialization where the ratio of Baul Sadhak to Baul Singers will be probably in the range of 1:1000; I really do not know if any publicity of any kind about ‘Baul Art’ has the potential of turning into a commercial activity. Consequently I pondered for quite sometime whether to write anything about ‘Baul Art’, I was also not sure if anything called ‘Baul Art’ exists at all, at the same time Baul Spirituality is a very difficult subject to handle. Still I felt like sharing the experience with the ex-students of Visva Bharati at least. It may sound ironic but one day Baul Art might become more famous than the Baul songs especially to the western world; as is the case for Rabindranath Tagore! We have many painter friends in our fold; it will be great to know about their opinions about this.

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14.jpgThe ‘Bindu’ or the point remains an important factor in Baul & Fakir spiritualism. It is from this ‘point’ the search starts. It can also be put in this way that from a ‘point of realization,’ the expansion of self starts ultimately to cover the whole creation. Or the ‘super point of realization’ the thousand-petal-lotus might also look like a point if concentrated. The explanations can be many, and myriad of realizations can follow. The Baul lyrics in this perspective remain pretty fluid, with much deeper scope for elaboration. In fact all the Baul lyrics are layered; one can continuously peel off to get to the deeper realizations. Similarly the Baul Art also possesses that property that was the specific reason why this art form appears to be immensely attractive to me. The lines and forms can be peeled off successively to arrive at different plain of realizations. This multi-layered character of this form of art perhaps needs to be cultured by the learned. However Baul & Fakir philosophy will primarily remain lyrical in nature.

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‘Chokher Kache Chintamoni, Chinte Parle Hoy!’ The problem however is can we recognize the ‘Truth’, is it at all conceivable? However mystic the Baul & Fakirs may appear to us-the ordinary folks, these seekers essentially aim to plant a ray of hope in human minds. Without ‘hope’ no ‘ism’ can survive in the long run.

So, essentially one has to locate the ‘hope’ within one’s personality to meaningfully survive in this transitory world. It is the ‘hope’, which has made a particular Baul Sadhak sketch these forms in his notebook (generally called the Mahajani Khata), which has been coloured a bit by his disciples in recent times. It was a small but rare replica of such sketches in the notebook. I loved the distinct note of ‘hope’ in such creations; but for me also the same lyric applies ‘Chokher Kache Chintamoni, Chinte Parle Hoy!’

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8 Comments

  1. Subir Banerjee says:

    Brilliant. The article should be published in a well known magazine or a journal for the readers who are not connected with this website. It opens absolutely a new horizon in the field of art as well as in the mystic world of Bauls.

  2. Tapas Basu says:

    Fantastic Article. I took time to read it because I wanted to realize every point which is vividly mentioned here & also the Philosophical Thoughts with it. I also wanted to see the images & tried to find there their inner meanings ….

    ” ভারী সুন্দর লেখা । একটু সময় নিলাম পুরোপুরি আধ্যাতিক ভাবটা যেটা অন্তর্নিহিত সেটা ঠিক মত বুঝতে এচারা ছবিগুলোর বিশ্লেষণ বুঝতে হ’ল ।

  3. Priyadarshi Datta says:

    interesting the farther away you go from New Delhi the more unconventional and tantric the level of sex becomes..if you look at those Buddhists who fled India also carried with them the tantric /sexual rituals which would mortify those well established Indians…

  4. This is a wonderful piece of writing and the pictures are very good and informative too. Please do write more and we will be enriched reading them.

  5. milan banik says:

    awesome piece with excellent information

  6. Tonu says:

    Nice. Enjoyed looking at the art form. The philosophy and lifestyle has been evolving and perhaps an amalgam of many thoughts and contemporaneous influences – and the trend in recent times appears to seek Hindu-Muslim common ground instead of the aloof vaishnavism or early Budhhist expressions.

    Everything changes – there are no real bauls left, but that is because the community that supported real bauls is also gone. Blame globalization, television, bollywood and market branding of products.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Shubhashis says:

    Janak Jhankar Narzary-da told me that the topic covered as ‘Baul Art’ has the potential to turn into a research topic. ‘The problem’, I said back ‘is in that case the researcher needs to be a Baul Sadhak himself, as Dehatatya is a realization to be felt, rather than studied for research purpose!”
    Janak Jhankarda then pointed out to me, very methodically, that a researcher ideally needs to be an outsider to keep his observation unbiased and objective. That is in fact a primary condition of pure research- to be purely objective and analytic.
    This interaction churned within me for quite a few days. I just wonder if Baul and Fakirs can ever be researched objectively? Is their philosophy objective? In fact research on any ‘ism’ ideally can not be objective, in my opinion. Like Hinduism, Christianity to the Bauls and Fakirs of Bengal–these ‘isms’ are subjective interpretations of human experiences, rather than objective evolution. Bauls of course have their own objective notions, most primarily the stature of men above all deities. But still then many of their fairly important realizations are basically subjective in nature. I really do not know if any objective evaluation is ever possible on ‘isms’. This line of thought is bugging me for quite sometime now.

  8. Bipasha says:

    This is truly a fascinating article. I totally agree with Subirda and Janak da that this topic needs deep research and a wider audience will be interested to read it in future. Please give it a go! Of course analysis of “ism” or any philosophy is subjective to a large extent. Research is not necessarily about objective evaluation (i.e good or bad) but it can be about better understanding of an issue or “ism” in the context of a modern/contemporary life of an outsider. I certainly would relate to an outsider’s analysis because I do not live a Baul’s life myself , yet, many tenets of the “ism” may influence my modern living and value system. Therefore, a reader like me would relate well to observations from the outside.

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