Baul Gaan – from the entertaining passengers

Baul Gaan – from the entertaining passengers

Baul Gaan – These are songs sung by Bauls, entertaining passengers. When I was around ten years old, my family used to travel a lot across India in trains. This was purely due to my father’s work. Sometimes the journeys would be as long as 32 hours. And those where the ‘no mobile phone’, ‘no gadgets’ days. We kids had to pack a lot; to entertain ourselves throughout the journey. These would include comics, toys, a diary, board games, drawing books, pencils, colours and not to forget – school books just to make sure we revise something. Time should not be wasted you see.

It was during one of the train journeys that I discovered these fantastic entertainers – The Bauls. They entertained the passengers singing ‘Baul Gaan’( gaan – song in Bengali). They were a popular sight in train routes passing through West Bengal. They would suddenly appear in the train compartment donning saffron cotton robe, saffron turban and a saffron cloth tied around their waist like a belt, very similar to how Swami Vivekananda, the great spiritual mentor and social reformer, dressed up. And this was the reason my young mind registered them as the followers of Swami Vivekananda. Well, the similarities ended there.

I called them entertainers as they are a complete package of entertainment, they would play their ektara (one-stringed musical instrument), sing devotional songs and dance in whatever space is left in the aisle of the crowded train compartment. The ektara had a resonating sound. Their lyrics I never understood then. The best part of their performance was their dance; as per the tune the Baul would tap his feet, bend and gyrate when the music goes fast, and then there is an interesting wiggly move. A feast to your eyes and ears.

Baul Gaan photo
Baul singers at Santiniketan by ptwo under CC BY 2.0

But then, like every other child, once I reached my destination I forgot about them until I spotted them again during my trip to Jamshedpur, Bihar, in my college days. This time I made it a point to know more about them. I was a grown up now and I understood Bengali language well, thanks to my Bengali friends. Now my perception of them changed, I like them more for what they are. Their songs and dance moves reflect their inner most joy, the devotion and the pure love for the divine. These mystic wonderers of West Bengal, believe in no religion. They have a strange and a strong relationship with the divine. They enjoy being themselves, without any societal ties. Their life’s aim seems to be propagating Baul music. Even when they are gone the lyrics linger in your head and prompts you to think about yourself and your life.

In the era when most of us are chasing success and fame, Bauls as a group show us that there is so much beyond the worldly possessions. There is peace, love, satisfaction and happiness in being oneself. Everything lies within ourselves and all we need is to discover the essence of our existence.

If you happen to visit West Bengal try spotting a Baul and listen to him/her, try and get the lyrics translated (in case you are not a Bengali). It is an experience to watch and listen to them. And of course they are not followers of Swami Vivekananda, they simply follow their heart.

Featured Photo: Baul Singer by Mostaque Chowdhury under CC BY 2.0

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