I have just spent the most amazing two weeks in West Bengal exploring the world of the Bauls for a documentary I am working on. I had to cope with 45 degree heat and many sleepless nights ( Bauls know how to party ) But I was lucky enough to shoot some of the most incredible people and places.
Two years back I had the pleasure of meeting Paban Baul and Mimlu Sen. The music blew me away but what really inspired me was Mimlu's talk on the unique Baul culture. Mimlu is the author of several books about the Bauls and has been really supportive in sharing her contacts in Bengal with me.
The Bauls originate from Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. The Baul movement, is said to date back several thousand years. Baul music is popular among the rural population of Bengal, As well as the city slickers of Kolkata. Their music and way of life have been influential in Bengali culture, including the compositions and poetry of Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Some Bauls sing Baul songs traditionaly acompanied by the 'ektara, the lute dotara, a simple one-stringed instrument, and a drum called dubki.' Some Baul musicians have also intergrated modern instruments like the guitar into Baul music.
Here is some more information on the unique Baul culture from Unesco:
'Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vasinavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them. Bauls neither identify with any organized religion nor with the caste system, special deities, temples or sacred places. Their emphasis lies on the importance of a persons physical body as the place where God resides.'
'Bauls are admired for this freedom from convention as well as their music and poetry. Baul poetry, music, song and dance are devoted to finding humankinds relationship to God, and to achieving spiritual liberation. Their devotional songs can be traced back to the fifteenth century when they first appeared in Bengali literature.'
'Baul music represents a particular type of folk song, carrying influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song. Songs are also used by the spiritual leader to instruct disciples in Baul philosophy, and are transmitted orally. The language of the songs is continuously modernized thus endowing it with contemporary relevance.'
The purpose of this initial trip was to research different types of Baul practice. Mainly the differences between Sadhu Bauls, Musician Bauls and those who combine both practices. The project will be a video documentary this is simply a blog post to keep people up to date on the project and introduce Baul.
Here are a few behind the scenes shots.