The pronunciation does not rhyme with Gauls, and so should not lead to adolescent humour as it did when I told someone about this community of wandering minstrels from Bengal, and he had difficulty pronouncing it. It is Ba-ools, more or less.
The Bauls are more than wandering minstrels. They are philosophers, mystics, observers and commentators, rebels; and by their own admission, mad. However, this lunacy is not the kind that warrants psychiatric or psychological attention. It is the madness of the man seeking his “inner being” through his love of god. Again, this god is of no particular denomination, and Bauls can be from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist religious communities and any beliefs in between. Defining their belief system is itself a major task.
The Bauls’ music is simple and evocative. But it also has hidden meaning in straightforward, sometimes off-the-cuff, lyrics. They pluck out examples from normal, human daily living to sing of the oneness that must be achieved in mind, body and spirit so that we can all live a life of divine sustenance. The Bauls tradition is oral and so the language of their songs change with the times they are in, making them of great and instant appeal to the common man and intellectual alike.
There’s plenty more about Bauls, but I will end this post with just one more fact.
Today, May 9, is Rabindra Jayanti, Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary. Tagore, as a poet-musician-philosopher, derived immense inspiration from Baul music and it greatly influenced many of his compositions and thinking. In fact, people with musical sensibilities and interests should not forget that Tagore was probably one of the first “world” musicians. While his learning was in the Indian classical tradition, he broke away from its rigidity and incorporated Baul, Bhatiyali, Murshidi and other Bengali folk and ethnic music influences, as well as used his understanding of Western classical and other music from Britain to add those distinctive flavours in his music, which thankfully, was not the mass-produced “fusion” of today.
In Bangla, the term “baul mon” (literally, the baul’s mind) depicts the state of mind when everything that is material and of this world is left behind to seek that certain spiritual realm, forever out of our grasp.