Baul songs - from ektara to fusion music (Feature)

By Subhojit Banerjee, IANS
Thursday, February 3, 2011

KOLKATA - Baul music has caught on in a big way among Bengali music lovers, with the soulful songs sung by wandering minstrels finding favour with Bengali bands and movies.

“The Namesake” - a movie which depicts the hardships and struggles of a Bengali couple in the US - and “Moner Manush”, made on the life and works of famous Baul singer Lalon Fakir, extensively used Baul songs which were lapped up by the audience.

Besides, Bengali bands have also experimented with Baul songs in their fusion music to the accompaniment of modern musical instruments.

However, Purna Chandra Das Baul, an internationally famed singer, disapproves of the trend.

“The use of Baul songs by Bengali bands through fusion music and in modern-day movies is destroying the true beauty of not only Baul music but also Baul culture,” Purna Das Baul told IANS.

Another exponent, Haradhan Das Baul, agreed. “This kind of improvisation spoils the true beauty of the actual version.”

However, Soumik Chatterjee, singer of the Bengali band Deenga, differed. “People are enjoying Baul music. So there is no harm in reaching Baul songs to the people with the help of modern instruments.”

Traditionally, Baul singers play the ‘ektara’, a one-stringed instrument, and percussion instruments like khol and kartal.

Though the origin of Baul songs is vague, there is reference to the genre in Bengali texts around 15th century, said Manas Rai, professor of anthropology at Visva Bharati University and author of the book “Bauls of Birbhum”.

The name came from a group of minstrels who identified themselves as Bauls.

Baul songs are spontaneous in nature and less refined than other forms of classical music. They revolve around the life and circumstances of man within his society and use simple language to convey the message of the song.

“The message conveyed through the simple language of Baul lyrics is the content of life and an individual living within society,” said Purna Das Baul.

Haradhan commented, “Baul music conveys the message of peace of the heart and mind of an individual through simple language.”

Even Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore was deeply influenced by Baul songs.

Many of his popular songs like “Bhenge Mor Ghorer Chabi” and “Praner Manush” were inspired by Baul tunes.

“Rabindranath Tagore was influenced by Baul songs and music due to the simplicity of the language,” said Rai.

Lalon fakir was another pioneer in Baul music. His songs speak of the reality and truth that lie beyond materialistic life. Some of his famous works are “Sob loke koy lalon ki jat” and “Kalankini Radha”. He lived during 1774-1890.

Baul singers mainly thrive in Birbhum district. They can often be spotted in trains travelling through Birbhum, in an orange attire singing Baul songs accompanied by an ektara.

“Birbhum alone houses around 1,200 Bauls. But their exact figure cannot be given,” said Rai.

(Subhojit Banerjee can be contacted at

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