Friday, April 18, 2014

Q&A: On Baul Music, Intangible Heritage, Remix, Fusion etc

by Mac Haque 

QUESTION: The argument for my blog is "is remix a way for baul to survive as an intangible cultural heritage? I feel there should be a balance which most musicians do not keep in mind and the put in their own versions.... but can it be a way to sustain the culture ... dont u feel that the modern touch expands and opens the market for more listeners? The status maybe different in Bangladesh between local and modern performers but abroad they both gain the same exposure ...

Mac Haque:  I think the first part of the question is based on atypical suppositions which is condescending to the Bauls, their music and philosophy. For instance, it wasn’t until 2005 that UNESCO recognized Baul music and the corpus of Fakir Lalon Shah’s work as an intangible cultural heritage not just of Bangladesh – but of all mankind. However if you are to look up the timelines, ‘recognition’ came about 115 years after the death of the Sage. It means this so-called intangible heritage has been safe and sound and in circulation for well over 200 years!

Since the tradition has survived this long without anybody’s help it makes sense to surmise that it will continue to survive until the ends of time through its sheer inherent strength. And let us be clear why and how. It is not us city based and bred Baul aficionados with infinitesimally limited understanding and knowledge that can possibly guarantee survival of the culture. The custodian and ultimate stake holders i.e. the Shadhus, Fakirs, Shadhikas  and Shadhu Gurus are sufficiently empowered and have their own modes, mechanisms, rites and rituals,  ideas and fundamentally informal institutions that have been in circulation for over 800 years, that keeps it ‘alive’. 

The strongest are the Guru-Siswa Parampara (Teacher/Disciple Discourses) and Shadhu Shango (Conclave of the Wise) and it is estimated that over a thousand such conclaves are held each year all across Bangladesh. Baul culture/traditions isnt 'spectators entertaintment'. It is  organic and constantly polished, constantly refined – and one that is the lifestyle of millions of our people. One has to live the culture, experience it and make it a lifestyle statement, to be able to appreciate it. Else, interest on Baul culture if limited to tokenistic touristic jaunts to Kushtia or elsewhere, as is usually the case – is practically of no value. As we speak, there are at least 3 conclaves going on somewhere or the other right now. That is how strong the culture is.


On ‘re-mix’, depending on how you define the term – if it means using new sound technologies, fruity loops, instruments whatever, or even fusing genres;  Bauls are certainly open to it. In essence our belief systems compel us to shun puritanism or use of any ‘last word’. There are no right or wrong, sins or salvation, truth or lies, and importantly we aren’t a judgmental people. Fakir Lalon Shah left no edict anywhere to imply how his music should or shouldn't be interpreted. 

However there is only one area that may be emphasized. There ultimately isn't much `music’ in Baul music!  As far as tunes or ‘soors’ are concerned there is probably no more than a dozen that all Baul songs are practically based upon and sung on. Baul gaan or songs are just not songs or verse, they are gyan or knowledge. More than recreational or entertainment value, Baul music is info-tainment.  Importantly it is the esoteric text and the implied allegorical meaning of the verse/s entwined with the message/s that has to be understood completely before a musician in my reckoning can or may conceivably be able to create/re-create the soundscape around it.  

More than the music, the Baul is interested in the messages from Fakir Lalon Shah reaching a global audience. There are over 1200 known songs/verse of Fakir Lalon Shah, and perhaps a thousand more that were pilfered from the Ankhra in Seuria by Tagore’s men from Shantinketon. But the sheer irony is one doubt if anyone in Bangladesh or for that matter anywhere in the world knows or has heard more than maybe 20 of his songs/verses? The verses/songs indeed have complex messages that are yet to be decoded or deciphered. Perhaps they contain message for humanity, for mankind. There are gems strewn all around us. It is for us and NOT the Bauls to 'discover' them. 

So the balance that you talk about is a balance of the mind that needs to be addressed first before anything tangible can be achieved. There are enough lyrics and ideas floating about – and very little music to work on, is the crux of the fusion musician’s confusing dilemma. Add together attempts by many to look at the Baul as a 'fashion statement' hasn’t made things any easier. Therefore all that we fusion or re-mix musicians are really achieving for now when it comes to Baul music per se is putting in another new bus to an already profitable bus route! That is anything but ‘creative’. 

Yes a ‘modern touch’ (assuming Lalon or Bauls are/were ‘primitive’!) does improve the chance of a broader listenership, but without sounding puritanical it would also mean co-opting to terms and conditions of the so-called ‘civilized west’ and their ‘modern’ likes and dislikes. If it is western diktats that will dictate Baul music and philosophy, it would be underestimating the strength of our culture – a sellout as far as I am concerned. How about getting the world hooked on the more or less ‘authentic sound’ of the Ankhra where time has stood still for centuries ? My idea of Baul fusion/re-mix is to make the rustic Ankhra sound ‘kewl’!

Pallabi, 17th April 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fakir Lalon Shah : On the unseen bird

কী এক অচিন পাখি পুষলাম খাঁচায় /হলো না জনম ভরে তার পরিচয় ||
What an unseen bird have I reared in my cage/ Spent a lifetime yet know not who it is.

আঁখির কনে পাখির বাসা /দেখতে নারে কী তামাশা 
The bird nest is in the edge of my eyes, yet I can’t see it, what a joke...

আমার এই আন্ধেলা দশা /কে আর ঘুচায় ||
Who is it that will remove my sheer blindness

পাখি রাম রহিম বুলি বলে /ধরে সেই অনন্ত লীলে
The bird utters the name of Ram, Rahim and sacred scripts/ says endless things about formless tryst of times

বল তাঁরে কে চিনিলে/বল গো নিশ্চয় || 
Do tell me if you know about the bird/ please do for sure

যারে সাথে লয়ে ফিরি/তারে বা কি চিনতে পারি
The one that I carry with me, do I really know what it is

লালন কয় অধর ধরি/কী রূপধজ্জায় ||
Lalon says the formless hands/are sheathed in a beauty of deceit.

সাধক দেশ পাঠ : ফকির লালন শাহ 
Work of Fakir Lalon Shah - translated by Mac Haque, 10th April 2014

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Abirbhaab/Tirodhan - esoteric words in Bauliana and their meanings

by Mac Haque

Abirbhaab/Tirodhan : the closest English translation we can come up with is 'evolution' and 'transition' - and are used essentially to replace the notion of 'birth' and 'death'. Since there is no verifiable evidence that birth is at all the 'beginning' of anything or death the 'end' of something - the terms are used to emphasize the basis of our being. Abirbhaab is therefore not an accident nor is Tirodhan an aberration. It is the continuity of the cycle of mother nature we call 'life' and we just by some freak accident happen to be a part of it. 

As natural creatures we evolved in the course of natures time and will make our transition again at a time NOT set by us, but as mother nature decides. That in itself is what we call 'nature's nature'. In our 'coming and going' the purpose of our life is of paramount concern to us as nothing else sets us apart from other natural creatures. In this pompous business of the 'Ashraful Maklukat' it is our duty to connect to the 'invisible being' within us - else life is a disjointed journey we may have embarked upon with neither our origin or destination known, or of any consequence to us. 

If there is at all a 'Pul Sirat', the 'bridge to take us across' - we usually meditate upon 'either banks' of the vast unknown/uncharted river/ocean of expanse, when we may not have even started the journey or ended it - without our even knowing. In all probability we may neither be 'here nor there' - and like 'truth' as a belief is something which is usually somewhere 'in-between' - we may be walking on the bridge right now!

Bauliana quite plainly is an 'in-between' existence. In between 'evolution/transition' we do not necessarily transform - but transmute. Our transformation comes about through verifiable evidence, in our hairs receding and graying, our faces and bodies aging, in our expanding or contracting mid sections - indeed in anything we call 'aging gracefully'. 

These are transformations - but transmutation comes from what our inner receptor, the unending containers and vessels we store within our physical beings and how they handle those transformations is how transmutations within us happen - and we evolve from beings to 'Insaan e Kamel' to 'Wali Allah'. There are again no verifiable yardsticks by which we can measure those 'achievements' within us. 

Like Gil Scott Heron said 'life inevitably translates into time, that's why we call it a lifetime' . A lifetime again is just not enough to know who we are - unless we are proven wrong?

Joy Guru Alek Shai _/\_ 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Facebook Discussion: Does the Qu'ran have specific verse/s on slaughtering animals EVERY YEAR?

Mac Haque:  4 October near Dhaka

DEBATE/DISCUSS: With all due respect to everybody's 'religious sentiments' - I just need to know from any (or many) of my enlightened friends here on Facebook if they can cite me one verse from the Qu'ran that mentions specifically that it is obligatory on all Muslims to slaughter an innocent animal EVERY YEAR during Eid Al Adha to appease Allah? Please no references or argument points from Hadith etc.....stay strictly to the Qu'ran. Thanks

Rubayet Choudhury:  “Then when (the son) reached the age of serious work with him, he said: “Oh my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, if Allah so wills one practicing patience and constancy!” So when they had both submitted their will to Allah, and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him, “Oh Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial and We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 37, Verses 102-107.

"And for all religion We have appointed a rite [of sacrifice] that they may mention the name of Allah over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. For your god is one God, so to Him submit. And, [O Muhammad], give good tidings to the humble [before their Lord]" The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 22, Verse 34. 

“ It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you: And proclaim the Good News to all who do right.” The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 22, Verse 37.

Mac Haque : Rubayet Choudhury agree with the verses..but doesnt answer my it an obligatory 'rite' every year for all well to do Muslims?

Rubayet Choudhury:  .. like the Eid-ul-Fitr that is attached and celebrated after a month long Fasting; Eid-ul-Adha is indeed an important yearly Islamic ritual that is attached to the yearly Pilgrimage Hajj. However, like the Hajj itself that is NOT a compulsory ritual for every Muslim who cannot afford to go for Hajj, the sacrificing of an animal is also NOT a compulsory ritual for every muslim who cannot afford to buy a sacrificing animal. “It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him". But if a muslim is capable of buying even a small sheep or ram after meeting his other financial obligations then he/she must sacrifice this year. If their financial status doesn't stay the same the year after. then this same person doesn't have to do the sacrifice as his/her financial status has changed within this one year period.

Mac Haque:  Rubayet Choudhury what u mention are suppositions 'then he/she must sacrifice this year' and from Hadith...there is no final statement in the Qu'ran in my understanding. How can one have piety if we cannot justify slaughtering an innocent animal? How can Allah be 'pleased by such wanton butchery?

Rubayet Choudhury:  .. Maqsood Bhai, do we feel the same pain when someone cuts a tree? Or do we feel the same pain or have similar perspective when we sacrifice a plant to make our vegetable foods? Or even fish? Every creation of Allah’pak is a ‘life form’ made in different reality, and Allah’pak is ‘above’ all of these realities. When we break a tree leaf and see a white colour juice is dripping, what is that? That is the blood of the tree created for a different purpose i.e. to make adhesive or for other herbal medical usage. 

But as our reality with ‘blood’ is different, we feel hurt that we are sacrificing an innocent animal. But it is the same thing as a tree, because being a life form it also endures the pain, but it doesn't affect us the way when we see the same with a tree plant or even when we kill a fish. 

The entire nature is created for the ‘service’ of mankind and the One who created this nature knows the best. All we are asked to follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] as the Holy Qur’an was revealed upon him.

Ashrafuzzaman Minhaz:  The Quran states that Abraham had a dream in which he believed God was instructing him to sacrifice his son. What should be obvious, yet is overlooked, is that at no point does the Quran state the dream was from God or that God demanded this sacrifice. This is an important distinction to make since the insistence for animal sacrifice is based upon the notion that Abraham's vision came from God and God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son. In fact it should be noted that God interjects to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son.

The next distinction to make in the story has to do with a translation of the last line -- "And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice."

In some translations of the Quran the term "Momentous sacrifice" has been replaced with animal sacrifice. There seems to be some debate among scholars on this last, but crucial, sentence. Quranic scholars such as Muhammad Asad have further interpreted this line to read "mighty" or "tremendous" and have indicated (in their references) that Abraham, himself, not God, sought out a Ram for slaughter.

In fact the Abrahamic sacrifice had nothing to do with the physical act of blood-letting. Abraham's sacrifice was ACTUALLY about his willingness to let go of the most important thing in his life, in order to fulfill, what he perceived to be, the will of the Divine Creator.

In order to properly commemorate Abraham's sacrifice it's important to ask ourselves if we are giving up something of intense value when we reduce the sacrifice to slaughtering an animal. Are we really making the same type of emotional and mental sacrifice that Abraham made? If not, then how exactly are we enhancing our spiritual development by continuing with this tradition?

Mac Haque : Rubayet Choudhury I do acknowledge your points but you have not been able to come up with a specific verse about slaughter every year. We are not practicing Qurbani, we are only showing off our wealth at the expense of a life of these poor creatures. The origins of Qurbani was to ensure that man did not turn to cannibals - and the lamb that replaced Ishmael was symbolic in the sense of the misconception of humans as slaughter wihich does predate Islam. Today we have diseased, steroid fattened animals up for slaughter. Our entire food chain has become corrupted due to this rite which has nothing to do with Islam or is there any specific instruction to kill an animal every year. Last if not the least, the Quran is merely an address book about the 'location' of Allah. However if there is any verifiable document for the existence of Allah it is in the creation called humans. The more we stray and make Allah an us vs HIM thing, or have a 'hub and spoke' notions of the 'creator and creation' - I am afraid it is our ignorance and not intellect that will reveal itself. Allah lives in all of us. If we insensibly kill an animal thinking it is Allah who is 'appeased', we have killed both Allah and ourselves.

Nabila Khalid:  I don't get it! What do you mean by life of these poor creatures? As if we do NOT kill them when it is not Qurbani? WHat? Are we vegetarians through out the year and ONLY kill these creatures on Eid day? That's not right. So the question can be is it religious or not? NOT if it is right or wrong. Because if slaughtering them is wrong then it should be wrong through out the year why pick on Qurbani eid in specific? No point.

Rahim Choudhary:  Mac Haque has done a great service to all of us by bringing this question up on this forum. Thank you. The answer to the inquiry by Mac seems to be a clear NO. It seems that Quran has nothing to the effect that it is obligatory on a SAHIB_E_NISAAB man to sacrifice an animal. We should perhaps move on to Hadith to examine if there is some such instruction in Hadith literature, based on which this practice is promulgated. I look forward to find out the detail from Hadith.

Sadiq M. Alam:  Just as without Lalon Sain ji, there is no Lalon Song. Similarly without (faith and reverence) to the Messenger, the Message is of no value. If I say, I dont care about the Messenger (or his practice, or his inner reality, or how he acted or asked us to act), then I cant prove myself to be more religious or pious by sticking to the Message.

The reason I say that because many actually argue like this, "Show me in the Quran, dont show me in Hadith.. " but its like saying, "Sing me a Lalon Song but dont talk about Lalon to me, I am not interested in him."

If someone is not interested what the Prophet did, said, embodied, expressed, kept silent on, gave permission for, then he, she may not even have any interest for the Message. Cause if you distrust and feel unloving to the Messenger (by you i dont mean personally, but generally speaking), then how can you trust his Message.

Quran clearly says, Obey Allah and Obey the Messenger. That encompasses the action of the Messenger. And that includes, without doubt the natural practice of sacrificing animal. Animal was sacrificed left and right, still done. Religion say do it with reverence for life, do it in the name of the One who gives life and death - thats it. The science of Hadith is one of the most cited, referenced and well research subject in human history even much before citation, reference, chain of reference, multiple reference in research was even invented in modern academia. Its just our ignorance that make us look down upon hadith, whereas they are the most prizes source for devotees of the Messenger to get the first layer of knowledge about their object of devotion. 

As for the issue of Sacrifice, see here all the references of Sacrifice as a central act from the dawn of humanity.


Sadiq M. Alam:  By the way, as for the custom of sacrifice, my personal take on it is this: Sacrifice is integral part of Hajj, not something that every non-Hajj muslim has to do. A muslim can skip sacrifice cause its not an obligatory act.

Since we sub-continental people love eating and everything to do with eating, all religious things that involves eating, we are super do people. Be it Ramadan Iftar or Eating Meat in Eid. 

But Islamically speaking, Sacrifice is not something each Muslim has to do. Its only a part of Hajj and those who are not doing Hajj, its not obligatory. Thats just my findings and opinion, not mainstream so called religiously correct fatwa.

Nabila Khalid:  Respect!

Mac Haque : Sadiq M. Alam both your post throw two separate axioms into this debate/discussion among friends. When you say "Sing me a Lalon Song but dont talk about Lalon to me, I am not interested in him." - you are actually stating an important fact. The persona of Lalon sHAIji is unimportant in the Sharsina e Faqiri schools of thought in Bengal. If there is any way we may ever get to know or understand him it is in the gems encapsulated in his nearly recorded 1200 songs - and almost a similar number that have either gone missing or were usurped by dubious interest. In nearly 123 years after his transition, we are only beginning to scratch at the surface.

Brings us to 'follow the Messenger' it a singular or plural expression? I thought it was plural. From Abraham down to Muhamad (pbuh) all were messengers - yet the finality of the Messages has been left to human introspection. That is the beauty of the Qu'ran. I am more than confident in 1500 years what we have gathered from/about the Qu'ran will not exactly be the same in the coming 1500. Fundamentally I disagree with the words of the Hadith's cause despite the seeming 'scientific' retinue, it is a shame that 6 Hadith books will give you 6 different interpretations of the same thing! 

Seperately, some of these obnoxious Hadith writers have strayed as far as to write utter nonsense about the Prophet's personal life which is the cause of many of the slurs and bad name given to the Messenger and Islam. Further there are some Hadithi Muslims who consider the Qu'ran is incomplete, so hence we are left with no choice but to believe them? I would not like to believe anything that is 'man made' and like it or not, would like to leave it to my limited intellect to find answers - or maybe ask questions and as difficult as they may be (and as unpopular s it may make me), it's better to seek answers than dwell in blind faith.

About animal slaughter - thanks for clarifying. Ultimately its the reckless consumption and the tendency to show off that speaks volumes about our so called Taqwa or piety. I do go around visiting villages in Bangladesh and the rarest thing to see these days is a cow pulling a plough. There are hardly any cows left. A friend talked about animals coming from nature...but in our reckless consumption - do we take the pain to rear cows or goats in the proportions that we consume them? We are dependent on India who neither eats these animals nor have the means to feed them  But what about the steroid being pushed into the cows to fatten them? What about the cows thrown off the hills of Meghalaya because it is cheaper to throw them off and let 10% of these animals die (they are quickly slaughtered and sold in the nearest market) then to transport them by trucks? I mean how more ruthless can we get to satiate our taste buds in our vain attempts to 'appease Allah' ?

Last if not the consider the case of organic milk in Bangladesh these days. I for one have to make a 10km trip each week to fetch milk for my daughter. That is not all, I have to stand in a queue and have to wait over an hour, and all I get is maybe 2 kgs..3 if I am lucky. Sad state of affairs in a nation of 160 million people were daily no more than a million cows are slaughtered anyway - and perhaps 20 million on that special day where Allah seems to forgive all our sins and is 'appeased'? How more ridiculous can we get?

Habib Rahman: In a greater sense the idea of Sacrificing animal in Islam is related to (1) human sustenance and to (2) the rites of Hajj. However, the following verses from Sura Hajj can be consulted for insight into the matter: 34) And for all religion We have appointed a rite [of sacrifice] that they may mention the name of Allah over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. For your god is one God, so to Him submit. And, [O Muhammad], give good tidings to the humble [before their Lord] (35) Who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts are fearful, and [to] the patient over what has afflicted them, and the establishers of prayer and those who spend from what We have provided them. (36)And the camels and cattle We have appointed for you as among the symbols of Allah; for you therein is good. So mention the name of Allah upon them when lined up [for sacrifice]; and when they are [lifeless] on their sides, then eat from them and feed the needy and the beggar. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may be grateful. (37) Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and give good tidings to the doers of good. (38) Indeed, Allah defends those who have believed. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone treacherous and ungrateful. (The translations are from the `Saheeh Translation'.

Rahim Choudhary: Thank you everybody. The discussion was useful and conclusive. The conclusion seems to be:
1. Sacrificing an animal is required only as a part of the Haj manasik.
2. Sacrifice of an animal is NOT required otherwise as far as Quran is concerned.
3. Sacrificing of an animal is NOT required also by Hadith (if I got brother Sadiq M. Alam correctly). 

It is time to take a pause and think, where did this custom come from? Because it did not come as a requirement from Quran or Hadith!!!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The meaning of the word 'Shah'.

by Mac Haque

"God is the Light" (Quran 24:35; Surat an-Noor)

There is a debate raging about the meaning of the word 'Shah' that is used before the names/titles of many a Baul or Sufi Saints of our times. In reality there is nothing 'mystical or spiritual' about it, but at the same time it is also not a word/title that can be trivialized unless our intentions are to deliberately malign some of humanity's greatest minds, the 'great lamps that lit the light'.

Etymologically 'Gossain, Sain, Sai or Shah' are one and the same. Please note there is nothing sectarian or communal in usage of any of these terms. It means someone who is 'enlightened'. Now what is the 'light' in enlightenment? The pre-Abrahamic era sage Hermes Trismegistus said 

'' A large lamp will continue to light smaller lamps until the very end of time''.

The first principal of creation is light. We enter our mother's womb as light and the soul that keeps us 'burning is a lamp. When we die, the lamp may have switched off but the light remains, for the soul can neither be created nor destroyed and science goes on to reaffirm that soul is energy that can neither be created or only takes a 'different shape/s'. Sufis refer to this as the 'Noor' - with all humanity of believers supposedly blessed with 'Noor e Muhammadi' i.e. the same light that lit the soul of the last Prophet. 

Shah therefore means a 'lamp that has been lit'. A lamp that will continue to impart knowledge to equip mankind so that is not to be overtaken by darkness. The word Shah in our culture is also a repeated reminder that the lamp will always be around in the forefront to ward off our consistent 'darkness', the darkness of our spirit, the filth in our soul that is left to our Gossain, Sain, Sai or Shah's to polish off, keep reawakened, rejuvenated at all given times, till the very end of times. 

Let there be light, let us remove the darkness from within our souls as evil forces so badly wants us to envelop ourselves in. 

In humility and hurt.



Friday, September 06, 2013

Abdur Rahman Boyati and the legacy of the body clocks last seconds

Pix credit Hasib Zakaria © 

by Mac Haque

Throw some food our way, not flowers at our corpse.’ Kuddus Boyati

When the legendary Abdur Rahman Boyati made his transition on August 19, 2013 the loss to the nation was not of a ‘star’ but a galaxy disappearing from the heaven above.  Paralysed with a cerebral stroke on September 17, 2003 and unable to sing, for nearly ten years the legend survived on contributions from all sections of our society. Yet when it was time to bid our final adieu to the man who represented Bangladesh in many an international event, gaining admiration and respect for his raw and pristine artistry, the picture that was repetitive and revolting was his apparent state of economic hardship. Revolting, for the media and social networks more than focusing on his music or his art or the man that was Rahman Boyati, went on an overdrive of shallow and hypocritical crocodile tears.

Images of musical icons living and dying for what they believe in and the art they practice scrupulously at great sacrifices to their societal or even familial needs and wants – is neither new nor surprising. However, what does merit open discussion is the word dustho shilpi which popularly may mean ‘destitute artist’ – yet in colloquial Bangla, also means a performer who is a pauper! In both cases the term is abusive, strips off dignity and is an insult to someone who has contributed enormously to culture by sticking true to our roots – our origin.

While music as an institution has traditionally received wide appreciation and fondness among people, and is a business of unimaginable magnitude, yet when it comes to state’s recognition, the government’s apathy is numbing. That the death of Rahman Boyati is no less the death of a heritage dignitary, a Bangladesh Ambassador of our majority rural citizenry was selectively expunged from public memory. Economically disadvantaged singers and musicians have time and again been meted with the same treatment before or after their deaths. Nothing can be more shameful.

We have a ministry of cultural affairs  that apparently has a fund for ‘destitute artist’, meaning the mindset has taken it for granted that a musical artist is destined to die pauper and such funds can, or will be used to make the government look like a tokenistic do-gooder! However, is fund and cash doles the only available option to ensure music and musicians will survive?  Sadly it is not, for more than money, it is our abject insensitivity at not creating enough space for musicians is ultimately where death knell for the arts rings loud.

Musicians more than money are denied the opportunity they deserve whether that is in the media or LIVE performances. Corporate exploitation and overkills of the arts chooses merely to tag and piggyback upon an artist’s ‘image’ and ‘popularity’ profiles to sell its product. When Rahman Boyati died, the hushed shock that enveloped everyone was ‘he never received any state honour’. But what state honour are we talking about here?

The biggest ‘honour’ that anyone involved with the arts can hope for is the Ekushey Padak. However, it is just not given to a recipient solely based on his or her merits and talents, but more so with how ‘otherwise talented’ they are in building political and media ‘connections’, and in their social networking amongst culture vultures and touts closest to the administration.

For someone as simple and naïve as Rahman Boyati, it was unthinkable to stoop so low, and it is a sheer tragedy that very few heritage artists have so far received the award. In the case of Rahman Boyati as is being speculated, a belated award may only serve the purpose of a nation’s afterthought to ‘honour’ a legend. But when it comes to taking stock of how Rahman Boyati ‘honoured’ Bangladesh all his life without asking for anything in return; a mere award that hangs in his home desolate in his absence and a few lakh takas paid to his beneficiaries can only be considered tokenistic bordering on depravity – no different than the ‘pauper’ tag we as a nation seem ready to mouth at any given opportunity.

If we at all have to honour likes of Rahman Boyati and other heritage icons and luminaries, we need to have a thorough and undiluted understanding of our rural traditions.

Boyatis musically and philosophically are in the same genre as Bauls. Whereas in the case of the latter it evolved in the erstwhile Nadiya district of pre-partition Bengal now comprising Kustia, Meherpur, Jhenidah, Chuadanga etc the Boyatis were predominantly concentrated in and around Dhaka district extending further until Faridpur and Manikganj.  However the geographical locale of the Boyati tradition is today expansive. Indeed wherever there are Bengali speakers, Boyatis are inevitably present offering not only a cultural, but importantly a spiritual service. Other than the length and breadth of Bangladesh, Boyatis reaffirm the tradition all the way from West Bengal to London!

The advent of the Boyatis can be traced back to the earliest Sufis who arrived in Dhaka some 700 years ago. Concentrated in the Azimpur locality the relics of the Dayera Sharif still in existence stands as a testament and silent reminder of the Sufi influence in our culture, with the Boyatis among others, the earliest exponents of the music, philosophy and legacy of Saints buried in its premise.

The word Boyati on the other hand etymologically means someone who has taken ‘bayat’ or ‘diksha’ (initiation) imparted on them by their Guru/Murshid. It is a lifelong oath and a pledge of secrecy for committed dedication to serve toiling humanity. Boyatis like Bauls believe in the primacy of a Guru/Murshid and remain for a considerable period of time under such a person’s tutelage. They are usually followers of the Chistia and Qadriya tarikat of Sufi orders.

The word also implies a direct relationship to Islamic history of the Ahl-al Bayt i.e the spiritual descendants ofProphet Muhammad (pbuh) who carried forward the mystically esoteric and exoteric messages encoded within the Quran. The Ahl-al Bayt or ‘people of the mantle’ encapsulates the Prophet himself, his cousin and son-in-law Ali, daughter Fatima, and grandsons Hasan and Hussain, ie the purported  pak panjtan (the exalted five) as in Sufi spirituality.

Boyatis therefore depend on shirzanama for their music and spiritual teaching and guidance. These are well recorded and agreed upon hagiographical flowcharts that tracks back the original message/s conveyed as ‘lip to ear wisdom’, via a chain of transmissions of innumerable Gurus/Murshids all the way to the fountainheads of the four known and popular tarikatsChistia, Qadriya, Mujadediya and Nakshabandiya – and even further to the secret teachings of the original Ahl-al Bayt.

Boyati is also someone who performs bayan or explanation of the Holy Scriptures, or a canvasser in today’s terminology, maybe even an evangelist. They are bards and minstrels, and as Islamic history records stayed true to tradition in face of Wahabi/Shariati demagogic bigotry that has all too often derailed the course of life and living in South Asia. Boyatis represents a resistance to orthodoxy and religious bigotry and like the Bauls/Fakirs and Sahajiya’s have likewise faced oppression and societal ostracisation.

Rahman Boyati was already a musical phenomenon even before the independence of Bangladesh. Around 1973-74 he had regular performances in the state owned Bangladesh Television (BTV) and his sonorous rendition of the perplexing song ‘Deho Ghori’  (The Body Clock) that covers everything from human anatomy, physiology, neurology, embryology, the central nervous system and sexuality, among others, made him a household name not only in the rural backwaters but also among the urban middle class and elite enthusiast.

When likes of mainstream performer Fakir Alamgir and the late Feroze Shai started covering the song with their respective bands from 1975, Rahman Boyati and the song together become a national spiritual icon.

There were good reasons for the song to have the impact in the broader spectrum as there were important parameters to be considered. Contrary to popular misconception, the lyrics were not penned by Rahman Boyati. In the initial rendition the ‘signature line’ was appended with his Guru/Murshid’s name ie Alauddin Boyati. No one knows for certain who the original song writer was and it may have well been conveyed to Alauddin by his immediate Guru/Murshid, their predecessors and so forth.

The beauty of the oral tradition that Rahman Boyati explained to me is the name of the ‘podo korta (poet/lyricist) is unimportant. It is to maintain continuity of the encrypted message/s that has to be kept alive and organic, is the foremost criteria. Therefore in ‘Deho Ghori’ Rahman Boyati  not only maintained continuity of what hisGuru/Murshid imparted upon him, but set forth a new trajectory for later day transmissions by enthusiasts, which in 1995 I had the supreme honour and privilege to carry forward.

It was Mustafizur Rahman then general manager of BTV, who commissioned my erstwhile band Feedback to create a fusion version of the song ‘Deho Ghori’ together with Rahman Boyati for an Eid day special show of the magazine program ‘Subhechha’. The famed debater Abdun Noor Tushar was to make his debut as a show host. Feroze Mahmud was the producer, and he organised Rahman Boyati to come over to BTV and handover a scratch of the song on a cassette recorder. Pearo Khan on behalf of the band went over, recorded the song and wrote down the lyrics, which was abridged from the original given allocated time slots issues in BTV for music airing.

What set into motion was a marathon 72 hours as FeedBack doggedly worked on the song, argued endlessly about tone and tonalities – and in the end were ready to bring in Rahman Boyati to Soundgarden studio to dub his voice. It was to be my first meeting with someone who was no less a ‘star’ than Michael Jackson in rural Bangladesh and I therefore spent a sleepless night in anticipation!

Rahman Bhai turned out to be larger than life and joined in spontaneously to sing. It did not matter to him that the song was set to a club beat and his impromptu dancing while recording had us energised. He smiled and laughed all the way through and even volunteered to source a Baul children’s choir to join in the sing-a-long portions.

Two days later, we all packed a bus and set out to Gazipur where a video was shot. On Eid day when the song and video (available at was televised, the outpouring of appreciation and adulation for both Rahman Boyati and FeedBack was awe inspiring. In three weeks time a one song album was launched (the first of its kind in the history of Bangladesh music) and sold over 30,000 audio cassette copies on the first day alone!

My association with Rahman Boyati and the Baul/Boyati tradition increased as days wore on.

If there was one overriding characteristic of Rahman Boyati it was his simplicity to a fault persona. Always appreciative of the work I was doing, one of the fondest moments I have with him was when he thanked me for creating a totally new breed of fans. ‘I feel so proud when young boys and girls wearing jeans, tee-shirts and caps worn backwards come and shake my hand. They wouldn’t have heard my music or known anything about me, if it wasn’t for FeedBack,’ he told me chewing his trademark paan (betel leaf) one afternoon.

The legacy of Rahman Boyati will live on for as long as we take some time to explore the earth we walk on, instead of the imaginary sky we float upon or the ‘stars’ we aspire to become. There are thousands of Boyatis around us, and unless we create the space for them to perform, give them the respect they truly deserve, the tradition and all that we hold precious will die out eventually. That in a roundabout way would be death to whatever has been precious and valuable for our very existence.

New Age Xtra, Friday, 6th September 2013