Friday, July 11, 2014
From Akhara to fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 10
The British agenda of divide and rule saw the partition of India in 1947 precipitated by severe communal riots in Bengal and divide the Baul movement along sectarian lines. It led to the creation of Pakistan and saw Nadiya in Bengal split between East Pakistan and West Bengal. The age old non-sectarian, non-communal secular fabric of society of the region very quickly transformed with the creation of Kushtia district (formerly Kumarkhali) and the Shrine of Fakir Lalon Shah falling into ‘Muslim’ East Pakistan. The cultural and political triumph card for the rulers of Pakistan was Lalon himself, and since the title ‘Fakir’ preceded his name the 'Islamization' of Lalon and Baul music commenced in earnest. Much of the agnostic-monotheistic teaching of Lalon was abandoned and a ‘Sufi’ tag attached to give Baul music a ‘kosher liberal Muslim’ identity.
Most academic discourses of the time spiraled down to polemics centering the identity of Lalon and by default the belief system and unorthodox lifestyle of the Baul community as such. The age old debate of whether Lalon was a Hindu or Muslim was stoked to insane heights. The only positive aspect of the Pakistan period on Baul’s was the construction in 1963 of the Lalon Shrine in Seuria, Kushtia. His grave was properly identified by Fakirs and Sadhus and although the simple mausoleum that’s survives to this day displayed no sectarian symbolism the precinct was renamed a 'mazar' replacing its secular Bengali identity of 'dham'.
The spread of Baul music however continued with much of the Akhara institution left intact and Baul music assimilated and thrived within existing paradigms of 'Palli Geeti'. The famed poet Jashimuddin Ahmed wrote extensively about our folk traditions incorporating incognito recognition to Baul spirituality and their connection with nature. Likewise the Bangla Academy commissioned many scholarly works on Baul music and inducted the verses of Lalon into academic literature. Unlike Kolkata where Baul music entered mainstream courtesy of its elites ‘baithak’ (assembly) in sitting rooms, in what was East Pakistan it entered mainstream culture through radio, albeit adequately attired in the garb of ‘moromi sangeet’ or mystical music. Much of the misconstrued ‘Hindu-ized’ verses of Lalon were abandoned and in its place non-offending songs with largely ‘Sufi’ motifs were relayed.
The 1971 War of Liberation saw Bauls spontaneously join the Bengali aspirations for freedom. Among the many unsung heroes of the War, the role of the famed Baul Muksed Ali Shah (1933-1981) is exemplary. Coming from the Amulya Shah-Sukchand Shah school of Baul philosophy his immediate Guru was Fakir Nimai Shah of Alamdanga, Chuadanga. A college student at the time he was conversant with the use of firearms given his prior training with the paramilitary Ansar of which he was then a commander.
After the Pakistan military crackdown in Dhaka on 25th March and elsewhere in East Pakistan, on 29th March 1971, Muksed Ali Shah organized and headed a pincer strike force that successfully conducted a daring guerrilla raid that led to the ultimate eviction of a Pakistan Army camp in Arorapara, outside Kushtia. Fatalities on the Pakistan side was over 250 killed and startled the then government who set a cash award of Rupees 10,000 for his head. This prompted him the flee East Pakistan and join the Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro in India, where he proceeded to assist in the war efforts as a Baul artist and organizer.
After the independence of Bangladesh Muksed Ali Shah established a solid reputation of a Lalon exponent and associated himself firmly both with Bangladesh Betar and Television. About the same time he used the ‘Lalon Academy’ in Kushtia as a focal recruitment ground for sourcing and training versatile Lalon singers for the Rajshahi and Dhaka centers of Bangladesh Betar. Among the talents discovered by Muksed was Farida Parvin who by her rendition of the new genre of Baul music blended with both Akhara and modern music genre, went on to create waves in our culture. Her appearance in Bangladesh Television sealed her berth in the national heritage, which led on to appreciation of Baul music not only in Bangladesh, but also globally. In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the works of Fakir Lalon Shah, the Bangladesh Government awarded her with the prestigious ‘Ekushey Padak’ in 1987.