Thursday, July 03, 2014
From Akhara to Fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 2
by Maqsoodul Haque
A typical Baul Akhara in Sonagari, Chuadanga
2. The Akhara institution and it importance in Baul Music
The ancient word Akhara denotes ‘regimentation’ or a place of practice with facilities for board, lodging and education used by religious renunciates. As an institution it dates back to the 8th century and its purported founder Sage Adi Shankara or Shankarcharya (788–820). The 8th century was significant in other aspects as well. It saw the commencement of the unorthodox Bhakti Movement in Tamil Nadu, India - a spiritual revolt against caste discrimination among Sanatana Hindus which challenged grounded and stern Brahmin doctrines. Bhakti insisted that salvation is achievable by all and does not require an advantage of birth as also, that the concept of blood lineage was abusive and exploitative. Bhakti taught people that they could cast aside the heavy burdens of rituals, caste and complexities of philosophies, and simply express their overwhelming love for God in the spirit of humanity.
By late 14th Century the movement gained momentum and spread to Bengal with Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) the scion of the Vashnavite movement as well as his disciple and close friend Nityananda (or Nitai) jointly spearheading the spiritual revolt that laid foundation for aspirations against religious bigotry, dogma, caste, creed, exploitation and subjugation of any kind. The Nadiya district of undivided Bengal in India, of which modern day Kushtia, Meherpur, Jessore, Chaudanga etc in Bangladesh were then an integral part, was the epicenter of this cultural renaissance, historically referred to as the ‘’Golden Age’’ of Bengal.
Music was and still is the forte of Akharas and together with subjective discourses which were just not limited to ‘spiritual education’ as is the popular misconception; profound subjects such as philosophy, history, social sciences, ethics, aesthetics, mathematics, logics were included. More complex disciplines such as cosmology, ecology, agriculture, pharmacology and in the case of Deho Tattya (discourses on the human body) physiology, psychology even embryology as well as the ancient art of Yoga were taught through music, in what was essentially an oral culture.
The overriding aspect of the Akhara institution is it has traditionally survived on contributions of communities, and unlike Ashrams is informal with no fixed sets of seekers residing for years on end. During those bleak times in our history when villages were the root of our existence and society, by and large rural and arguably ‘primitive’, Baul Akharas provided a very valuable spiritual and social service. We may therefore credit the Akharas institution as one of the prime and fundamental reason for Baul music’s survival into the new millennium.