Friday, July 04, 2014
From Akhara to Fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 3
by Maqsoodul Haque
3. The first fusions of faith, belief and music – the Vaishnavites and Sufis
Bauls from a Sufi Chistiya order perform at the shrine of Fakir Lalon Shah in Seuria, Kushtia
The timing of the Vaishnavite influenced Bhakti movement was unique in our history for it coalesced favorably with the then inroads of Sufi tarikats (orders) i.e. Qaderiya, Chistiya, Naqsbandiya, and Mujadedia from Turkey, Iraq and Persia into India. Both Sufi and Vaishnavite doctrines propounded more or less the same principals of belief. The reasons for Sufi success and acceptance in India were attributed to similarities with those of the Bhakti exponents. The earliest of Muslim invaders to India had made Islam a puritanical, intolerant and highly tyrannical religion, which was challenged, chastised and its influence was already waning. In Bengal by the late 17th century Akharas strengthened and emerged as benign institutions were peace, moderation and Bengals tradition of communal harmony, non-sectarianism, secularism and importantly humanism were propounded and established firm roots in our culture.
Both traditions discovered a lot of similarities in their thoughts, beliefs and practices, which led to easier understanding of the other and cemented the bonds for their assimilation into our cultures. Cohesion and acculturation became the order of the times. For instance what was Akhara for the Vaishnavites was likewise the Khanka institution for the Sufis, with both insisting on values of discipline and regimentation with music the ultimate ‘weapon of choice’ used in spreading the message of Sages, Saints and Poets. Both traditions established the primacy of a Sage or Saint termed Guru among Vaishnavites, which in the Sufi parlance was Murshed. They were preceptors and able elders who would take pain in guiding seekers and disciples in fomenting peaceful coexistence and to dedicate their lives for toiling humanity. This was also the time that devotional literature, music and various fine arts forms developed very rapidly.
As the cultures coalesced, enriched and became dynamic, two specifically problematic aspects surfaced in the study and appreciation of Baul Music. Firstly ancient tracts, treatise and music of Shahajiya, Kartabhajas, Shaheb Dhoni, Balahari, Ponchoshokhi, Nath, etc and other sub-groups who are thought to be original stakeholder to Baul practices became rare and are limited today to small pockets in West Bengal, India - quite possibly on the verge of extinction. On the other hand, many traditional musical forms of the time having both Vaishnavite and Sufi overtones entered mainstream by piggybacking on Baul music given its success and wide acceptability. That being the case even Boyatis or practitioners of Kobi gaan or many traditional Kirtan and Bhajan artist as of now claim to be Bauls, which theoretically they are not.