Sunday, July 06, 2014
From Akhara to Fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 5
by Maqsoodul Haque
5. The Shadhu Shongo institutions - Guru -Shishwa interactions and Sheba
Shadhu Shongo’s the second most important institution for Bauls are regular conclaves or assembly of the wise i.e. masters in music, spirituality as well as day to day social matters of common concern. Scriptural discourses sets the tone of each Shongo and they can last anywhere from three to seven days, depending on the weather, circumstances or overall socio-political-cultural situation prevailing at any time. Discourses and singing goes on non-stop, and Bauls irrespective of caste, creed, religion or sex live and eat communally during the period of the Shongo.
It is therefore easy to surmise that up to three Shadu Shongo are held every day somewhere or the other in rural Bangladesh and unlike other ‘cultures’ that are tokenistic or revolves around peripheral ‘cultural activism’, Baul music and the culture associated is organic i.e. one that has to be lived and practiced as a lifestyle statement. Other than the assembly of various Shadhu Gurus (the eldest Shadhu denoting practitioner, derived from the word Shadhona), these events sees different schools of Bauls congregating and passionately discussing tunes and tones of Baul music, as well as the inherent and esoteric meanings of verses which are reverently referred to as pod or kalaam.
A Baul Shadhu Shongho at the Akhra of Fakir Sattar Shah in Sauntha, Kushtia
The Guru holds very special importance among the Bauls for they are literally considered ‘God heads’ or fountains of knowledge from which spirituality and music flows. Each Guru holds a Shongo every year and in many cases a a second one, commemorating the death of his own Guru. It is estimated that at least 1000 small, medium to large Shongo are held every year in Bangladesh, with the one centering Fakir Lalon Shah, held in Seuria, Kushtia in the Bangla month of Choitro (March) and Kartick (October) being the largest by far. It is very rarely that a Guru leaves his ashon (assigned seat) during the course of a Shongo so that no shishwa or disciple misses the chance to hear the Gurus speak and their interpretation of verses and scriptures in question. This in essence reinforces Guru-Shishwa parampara, or interaction, which is a continuously evolving non-traditional educational process.
Other than music, spirituality and quest for knowledge, the Shadhu Shongo institute consciously emphasizes on ‘Sheba’ - the rites of food which is a pivotal demonstration of the Baul lifestyle. Nothing is more sacred to the Bauls than food, for ultimately it is a gift from the Creator. ‘Sheba’ as the word denotes is a voluntary offering i.e., service to humanity and one every human on the planet by providence holds collective responsibility. Food therefore is not ‘eaten’ but shared equally. Sharing food and consuming food are both acts of God – and more profoundly as Bauls believe that God dwells inside each human soul, we feed the ‘God in us’, not necessarily ourselves. Thus why, when and with whom food is shared is in itself a meditative process and one that has survived centuries as the rite of food is so meticulously understood and observed scrupulously.
Bauls have a vegetarian diet and the only ‘meat’ they consume is that of fish. Cooking is done in a communal kitchen with no fossil fuel (kerosene or gas) but firewood. There are three specific Sheba : i.) Guru Sheba – dinner, which takes place usually post midnight at the end of a Shongo, ii.) Balya Sheba – breakfast where children are fed first and whatever else is left, is shared by adults iii.) Punyo Sheba – lunch, Shadhu Shongo usually ends at after this particular Sheba and everybody leaves the venue in a state of ‘Punyota’, or complete blessing from the Guru.
From the pot to eating bowl, everything is served fresh, and none is supposed to even taste it (even to check salt) before it is served. Each and every seeker has to squat on the floor while is served equally – yet not eaten right away. It is after a signal from the Shadu Guru that the rite commences and everybody starts eating. At the end of Sheba, hands are washed communally and again, only on signal from the presiding Guru, does it end and everyone is allowed to leave.