Monday, July 07, 2014
From Akhara to Fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 6
by Maqsoodul Haque
Shadhu Guru Darbesh Hossain Ali Shah (left) confers with his disciples during a Shadhu Shongo at Sonagari, Chuadanga
6. The Guru among Bauls and their transmission chart, music and messages
Gurus follow a hagiographical transmission chart called Shirzanaama where they can track back their spiritual lineage i.e. his own Guru and one before him and so forth, dating hundreds of years in most cases. For instance among followers of Lalon there exist 7 clear shiris or ‘spiritual transmission ladder’ comprising living descendants of his disciples i.) Panju Shah ii.) Duddu Shah iii.) Hiroo Shah iv.) Deyal Shah v.) Delwar Shah and families of vi. ) Sothi Maa poribar and vii.) Chowdhury poribar as well as a controversial and little understood chain that many Bauls claim - is that of Fakir Lalon Shah himself.
There are different kinds of Gurus among Bauls with the all important Diksha Guru who renders exoteric spiritual training to disciples, then the Shikkha Guru, who more or less fills in the role of an educationist, sometimes explaining them on modern parameters and paradigms, followed by the Gaaner Guru who is a music teacher. There is also the Onupreronar Guru or inspirational Gurus who does not hold any rigid mantles of a Guru, but one who inspires disciples into the Baul path.
In the times gone by when formal education was not known in our part of the world and the culture was oral, it was the traditional institution of imparting ‘lip to ear wisdom’ - meaning not all that’s transpires between a Guru and Shishwa is for public consumption, remained the mainstay for the growth of the institution. Secrecy about music and spirituality has always been the key point among Bauls and follows the ancient epigram, ‘pour only so much that the cup can hold’. It meant mere obeisance to the Guru was not always the parameter for judgment and the prerogative lay with the Gurus to decide if a seeker or disciple had the mental or spiritual temerity to pass on and spread the vital coded messages that have come for humanity. A seeker had to prove he/she was qualified for the task in hand, and rigid process of examination and scrutiny continues until today.
About the messages in Baul songs, musicologist Dr. Karunamaya Goswami explains ‘’Baul songs always carry a double meaning, the outward meaning guarding the inner sense, and this double entendre was known as ‘sandha vachana’ i.e. code language. The outward meaning of the songs has indeed a literary flavor, for the songs really follow a traditional pattern, but the outward sense was intended only to disguise the inner meaning which recorded the mystic practice, experience and emotion of the masters in their process of self-realization.’’
The Akhara institutions take, when it comes to music is interesting as well as exemplary. Different regions in Bangladesh have their respective traditions of rendering songs. For instance there is a noticeable difference in tones, tonalities and even tunes in how Lalon’s songs are rendered in Kushtia Akharas as opposed to neighboring Chuadanga. Likewise all the way from Harinakundu in Jessore to Manikganj and Munshiganj in Dhaka, the style, intonations, ambience and presentation of verses are markedly different. Baul songs as practiced in Bangladesh are also in many cases vastly dissimilar to those of West Bengal in India. Yet there are seldom any disputes on the matter.
At most, any variations or mistakes in the words or lyrics may be quickly pointed out and corrected if there is common agreement via the institution of bahas (intervention, debates, enquiry), else they are accepted and may continue as has been practiced in a particular region with not so much as an eyebrow raised. What is of prime importance more than the tune or rendition methodologies are that the messages embedded and encoded within the verses remain undiluted and coherent. The practice of intervention for correction remains confined to the verses in question which in turn explains that Baul music never set any rigid standards or instructions about performance modes and they were left to grounded subtleties of each region, as also the peculiarities of individual performer’s nuances and their voice quality. Puritanism of any kind has always been shunned by Bauls.