LINEAGE

The Baul Tradition

Baul is an ancient tradition from the Bengal region in the east of India and present-day Bangladesh. Because it is an oral tradition, the historical documentation is not definitive, but it certainly goes back to the wandering Sahajiya sect of Buddhism from around the 8th century CE. It has been highly influenced by the 15th century saint Chaitanya, and drawn from philosophies and practices of Vaishnava Hinduism and Sufi islam from Turkey.

Today, Baul society is changing in keeping with contemporary times and the challenge for the practitioners is to maintain the integrity and spirit of the tradition while engaging with modern times.

Gurus

Parvathy Baul carries the lineage of two great Baul Masters – Sanatan Das Baul and Shashanko Goshai. They were well-known in Bengal for their dedicated practice and nuanced performance.

Sanatan Das Baul spent his life at his ashram in Bankura district and Shashanko Goshai practiced in Murshidabad district, both in West Bengal. Parvathy Baul now upholds the lineage of both traditions and hopes to take it further with the upcoming gurukul, Sanatan Siddhashram.

Sanatan Das Baul

Sanatan Baba was born in Khulna District (now in Bangladesh) in the Bengali year 1330 into a Brahmin Vaishnav family. His father was Jagbandhu Das Thakur and his mother, Suvadra Dashi. Sanatan Baba’s grandfather was a kirtan singer. He was also a Baul singer and Ramayan Gan singer. Kirtan
is of Vaishnav tradition, with long hours of story-telling, in songs. Sanatan Baba received his first singing lessons from his grandfather. Two years before the partition, the family shifted to India. He was initiated into a Jatra theatre team as a boy, donning female roles. But later, his orientation moved back to Baul. In his youth, he did not stay long with his family; he was traveling continuously, meeting Baul masters, including Ananta Kana, Nitai Khapa, Trivanga Khapa, Durum Gopal, Vrindavan Das, Chintamoni Dashi, Madan Sha Fakir, Iliyas Sha Fakir and Golam Shah Fakir.
Sanatan Baba became renowned; he performed in several sadhu mocchabs, Baul Fakir melas, and village festivals. It was later that he received his fifth and final initiation in Baul practice from Sri Sri Khapa Manohar Thakur. Once his master Nitai Khapa asked him to go to the Ravi Thakur mocchab (Poush Mela). He narrated that experience:

As I walked from Bankura, at Durgapur, I was no longer sure of the way. So I walked along the railway track. When I reached Bolpur station, the special train carrying Pandit Nehru had arrived; he had come to open the Poush Mela. The small station was overcrowded. So I remained outside, in a teashop nearby. I sat there, drinking tea, watching the huge procession. When everyone had passed by, I resumed my walk to Shantiniketan in the shadow of the dusk.”

Since then, he has been visiting that fair, singing for people. for 50 years. For the last 30 years, Sanatan Baba has been inaugurating the Baul Fakir mela; he also received an accolade from Vishwa Bharati. He performed in France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1995, he was the recipient of the Lalan Puroshkar. Later, he received the West Bengal Government Rajyo Academy Puroskar. He also authored a book Baul Premik. It was well-received by the Baul lovers; his admirers received it passionately.
Sanatan Baba had built up a repertoire in the Baul style. This is his masterliness and his contribution to Baul performance. He taught the singing performance style only to two: one his own son Vishwanath Das Baul, and two, myself (Parvathy Baul). However, he initiated many into the Baul sadhana.

Source: Excerpts from ‘Song of the Great Soul’ by Parvathy Baul

Photograph by Akira Io

Sanatan Das Baul

Sanatan Baba was born in Khulna District (now in Bangladesh) in the Bengali year 1330 into a Brahmin Vaishnav family. His father was Jagbandhu Das Thakur and his mother, Suvadra Dashi. Sanatan Baba’s grandfather was a kirtan singer. He was also a Baul singer and Ramayan Gan singer. Kirtan
is of Vaishnav tradition, with long hours of story-telling, in songs. Sanatan Baba received his first singing lessons from his grandfather. Two years before the partition, the family shifted to India. He was initiated into a Jatra theatre team as a boy, donning female roles. But later, his orientation moved back to Baul. In his youth, he did not stay long with his family; he was traveling continuously, meeting Baul masters, including Ananta Kana, Nitai Khapa, Trivanga Khapa, Durum Gopal, Vrindavan Das, Chintamoni Dashi, Madan Sha Fakir, Iliyas Sha Fakir and Golam Shah Fakir.
Sanatan Baba became renowned; he performed in several sadhu mocchabs, Baul Fakir melas, and village festivals. It was later that he received his fifth and final initiation in Baul practice from Sri Sri Khapa Manohar Thakur. Once his master Nitai Khapa asked him to go to the Ravi Thakur mocchab (Poush Mela). He narrated that experience:

As I walked from Bankura, at Durgapur, I was no longer sure of the way. So I walked along the railway track. When I reached Bolpur station, the special train carrying Pandit Nehru had arrived; he had come to open the Poush Mela. The small station was overcrowded. So I remained outside, in a teashop nearby. I sat there, drinking tea, watching the huge procession. When everyone had passed by, I resumed my walk to Shantiniketan in the shadow of the dusk.

Since then, he has been visiting that fair, singing for people. for 50 years. For the last 30 years, Sanatan Baba has been inaugurating the Baul Fakir mela; he also received an accolade from Vishwa Bharati. He performed in France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1995, he was the recipient of the Lalan Puroshkar. Later, he received the West Bengal Government Rajyo Academy Puroskar. He also authored a book Baul Premik. It was well-received by the Baul lovers; his admirers received it passionately.
Sanatan Baba had built up a repertoire in the Baul style. This is his masterliness and his contribution to Baul performance. He taught the singing performance style only to two: one his own son Vishwanath Das Baul, and two, myself (Parvathy Baul). However, he initiated many into the Baul sadhana.

Source: Excerpts from Song of the Great Soul by Parvathy Baul

Photograph by Akira Io

Shashanko Goshai

Shashanko Goshai was born in the Shingar village of Murshidabad district. His year of birth is indeterminate, he lived for about 100 years. He was born into a traditional Vaishnav family. His father, Hrishikesh Vairagya, was a famous percussionist of Srikhol, Pakhawaj etc. His mother’s name was Surodhini Dashi. During the days of zamindari(i) in Murshidabad, those landlords used to invite many a classical music Ustad and Byjee, the female courtesan singers from Lucknow and Allahabad. Shashanko Goshai’s father used to accompany them in the mahal performances.

Shashanko Goshai lost his father when he was just 13. The family was in dire straits. The responsibility of rearing his three sibling sisters and brothers fell on his young shoulders. Even as a boy, he had joined a Jatra company in Giyagung. He used to take female roles, becoming a famous actor. He worked part-time in a sweet shop. That way also, he could support his family.

In 1943, Bengal was hit by a famine; millions died of hunger. The famine, its horror, hit young Shashanko Goshai in full blast. He took to the denial path of the Baul. There was an Ektara at his house, occasionally used by his father while singing. Shashanko Goshai repaired the instrument and started to sing Baul songs.

Shashanko Goshai has practised with, among others, Vrindavan Goshai and Nalin Goshai. Later, Nityanando Goshai of Murshidabad initiated him into the Baul practice. All these masters were performers of Ektara and Duggi, the oldest and most dignified style of Baul. Throughout his life, Shashanko Goshai followed this style. He rarely used a small Dupki.

Though the legendary master Nitai Khapa was quite senior to Shashanko Baba, they made a long journey together, performing in the sadhu mocchab. They exchanged several songs. At the end of the journey and performance, Nitai Khapa presented his Duggi to Shashank Baba. This was a gesture of blessing and a Master’s recognition of his disciple’s worth as a performer.

Shashanko Baba kept himself away from the glare and glitter of the outside world, doing his practice. However, this did not deter him from performing in several villages. A highly respected Baul Master, he had several disciples, some of them accomplished Baul sadhakas. However, because he was a very strict teacher, he taught only five the Baul performance.

Source: Excerpts from ‘Song of the Great Soul‘ by Parvathy Baul

Photograph by Ravi G Nair

Nitai Khepa

His initiatory guru in the tradition was Nitai Khepa, who introduced him to the Baul sadhana or spiritual practice. Later, the great Monohor Khepa gave him instruction in the intricacies of the music.

Photographs by Carol Solomon

Nitai Khepa

His initiatory guru in the tradition was Nitai Khepa, who introduced him to the Baul sadhana or spiritual practice. Later, the great Monohor Khepa gave him instruction in the intricacies of the music.

Photographs by Carol Solomon