Radheshyam Das Baul

Radheshyam Das Baul

interviewed at Shonajhuri, Khoai, Shantiniketan, Bolpur, Birbhum

2008-05

 

Tell us your name.  My name is Radheshyam Das Baul. I am from a village called Basaipura which comes under the purview of the Ashagram panchayat located in Block number one of the Rampurhat district in West Bengal. My father was not a literate person. Since I was three or four years old, I remember him devoted to music. He came from a vey poor family. He would train young boys in music and together, they would perform the devotional songs of Krishna. My father would play the tabla as part of a local musical theatre group. His name was Tarapada Das. My mother is still living. Since the time I was eight or nine years old, I began picking up songs by hearing my father sing. These I would sing, almost verbatim, without understanding the lyrics. It was only later in my life that I came in contact with the great singers such as Purna Das Baul, Lakshman Das Baul and Sujit Das Baul. I would visit them regularly. Although I had studied till the ninth grade, I could not appear for my school final exams as our house caught fire and all our belongings, along with my books were incinerated. I had my S.F. exams. We now have the Madhyamik exams at the 10th level and the Higher Secondary exams at the 12th level. In 1972, when I was still a student, we had only one board exam during our school life. It was known as the S.F. exam. I could not appear for it. Also, around this time my father’s mental health became unstable. As I am the eldest among six sisters and three brothers, the responsibility for the sustenance of our family came on my shoulders. I left academics and began working as a farmer. But I did not let go of music. I trained in Hindustani classical music under Jagannath Majhi of Birbhum. I completed the first, second and third years of my musical training. Thereafter, I once again embraced Baul music. I performed on the All-India radio (Akashvani, Kolkata) on October 27, 1979. Thereafter, I continued performing for the radio. I have never really invited to perform on Doordarshan (national television). I do not know if I will ever perform on television. I do not entertain such hopes either. As a practicing Baul, I depend on the goodwill of my Maker. And it really depends on the government, if they decide to throw a few crumbs to a cawing crow. This may sound very acerbic and critical to some, but believe me, as a Baul, I consider the shade of a tree as the most tranquil of places. It is here that I can connect to the self within me, to the mind inside me. I can converse with this self. I do not usually share these experiences with anyone, as you know Bauls are noted for their secrecy. The Bauls worship the formless, who exists as air does. And like air, we are never in stasis, for we are itinerants. We smoke weed under the shade of the trees, we do not think it as vice. Some of us smoke cigarettes and bidis, but a lot of us restrain ourselves from even that. Weed is the only thing almost all of us smoke unanimously. Those who practice sadhana restrain themselves from consuming any intoxicant. It is Govind to whom their will is betrothed, how can they yield themselves to any other form of intoxication? They practice their sadhana under the shades of the trees and on reaching home; they give expression to the wisdom they thus attain through music. They write songs and set them to tune. They perform these songs to teach others and to enable them to understand that there exists something called faith. They enrich tradition and maintain it. A lot of us Bauls have come here. And among our audience, some have been so inspired that they have embraced the Baul way of life. Whenever you hear of words of true spiritual wisdom, your spiritual conscience gets awakened. This conscience then attempts to hear and imbibe those words of wisdom. And will eventually draw the person towards the path of sadhana. You will feel then ‘I am You, You are me’ (his gesture indicates that by ‘You’ he is referring to the Maker). You will feel the Maker resonate within your self, your being. Thus, the great composer has said—

‘This Bird within I know not/ which inhabits this cage

How will it fly?’—

We are always so anxious to conserve this Self. Yet, once the breath leaves, the body is inanimate, dead. How does the Self enter us, how and where does it go? These are some of the questions which Baul philosophers seek the answers to, and they communicate the answers they obtain through their songs.

Have you ever performed outside West Bengal?  I have performed in Rajasthan, Ajmer, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat, Goa, Daman and Diu, Panjim, Aizwal, Mizoram, Dimapur, Dibrugarh, Madras, Pondicherry and in a lot of other cities and states. Kartik Das Baul and my friend Nitai (who just performed before you) accompanied me on these tours. I have never traveled outside India.

Has a CD or cassette been released?  No. Not yet. But I do not know whether it will be released in future. I have been associated with this world of music for forty-two years now. Yet I feel I have learnt nothing. There is still so much to grasp, so much to comprehend. There is a famous song by Tagore—

‘My day passes, as evening dawns, I strive to sing to Your tune…’—

Rabindranath Tagore wrote his lyrics and composed his tune to the words and tune of an old Baul song. That is how he achieved so much fame, by embracing the Baul.

So what are your feelings and perceptions about this Baul way of life?  There is an old Baul saying—

‘The moment passed

All there was to say,

Could not be uttered’—

At this age whatever I know, had I comprehended earlier, I would have considered my life fulfilled. Now when I crossed fifty, were I to tell a twelve year old boy to embrace Brahmacharya, he would laugh it me. This is what our world has come to.

Do you have any son or daughter?  I have a son and a daughter. My daughter started singing after she finished her madhyamik exams. Now she is married and lives with her in-laws. She has a son who studies in the tenth standard. He is training in classical music. He is completing his second year. I am certain he will initiate himself into Baul sooner or later. He is the son of a Baul and unless he comprehends it, how else will he articulate the music which surges within him? He has to follow the rules of the grahak, kumbhak and pranayam. Only then can he attain true musical knowledge. The harmonium has three tiers. Similarly, within our body also there are three tiers. Each of these must be in tune for you to sing perfectly. We express this musical schema onto the single string of the iktara.—

(sings) ‘Oh Guru! Strum my beloved iktara to your tune’.—

As you can see, the iktara has two parts, the tumba (gourd) and the string. It resembles the musical structure of our body (he points from his waist to his head, thus comparing the iktara and the human body). The ‘ear’ serves the purpose of tuning. The Baul singer is capable of reconciling the music which emanates from the iktara and the khanjani (an instrument which has a bell like sound and is clapped between two hands to keep the rhythm) with the music which resides within the body. You too are a Baul, if you are capable of thus reconciling. Once you achieve this reconciliation within yourself, you stand fulfilled, there remains no need. It does not then really matter if you dress in a salwar kameez or a suit or a saffron colored garment. The Baul does not feel any need. He smiles and speaks with all, and sits and sings beneath the tree— ‘Bastumi (female Baul or sadhika) accompany me!’ And to the sadhika, I sing ‘During the day go out for alms, in the evenings massage oil on my body. Hail Hari (Krishna)!’ We are aware that without our Seva-Dasi (woman who serves) we cannot embark on the path of sadhana. Thus, in each of our families we have our wives who serve us as our Seva-Dasis. We cannot journey without them. When we are invited to perform in other places outside the state, we go. Yet, like the string pulls the kite, we too are pulled back to the women.

All right. Jai Guru!  Jai Guru! I could only say as much. Thank you. Let there be more such programs where we Bauls can perform. It gives us immense pleasure.

Certainly! It gives us pleasure too.


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Camera: Shubhankar Bhar, Shubra Dutta -

Sound: Partha Barman, Laltu Dasgupta -

Producer/Director: Aditi Sircar