Gautam Das Baul
interviewed at HMV Studio, Dum Dum, Kolkata, West Bengal
A- First tell us your name, then where you live, then when and why did you embark upon the Baul way of life.
G- Namaskar! My name is Gautam Das Baul. I am from Birbhum district. I come from a small village called Paruldanga, adjacent to Santiniketan. I learnt Baul music from my father, Sudhir Das Baul and my brother-in-law, Dibakar Das Baul. From a very young age, my father had a formative influence on me. That is why, today, Baul music has become both my sadhana as well as my profession.
A- At which age did you begin singing? Do you recall?
G- I began singing from a very young age. I must have been five to seven years old then! My father would carry me on his shoulders to whichever village he travelled to perform. I would often fall asleep during those lengthy performances. My father would wake me up and make me sing! I was very young then!
A- At what age did you make your first public performance at a congregation?
G- I still recall the first song I sang at a public congregation— “Your whole life, you thought of others (O my mind!)/ Yet, not for a day, did you think of your self!” I was six and a half or seven years old then!
A- Where did you perform this song?
G- I had performed at a village called Jaljale near Shakti Peeth, Kankalitala.
A- Can you sing a couple of lines of the song for us?
Your whole life, you thought of others (O my mind!)
Yet, not for a day, did you think of your self!
(O my crazy mind!)
Your childhood passed in childish play,
Your youth passed in erotic play,
Now, your old age has come!
And yet, not once, did you utter Hari’s name!
Not for a day, did you think of your self!
(O my crazy mind!)
A- Have you been initiated with a guru?
A- Tell us his name.
G- I am initiated with the mantra of Bhoba Pagla. My guru is Satyananda Maharaj of Murshidabad. The guru who taught me is Gaur Hari. I was initiated with him when I was single (not yet married) at Jaydev Mela. Later, after my marriage, both of us were initiated (conjugally) at my ashram. We both took the conjugal initiation with a guru.
A- Have you performed outside West Bengal, in other parts of India?
G- I have performed at various venues in Kolkata, Chennai, Bombay, Delhi and Guwahati.
A- Have you performed abroad?
G- Yes, I have performed at France, Spain, Belgium and Morocco. I have travelled to these four countries.
A- What do you have to say about the audience abroad? How did they respond to Baul music?
G- They applauded our songs. They clapped to the rhythm and danced to the music. This meant a lot for me!
A- When did you get married?
G- I got married in 2008. Oh, I forgot to mention— I have also travelled to Dhaka in Bangladesh. I have performed there at the residence of Bhoba Pagla. I got married in May, 2008.
A- Does your woman also sing?
G- She is currently learning. She sings at home. At present, I am not at home! She is my companion of Baul practice/ sadhana.
Our ashram is located at Chinta, where one has to travel from Durgapur. There is another ashram at the village Fulia in Nadia district. My guru has ashrams in three places.
A- Do you regularly practice Baul sadhana?
G- Yes, the treasure bestowed to me by my guru has to be cared for. I am presently young. I am trying to embark upon the path of Baul sadhana. I hope to find fulfilment at the end of this path. I follow my guru’s advice in everything. My guru does not sing. He is immersed within the practice of the body. He has initiated me within Baul sexual rites. I am trying to follow this path.
A- Are you happy with this path?
G- Yes! I am very happy indeed! I am in a perpetual state of happiness and contentment. There is no skepticism, no doubt within my mind. Neither do I feel an iota of sadness.
A- Do you have any CD or DVD of your recordings?
G- No, not yet!
A- Do you do anything else besides performing Baul music?
G- No, I live with Baul music. I do not have any other profession. Most of the times, I am immersed in Baul sadhana. In addition to practicing the Baul songs I perform, I have to give time to the complex bodily rites that comprise Baul sadhana/ practice. The two are often not related. When I am performing songs, I am an artist, but when I am practicing my sadhana, I am a seeker. The day I attain fulfilment through my practice, I too shall be able to compose songs from the knowledge that will be available to me. Then, I shall be in a better position to comprehend and explain the meanings of the songs I sing and also compose new songs. The great ones (mahajans) who have composed these songs have all had to first succeed in their sadhana. Perhaps, one day I, too, shall be able to do the same! Till then, this is my world! I have no other profession.
A- A lot of people say that the older generation of Bauls are no longer there, and the essence of Baul is waning. Do you hold a similar opinion?
G- No, I do not think so at all! We have to change ourselves with the times. There is a difference between a performing Baul and a practicing Baul. A practicing Baul may not even perform on stage! He or she will sing only when a desire to sing takes hold. But we are mostly performing Bauls. We sing for money! My guru is an ideal Baul. He is immersed in practice. Even I do not know when he shall start to sing. An ideal Baul is one who does not seek wealth, a house or a car. He or she carries a bag on the shoulder and begs for alms. Even if there is no food for a day, he or she is content. But, we are primarily performing Bauls. We should not call ourselves true Bauls, for we have not been able to renounce the material world. The day the desire for renunciation takes hold, I might begin calling myself a Baul. Till then, I am merely a performing artist! We haven’t been able to immerse ourselves within the love of Krishna. The day that love takes hold of us and makes us crazy, we shall be able to feel the true essence of Baul. There are those kinds of Bauls even today. One needs to see, to hear, to know!
A- Do you visit Baul congregations?
G-Yes, I do!
A- Which congregation do you like visiting the most?
G- I most enjoy the Jaydev Mela at Birbhum. It’s the Baul congregation which I like going to and performing at the most! There, we get to meet old acquaintances. I really love going there every year!
A- Which kind of Baul songs do you like singing the most? Whose compositions do you mostly perform?
G- I mostly sing the songs of Lalan and Bhoba Pagla. I love the songs of Lalan, and also those composed by Bhoba Pagla. I think the songs composed by the latter reflect both reality as well as spirituality. And Lalan is a league of his own!
Recorded at HMV Studios in Dum Dum, Kolkata October 10, 2009
interviewed by Aditi Sircar
Camera by Shubra Dutta
translated by Parjanya Sen