Purna Das Baul
interviewed at Oberoi Grand Hotel, Kolkata
- Can you talk about the relationship between your father, Nabani Das and Rabindranath Tagore?
- My father would say that Tagore was very spiritually oriented. However, many of his thoughts on spiritualism were scattered. It was in order to bring these thoughts into a trajectory that Tagore required my father, Nabani Das Khyapa Baul. Tagore would look up to my father both as a friend and as a guru. My father taught him the various philosophical discourses of Baul. As such, Tagore had accepted my father as a guru who could initiate him into Baul philosophy. At times, Tagore would see my father as a friend, at other times, as a guru. It was from a sense of deep respect Tagore had for my father that he gave him the name ‘Khyapa Baul.’ My father too had told him jokingly, “You call me Khyapa Baul and I shall call you Robi Baul!” They had a relationship which was based on the exchange of philosophical and spiritual ideas. That is why Tagore had a specific regard for my father, Nabani Das Khyapa Baul. My father was a constant presence at the Tagore household. Whenever Tagore would stray, even a bit, from the trajectory of his thoughts, he would call for Nabani Das Khyapa Baul.
- What, according to you, is the purpose of Baul music? How do you see Baul music as it is performed today?
- Bauls are a tradition based upon the discourse of man as subject. Bauls seek the ideal man, the man of the heart, the resplendent man, known variously as Iswar, Allah or God. Bauls interpret him as the man of the heart. If one seeks within every human being, one is likely to find this man of the heart within someone or another. So, the learned ones say, “Seek out the man of the heart within your own heart!” Only then can this man be found! Within me, this man called Purna Das, I can seek him too. If I ask my true self, the inner Purna Das will respond back. If I cannot revere, have faith in, or love this inner being, then the very existence of Purna Das is meaningless. The external body does not matter. One needs to know the inner self. That is what the Baul path is all about. My father, Nabani Das Baul would practice this philosophy, teach and explain it to others, and compose songs that revolved around it. He had the true affect, devotion and veneration of a Baul. He was revered by many, such as Kshiti Mohan Sen Shashtri. Regarding my father, Kshiti Mohan had remarked, “You cannot discover the indiscoverable/ seek him out through his actions!” My father, Nabani Das, was that indiscoverable being. That is how he was perceived. And that is exactly how Tagore too had received my father in Santiniketan! Santiniketan was the only place where my father remained for a long time. Otherwise, he would never stay in one place for very long, a year or two or three at the most. Yet, he remained with Tagore for many more years, patiently answering all his queries. My father was always engrossed in his own sadhana. “All my vices left me/ Once I attained the name of Hari!” After attaining the name of Hari, my father mostly remained immersed within his own self. There is an old Baul saying—
“O my mind! Submerge yourself!?If you search the deep carefully,
You will find the precious jewel!
Only if you submerge yourself
Will you attain the jewel!
Not if you float!”
If one wants simply to appease an audience, there are songs with less complex meanings. But these will not help you find the indiscoverable self. If you truly seek this self—
“Seek the form in the city of jewels!
There resides a learned man,
He is the golden man!?If you see him,
In death too you shall remain alive!”
This indiscoverable man cannot be easily attained, for he is the supra self, the resplendent Being. It is only by submerging oneself within that light can one hope to realise that Being! When an earthen lamp burns, the wick, which is normally blackened, turns bright red just before extinguishing itself and radiating light. That red gleam is the resplendent Supra Being. The path of Baul sadhana is geared towards the realization of this Being. In order that this sadhana finds fruition, the practitioner has to believe in his own self.
- Do you perceive any difference between Baul music as it is performed today and Baul music as it was performed in earlier days?
- Yes, there is a huge difference, as vast as the space between the sky and the earth. In the earlier days, the Bauls would compose songs which were linked syncretically to their practice. The songs they composed emerged out of the philosophy which they internalized and constantly practised. These days, the composers only hold up a perceived naturalistic view. Their songs are mimetic rather than philosophical. Baul philosophy sees such songs as folk music.
- So are new melodies composed for existing Baul songs?
- The lyrics of older Baul songs would touch the heart and the inner being. They produced an affect within the heart, one which cannot be captured in words. The exact affect and emotion engendered by these songs cannot indeed be captured on paper. It is like eating a sweet and attempting to describe the exact taste in words! A sweet is sweet, we all know that! However, the exact taste cannot be put across in so many words. Baul songs contain a meaning that cannot exactly be framed through words. It can only be perceived through the path of sadhana. One who is truly immersed in Baul practice will respond to the call of the being within. One realises that within the body, there is another self that responds back. Thus goes a saying— “My mind converses with its self/ each time that I walk alone!” The older Bauls composed songs with such profound inner meanings. The Baul performers who sing nowadays are mere collectors. They research into existing collections and like designing a bouquet, pick out the ones they like best. Even the ones writing Baul songs nowadays simply borrow words from different sources and compile these into a song. This song cannot be seen as complete in form and content. In order to attain such completion, one has to enter the world of Baul practice. Otherwise, they will merely end up copying and compiling. For instance, words such as Manipur (city of jewels), lotus, etc. can easily be collected from various songs and put together into a new song. There is a vast difference between picking these words up from existing books and composing a song and composing a song from the vantage point of a practitioner. So, I feel that one needs to first know one’s own self and one’s fellows before delving into Baul philosophy.
- What about the difference in melody?
- To invoke the Supreme, you need to go beyond the structural bind of music, beyond the sa to sa and the sa to pa. You need to focus on the affect rather than on the structure of the notes per se! There is a saying, “No matter how much intellect and erudition you possess/ True wisdom remains beneath the wisdom sea.” Unless you have an affective and internalized understanding, such wisdom will always escape you, and you shall drown in the infinite sea of wisdom. The melody, the wire of the dotara and the uttered word— each of these is a direct signifier of Brahman, the supreme metaphysical Being. The three must unite to form a perfect harmony. Only then can Brahman be realized. So, this is the role that music should play. The music of Baul songs performed nowadays lacks this. There is smartness and finesse, yes! But there is no quality of affect! You see, the music has largely remained unchanged over generations of Baul singers. It is the affect which defines a rendition, making it anew. There are a few songs such as “My braids shall remain they way they are” and “Do not, even erroneously, give your heart!” which I have been singing regularly since I was five years old! I have recorded these songs for various record companies. And yet, newer companies approach me every now and then asking for fresh recordings of these very songs. I keep singing the same songs, yet, they do not seem to age! This is because of the affect they generate that touches the hearts of the listeners.
- Are new Baul songs written down and new Baul melodies composed nowadays?
- Yes, new songs are indeed being composed by various Bauls. There are quite a few composers of Baul music nowadays. Some of them I am greatly fond of! The composer Gobi Prasanna had written a few songs for me. It is unfortunate that in his lifetime, I could not perform these! He was a good friend of mine, and it pains me that I could not sing the songs he had written for me. There is another composer named Ratan Saha, whose songs I have sung. His music has the elements of affect, faith and devotion. His music also has a certain amount of originality. So I have performed some of the songs that he composed. Yet, I feel that songs composed nowadays cannot immerse themselves completely within the Baul affect. The Baul composers writing today lack this affect. For instance, only someone who has inhabited a house for a certain amount of time at least, knows where to locate an object within the house. A visitor to the house cannot do so. Baul songs revolve around the philosophy of the body (deha-tattva). Unless one is initiated into and practices this philosophy, it is not entirely possible to capture the right affect of Baul music simply by reading or researching. The visitor to the house who has stepped out will give his own version and the one who has inhabited the house and is familiar with every object within will have his own. The person who is a complete outsider, observing from the outside, will have yet another version. Thus you get three kinds of perspectives. The one who has completely internalized Baul philosophy will, of course, have much more originality in his compositions. His or her compositions are bound to become eternal. These compositions you can listen to again and again, unlike the Baul songs composed now which become monotonous and tiresome after a point.
- Do you think you have a unique and personal style of rendering Baul songs that sets you apart from other Bauls?
- Well, if I answer your question honestly, people might think I am being conceited or am engaging in self propaganda. I would normally perhaps refrain from answering, but since you asked me this specific question, I shall go ahead and answer. The attire worn by Bauls in earlier days was like a pillow cover. You made a slit on both sides to put your hands through and you made a slit at the top to slide your head through. This dress was called an alphi and would be worn by Bauls. Another kind of dress Bauls would don was the beniyam, which comprised a single piece of cloth draped around the body and tied with a knot over one shoulder. The cloth would be maximum two or three feet in length. Only the main part of the body would be covered, and below the knees would be bare. Most Bauls would walk barefoot, but if someone did not wish to do so, he or she would wear a kharam. However, Bauls who perform nowadays follow a different dress code that was inaugurated by me. Whichever song I sing, the style of singing that particular song is emulated by others. Bauls wear panjabis of the kind worn by me. They wear dhotis slit in the middle, the way I do. Earlier, I used to tie up my hair behind my head in a bun, and Bauls would emulate that. These days I have grown my hair long and keep it open behind my back, and Bauls follow that style. The dress donned by Bauls today is different from what was worn in earlier days. This dress is my creation, inaugurated by me. Purna Das did not just take Baul music to the rest of the world, he became a phenomenon to be followed and emulated. The only reason I am not very fluent in English, unlike, say, my sons, is because my father kept on travelling and each time, I was admitted into a different school. I studied in about thirty different schools and in each of them I was only there for a short span of time. It is due to these hindrances that I could never receive a formal education. My father never really taught me Baul music either! I picked up the songs as I heard them being performed by him, over and over again. When I began performing in public, as my fame spread, the dress that I donned became a standard which others began following. The earlier attire that was worn by Bauls never gained popularity. Bauls have existed for centuries; yet it is only after I became a public image that the dress code became popular and a norm of sorts. I brought two-hundred and fifty Bauls from Australia. I have travelled across various continents and countries. It was Sally and Albert Grossman who arranged my tour across forty states in America. They were instrumental in disseminating Baul music in America. Earlier, I got a Gold Medal in Moscow in 1962, where I had travelled alone. What Sally and Albert Grossman did was to take a whole group of Baul performers to America from this very Oberoi Grand Hotel. It was at this Grand hotel that I and my wife, Manju Das, had first met Albert and Sally Grossman and performed before them. It was the manager of this very hotel who had placed me a telephone call at my Kalighat residence. Sally and Albert Grossman are the two entrepreneurs who inaugurated the process of disseminating Baul music to the West. That is why I have a deep love and respect for Sally and Albert. They were instrumental in constructing my path to fame.
- Do you have a singing/ musical style that is distinctly your own and has been emulated or followed by other Bauls?
- Today, all the Bauls performing emulate my style of singing. They emulate Purna Das. One of my students, Goshto Gopal, whose father Devanananda Das was from North Bengal, had attempted a fusion of Baul music and the folk music of North Bengal. He formulated his own distinct style, I have my own style, and my father, Nabani Das, had his own unique style. The Bauls singing today follow either the style of Purna Das or Goshto Gopal. Even in their attire, they have emulated me. Many may be envious of me. Yet, I have brought the Bauls to this place, brought them international fame and recognition, enabled their children to receive a formal education. Each of my three sons is highly educated. Today, the children of all the Bauls receive formal education. The dress code too has been taken from me. There is a saying, “Dress like a babu/ Even if you are immersed in the sadhana of Hari!/ the babu is civilized and elite,/ in your attire, emulate the babu!” I have managed to formulate a space for Bauls within the civilized bhodrolok Bengali society. The attire holds a certain attraction of its own. I had conceptualized an attire that would draw and hold the attention of the elite Bengali society. The older Bauls never thought of this. They would wear their garments above the knee. People would mistake them for wandering sadhus and Vaishnavs. They would ask them to sit in their veranda and sing a song and in return, give them a bowl of rice as alms. These days, the Bauls are remunerated monetarily. In fact, they receive a considerable sum of money for singing. In those days, I could not even run my family even if I sung at seven different venues. And today, for making one public appearance, I am remunerated with one lakh rupees. Even within Bengal, my minimum rate for a single performance is at least sixty or seventy thousand rupees. So, the Bauls have traversed a long way, from striving to receive one bowl of rice even after performing in seven different villages to receiving such amounts of money for a single public function. I believe this attire popularized by me, this style of singing and dancing that I made famous, all of these have been contributing factors. Speaking of dance movements, my father would turn his hand a full circle, I turn it half; many Bauls today turn their bodies around once or twice. This is my style, the style popularized by Purna Das. Any Baul performing anywhere emulates this very style.
- So just like you have received a lot from your father, what do you think your sons have received from you?
- To be very honest, I have not managed to make my sons Bauls. In order to become a Baul, one needs to seek out one’s inner self and practice Baul sadhana. Besides, one needs to inculcate certain forms of affect, certain mannerisms, a certain disposition and also abstain from certain forms of food, etc. Just because they are my sons, I cannot say that they are Bauls. Yes, they sing well. All my three sons write songs, compose music and sing very well. But they are not Bauls, because they do not practice Baul sadhana. They can explain Baul philosophy to you. They are well educated and well researched. But, in order to become a Baul, one has to enter the world of practice. None of them have done that. Hence, I refrain from calling them Bauls. Just like a Brahmin has to don the sacred set of threads, comprising nine different threads representing the nine different gods, a Baul too needs to don a kopin. A Kopin is a piece of cloth that represents all the devatas. Then there is the piece of cloth called dong which represents Krishna, and also the piece of cloth worn on the lower part that represents Radha. In order to don this cloth, in order to don Krishna and Radha, one has to be honest in one’s sadhana and immerse oneself completely within it! These days, the children of all Bauls bear the surname “Das” and proclaim themselves as Bauls. Yet each of them will fail the test of a true Baul. Unless one practises sadhana and becomes a true seeker in this path, he or she cannot be a Baul. Singing well isn’t enough! Many performers sing well nowadays. But they aren’t Bauls! Singers like Arati Mukherjee and Lata Mangeshkar too have rendered Baul songs so brilliantly! But does that make them Bauls? Lata Mangeshkar had sung a Baul song for the composer Bhupen Hazarika for a film. Hazarika had first approached me, but when I saw the composition, I told him that Lata would do a much better job of rendering the song for the film. I follow a certain trajectory of music, which stems from my sadhana. Perhaps, I would have been able to sing other genres as well. But I have refrained from doing so. I can sing other genres of music. But I don’t! This is because I believe in one thing- Brahman, the Supreme Being who is one and indivisible is bound to the one wire of the iktara. Once, Ravi Shankar had told me, “Purna, you have travelled to so many countries with this iktara. And, even with my seven wires, I haven’t traversed so many countries! I have my utmost love and respect for you!” I replied by saying that I want to bind all beings within this one melody which emanates from this one wire of my iktara, a melody that bears the trace of Brahman. It is like the thread which holds all flowers in a garland together. The flowers themselves are precious, as is the wire which binds them. Unity is strength. And Bauls seek this unity, this union, through every being, with the Supreme Self. I haven’t been able to keep all my three sons in the same place. That maybe my fault! Yet, I haven’t given the sacred cloth, the kopin, to any of my three sons because I know they shall not be able to maintain its sanctity. The Baul path is not as simple as merely donning a kopin and a saffron dress. The colour saffron stands for sacrifice. Before, the Bauls would wear white. It was I who began the saffron trend. You may ask me how, if I donned the kopin, I entered domesticity. I will say that the grain of rice sprouted before it was boiled. After I was boiled, I never sprouted. A boiled grain of rice cannot sprout. Once one becomes a sadhu, one cannot give birth to children any more. Brahmacharrya or celibacy is a crucial aspect of Baul sadhana. It is only after twelve years of practising celibacy that one may receive the kopin! This is not a religious proscription. The kopin must come as a fruit of my devotion, my sadhana. The Baul is not a religion or a faith or a means of education. It is a path towards self-realization that one has to be initiated into! There is just one proscription—you cannot step into the circle (of domestic attachments!). If you do so, death becomes inevitable! Bauls were capable of renouncing domesticity very fast. This is because they observed four stages or states of renunciation— Aul, Baul, Sai and Darbesh. My sons were sent to boarding schools in their childhood; they are well educated and have received their degrees from universities. But they have not become Bauls. I do not have university degrees. And yet, I have given talks at different universities in different countries to which I have travelled. I have given lectures as a visiting professor in various universities in America, Australia, Paris, London and Germany. I may not have any institutional degree but I have given these talks before academicians, researchers, people with many degrees and qualifications.
- What according to you is the difference between Bauls and Fakirs?
- The differences are only slight. First of all, every one of us is a human being. There are minor differences in the terms used by them and those used by us. There are also some differences in attire— we wear saffron, they wear black. They believe that the colour black represents their Sufi beliefs. Some of them also wear saffron now and then. Some of them wear white, as white is the preferred colour when they travel to Mecca for haj. Also, those that go on the haj pilgrimage cannot wear any cloth with stitches in it. That is why the colour white is preferred. Even when we become sannyasis and renounce domesticity, white is the preferred colour. It is only after receiving the kopin do we don the saffron colour. Both the Bauls and Fakirs sing songs revolving around deha-tattva (philosophy of the body). Both give primacy to human beings and the human body. So where is the difference? They call themselves Muslims, we call ourselves Hindus. Yet, we are human beings first! Religion is merely the external attire or the garb, the being inside is the same. Even most of the rites and practices are the same! The difference is only in the appellation, the name. This difference has been unfortunately politicised. It is like the same date written in the English and the Bengali script. Why? So that people who understand only that language can read the date! Similarly, the core philosophy of the Bauls and the Fakirs is the same. The religious (Hindu/ Muslim) angle has been politicised and overplayed. Both Bauls and Fakirs practices revolve around the philosophy of the body. Each song of Lalan contains elements of deha-tattva (philosophy of the body), para-tattva (philosophy of the supreme metaphysical being) lila-tattva (philosophy of eros), bhava tattva (philosophy of state) and prem tattva (philosophy of love). All these philosophies also inform Baul songs and Baul practice. So where is the difference? Only in the names— Baul and Fakir! The distinctions are superficial and have been politicised. But the modality of practice (sadhana) is the same. It is the same sky we both look up towards. The world revolves around a logic of division into binaries— light and darkness, day and night, man and woman, etc. But these differences are man-made. Thus, you have the Baul and the Fakir. There is no difference between the Sufi/ Fakir and the Baul! The difference is only of the external attire. Neither do they observe namaz five times a day, nor do we pray before the thirty-three crore deities. We believe in one Supreme Being. We also believe that the guru or teacher is the reflection of Brahman or the Supreme Being.
- Is it possible that a Baul may have a guru who is a Fakir and vice-versa?
- Of course! There are many such examples. A few days ago, to mark the birth centenary of Kshiti Mohan Sen Shashtri, many Bauls had come from Bangladesh. Some of them were very elderly and established Bauls of Bangladesh. On their arrival, they said that they wanted to first visit the house of their guru, Nabani Das, before coming to my place. On being asked how could a Baul like Nabani Das be the guru of Fakirs who were Muslim, they replied that they were initiated by my father and regarded him as their guru. There are also many Bauls who have been initiated by Muslim Fakirs. The guru can be anyone who gives the mantra, teaches its utterance and initiates you into the Baul path. There is no injunction against a Muslim or a Hindu becoming the Baul or Fakir guru. The one who captures your heart, become your guru. Know the guru and obtain his blessings! It does not matter whether the guru is Muslim or Hindu. You can select any guru you admire or are drawn towards. Vivekananda had embraced Ramakrishna as his guru and Ramakrishna, too, had embraced Vivekananda as his disciple. Today, the whole world venerates Vivekananda as a realized human being. He was the one who taught the whole world the meaning of humanity, to see within every human a reflection of the divine self, Narayan. Both Ramakrishna as well as Vivekananda reiterated this time and again! Bauls, too, preach the same thing— to love and embrace every human being. No one is the other, I do not have a home; the place I travel to becomes my home! There is no nation, the whole world and every human being is me, a reflection of my self, of the divine Supreme self.
- Do Bauls visit the samadhis/ tombs of Fakirs and vice-versa?
- Yes! We also bury our dead and perform puja at the shrine. We do not perform rituals to deities. Fakirs and Sufis have their shrines of the dead. They call these mazhars. They perform prayers at these tombs, and offer a sacred cloth. We visit their shrines, just as they visit ours. We love mazhars, because both Baul and Fakir traditions follow the post-death practice of internment. This body is composed of earth, and to earth, the mother, it returns! The atman or self unites with the Brahman, the Supreme Self and the physical body rots and eventually becomes part of mother earth. The mother accepts back the body. Bauls don’t burn their dead. Our dead do not float in the sky and travel to other places. We practice burial of the dead. Bauls bury their dead in a sitting position, with a tilak on the forehead and a garland on the neck. Both Bauls and Fakirs throw a little bit of salt mixed with mud over the body before burying it. They bury in a sleeping position, we in a sitting position. Christians too practice burial, but they place the body in a coffin and not directly within the earth. So we visit mazhars as well. There is no proscription against visiting the tomb/ shrine of a Pir or Fakir just because she or he is a Muslim. They, too have no such proscriptions. Both sites are sacred to both communities.
- Is there any difference in the style or rendering music between the Bauls and Fakirs?
-Yes, that is there! There is this instrument called the khamak. The name was given by my grandfather Ankur Gosai. It is also called the anandalahari and has two strings. When one uses this instrument and sings, the melody changes a bit. The mode of performance and the mannerism of the dance become different. If the same song is performed by a Baul on a iktara, the mode of the performance, the rhythm and the style of dance change. The pronunciation of the phrases becomes different. The rhythm of the song becomes different. The very form of the performance changes! Again, the same song, performed with a dubki, will have a different rhythm, a different form. So I mentioned three instruments- the anandalahari, the dubki and the iktara. These are the traditional instruments of the Bauls. The Bauls, in these parts, perform mostly with the dubki and the iktara. The Bauls of East Bengal (Bangladesh) and North Bengal use the dotara and the sarinda. There is some element of folk music in what the Bauls of East Bengal perform. They use mostly the dotara and the sarinda. We, on this side of the border, do not have the tradition of using the dotara. I sang with the dotara once, during a performance with Sadananda Baul. That is why whenever any Baul sings that particular song, they use the dotara. I also used the harmonium for the first time in a Baul song. I shall explain why! Earlier, the Bauls were mostly solo performers. A few instruments were later added, which were not initially used as accompaniments during Baul performance, such as the tabla, the dhol, the khol and the flute. As more and more people started performing with me, it became a group affair. Each of them would choose one instrument or another. This also ensured them some income. That is how these instruments were later added. These days, these instruments are interchangeably used for different genres of music. A lot of Western instruments, such as the mandolin, the guitar and the banjo have also been added. I have used these newer instruments during my performances. The one within whom Baul melody resides, Brahman resides. Hence, I do not discriminate against any instrument. I do not consider any instrument inferior to another. I sing my song; I remain honest to my music. Whether a violin plays as accompaniment or a banjo makes little difference! I use both the traditional as well as the newer instruments. My sons too use these during their performances.
- In your father’s time, did the Bauls use any other instrument apart from the duggi, iktara and khamak?
- No! They did not. These other instruments were added later by me. One has to keep up with the times. Earlier, people had to keep a scribe for writing down the ledgers. Now, a computer does all the work. A computer is capable of running an entire office. What Purna Das has done for the Baul community is akin to a computer. I have set a trend vis-à-vis their musical style, their attire, the idioms of their dance.
- Is the dotara played only in the Birbhum district?
- No! The dotara was never popular in Birbhum. It had always been popular in East Bengal (Bangladesh). Only the performers of East Bengal and North Bengal used the dotara as a musical accompaniment. Our instruments are the iktara, the anadalahari, the dubki and the khamak. Only the Bauls of East Bengal play the dotara. But I have managed to blend, bring together all these musical instruments. So, nowadays, it is difficult to differentiate between the instruments of both Bengals. Music knows no barriers. Bauls of both Bengals speak the same language and philosophy. These days even Fakirs are referred to as Bauls. We have ceremonies where Bauls and Fakirs perform together. Today the term ‘Baul-Fakir’ has become very popular. We have succeeded in uniting the two.
- Is the khamak played only in West Bengal or is it also played elsewhere?
- No, it is only played in West Bengal! There is an instrument which consists of one single wire played in Gujarat but it is not the khamak. The khamak is an invention of the Bauls of West Bengal.
- Are there different styles of khamak?
- There is one played by the devotees of Hari. They perform in a troupe. Their style is different from the style of the Bauls. The Bauls play one kind of khamak. They emulate my style. The style which was followed by the earlier Bauls as well as by my father is practised by my brother, Luxman Das. He emulates my father’s style of playing the khamak. However, I inaugurated a new style. I have showed how the same rhythm can be played in a khol, a tabla as well as a khamak. It is my style which is followed now.
- You mentioned an instrument called the sarinda. Is it played anymore?
- It was mostly the Muslim Fakirs who played the sarinda. But these days, the sarinda is frequently used in different kinds of folk and regional music.
- Does anyone play the sarinda these days?
- Yes, there are plenty of men and women that do! The son of one Bhakta Das Baul of Malda still sings with the sarinda. He is from East Bengal.
- I think his name is Tarapada Das.
-Yes! Tarapada is the son of Bhakta Das Baul. Bhakta referred to my father as ‘father’ and me as big brother. He was a wonderful singer and player!
- What is the specific significance of Baul dance?
- As I mentioned before, most Bauls today emulate my style of dancing. All other earlier dance styles of the Bauls are not performed any longer.
- What were these earlier styles?
- These were mostly spontaneous.
- Are you able to make out simply by observing the style which district or area the particular Baul comes from?
- Yes! I am quite old and experienced by now!
- So, you are indeed able to locate the region where a particular Baul comes from just by watching her or his dance mannerism!
- I am seventy-six years old! I have dedicated my life to this practice. Just by hearing a performance, I can tell you where the singer comes from.
- One last question! Do your three sons live in different places?
- Yes, they live in different places. Two of them live abroad; one lives with me. The one who lives with me performs different kinds of songs. The other two sing as well but there is a difference. I learnt music by continuously hearing my father sing. He never taught me music formally. The son who lives with me is undoubtedly a better singer than the other two because he is always hearing me sing! When fruits ripen on a tree, they automatically fall to the ground. Only those who are below have a chance of getting the fruits. And those who have their own gardens do not need to buy fruits as they have their own trees. Thus, the one who is nearer knows and learns better. When the calf is far away, the cow bellows and calls it. However, when it is next to the mother and drinking her milk, if the calf’s teeth accidentally hurt the cow, it kicks its baby. So the son who is near me is likely to be the better learner. There are advantages and disadvantages, both!
Recorded at the Oberoi Grand Hotel, Kolkata, WB January 2009
Interviewed by Aditi Sircar
Camera by Shubra Dutta
Translated by Parjanya Sen