Sridam Banerjee Baul

Pranchandapur, Birbhum

No one agrees to the true path ( Ore Shottyo Pothe Keu Noi Raaji)

No one agrees to the true path
To everyone, that’s a no-no…
What strange fuss about losing caste! [1]

What caste were you before birth? [2]
Which caste did you become in this world,
And which caste will you be in death?
Tell me what that caste is…
What strange fuss about losing caste!

Brahmin-Chandal-Chamar-Muchi [3]
They become pure in the same water,
Caste holds no appeal for me
Death will not spare anyone…
What strange fuss about losing caste!

If someone visits the prostitute in secret
What loss accrues to his caste then?
So Lalon says what caste is,
I have not seen or known.

What strange fuss about losing caste!
No one agrees to the true path
To everyone, that’s a no-no…
What strange fuss about losing caste!

ওরে সত্য পথে কেউ নয় রাজি
সবাই দেখি তা-না-না-না

জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা
সত্য পথে কেউ নয় রাজি (২)
সবাই দেখি তা-না-না-না
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা

(পূর্বে তে মন কি জাত ছিলে
ভবে এসে কোন জাত হলে) (২)
যাবার বেলায় কোন জাত হলে
সেই জাতটা কি তাই বল না
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা (২)

ব্রাহ্মন-চণ্ডাল-চামার-মুচি
সব দেখি এক জলে সুচি
আমার দেখে শুনে হয় না রুচি
যমে এসে ছারবেনা
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা
জাত গেল জাত গেল

গোপনে যদি কেউ বেশ্যার ভাত খায়
তবে জাতের কি ক্ষতি হয়
আবার লালন বলে জাত কারে কয়
জানলাম না আর চিনলাম না রে
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা

সত্য পথে কেউ নয় রাজি (২)
সবাই দেখি তা-না-না-না
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে একি আজব কারখানা (২)
জাত গেল জাত গেল বলে

Recorded February 2008 in Sainthia, Birbhum, WB

Along with ‘Shob loke koy Lalon ki jat shongshare’, ‘Jat gelo’ is one of the most well-known and anthologized songs of Lalon Fakir (c. 1774 -1890). Recalled especially for its anti-caste message, it emphasizes the universalization of humankind in the face of death, which equalizes all and cuts across social hierarchies. Caste divisions stand in the way of the ‘true path’ (‘shotyo kaaj’ – literally ‘true work’), which is ideally accessible to all. In these points, it has similarities with the devotional poetry of nirguna Bhakti traditions (see discussion of nirguna Bhakti in Henry 1988 ). It also launches an explicit critique of the specific doctrine of caste purity, according to which certain castes (mentioned here: the chandal, chamar, muchi) are degraded due to their ritualistically impure professions. In Lalon’s view this hierarchy based on conceptions of ‘purity’ is both absurd (everyone becomes ‘pure’ in the same water) as well as hypocritical (higher castes visit stigmatized communities like prostitutes but that does not affect their social standing as long as done in secret).

[1] ‘What strange fuss’ - In this translation, the Bengali “eki ajob karkhana” has been translated as “what strange fuss” for syntactical convenience and in keeping with the general sense, literally it would be more like ‘what strange works/system’.

[2] ‘Caste’ – While ‘caste’ is the most common English rendition of the word ‘jat’ or ‘jati’ found in several South Asian languages, there is no satisfactory translation given that ‘jat’ can also mean genus, species, kind, and so on. Partha Chatterjee (1994) makes a compelling argument as to how colonial discourse reduced the ambivalence and multiplicity of the meanings of ‘jat’/’jati’ into an ordered and neatly hierarchized schema of ‘caste’.

[3] Brahmin – The highest caste in terms of ritual purity, Brahmins are traditionally priests, learned men and teachers. Chandal – A low caste who traditionally perform such ritually impure tasks as disposing carrion and draining sewage. Chamar – A low caste of leatherworkers. Muchi – A low caste of cobblers and shoemakers.

Transcriber/Translator: Aniruddha Dutta

Director: Aditi Sircar
Camera : Shubhankar Bhar, Somak Bhattacharya

Camera Caretakers  : Sanjib Das, ShantuSound : Dhiman Karmakar
Production Co-Ordinator  : Kartick Das Baul
Edited by Rhonda Granger