- Baul sect
- A loosely organized sect originating in Ben-gal around the seventh century C.E., the Bauls sought escape from orthodox Hindu thought and ritual practice, which they deemed lifeless, seek-ing ecstasy through music and dancing. They are known for their unconventional manner, as indicated by their name: the Bengali word baul (Hindi: baur) is derived from the SANSKRIT vat-ula, meaning “mad,” or vyakula, meaning “per-plexed.” Bauls are referred to as “madmen drunk with God.” Songs are their unwritten scriptures, yet they do not record either the words or the music.The original Baul devotees drew inspiration from several religions that flourished at the time in Bengal. They adopted practices from TANTRISM, the non-dual or ADVAITA conception of the Abso-lute from VEDANTA, YOGA disciplines, elements of Sufi dance and music, and the emphasis on the love in the human heart found in VAISHNAVISM. To these, the Bauls added a tenet that each individual must remain free and individual, and each must become a divinized subtle being.Central to the spiritual path of Bauls is their reverence for gurus. Each guru writes his own songs from his personal experience, so that most songs remain original and individual. Some songs have become common to the community and are repeated at yearly festivals, or melas, which are held in Bengal, near Shanti Niketan, the university founded by Rabindranath TAGORE (1861–1941). It was Tagore who took the Baul sect out of obscu-rity by collecting the words of many of their songs and many of their simple melodies. He felt that these creations by the Bauls expressed the highest truth in simple language.Most Bauls are illiterate members of the poorer classes. Others are learned Brahmins who have been rejected by their caste, Muslims disaffected with orthodoxy, and Sufis who fear persecu-tion from Islamic law. Baul groups are scattered throughout India but remain centered in Bengal.Recently Baul musicians and dancers have begun to tour Europe and the United States to perform their songs.Further reading: Charles Capwell, The Music of the Bauls of Bengal (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986); Surath Chandra Chakravarti, Bauls: The Spiritual Vikings (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1980); Lizelle Reymond, To Live Within: The Story of Five Years with a Himalayan Guru (London: George Allen & Unwin. 1971).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.