Rabindranath Tagore, the first to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in this subcontinent, writes, "These people roam about singing their songs, one of which I heard years ago from my roadside window, the first two lines roaming inscribed in my mind:
‘Nobody can tell whence the bird unknown
comes into my cage and goes out.’”
These texts undoubtedly refer to the Bauls, a group of people with unique lifestyle that goes ‘beyond the materialistic world as we know it, a lifestyle that celebrates folk music and culture’. The words are of none other but to whom the title King of Bauls belongs, Lalon.
Lalon, though not widely known for little publicity, is among the greatest philosophers of the subcontinent and a spiritual guru to many. He was born in Kushtia, located in the western part of the country, in 1774. Abandoned by his real family after suffering from a contagious disease during his childhood, he was rescued from the banks of Ganges and nursed to life by a Muslim family. There he met Siraj Shai, a devout Muslim and a spiritual guide for Lalon. However, Lalon had always refused to identify himself by association with a community or religion. Rather, long before the arrival of the “free thinkers” we now know of, Lalon had already composed around a thousand songs on class discrimination and identity issues. He had the strongest stand against racism and communalism, which is reflected in his countless pieces of literature-poems and songs.
Everyone wonders, "What's Lalon faith?"
Lalon says, "I've never 'seen' the face of Faith with these eyes of mine!
Some wear a garland and some the tasbi,
that's what marks the Faiths apart.
But what marks them apart when one is born or at the time of death?”
“Lalon” is a completely new genre of songs and philosophy. Many claim that “Lalon Geeti” or Lalon Songs fall under the Baul genre even though the fundamentals of the two philosophies are different. A Baul puts behind all the earthly pleasures and notions, in search of the divine entity, roaming about with no permanent place or address. Lalon philosophy dictates differently, accommodating the earthly notions into the process of searching the divine enlightenment. He believed in the power of music as a tool to reach the intellectual and emotional state to be able to understand and appreciate life itself and its Creator. He believed in achieving the divine mental state and finding true meaning of life through appreciating the gifts life has to offer and accepting them. As a result, he settled in the village Cheuria, Kushtia, and even got married. His thoughts influenced countless people, including his parents and once mentor Siraj Shai, turning them into his disciples. Despite not having any formal education, his literature has influenced even the most educated minds throughout time; including the American poet Allen Ginsberg, his tributes paid in his poem “After Lalon”, included in the poetry collection “Cosmopolitan Greetings.” Ginsberg adopted Lalon’s unique style of writing- repeatedly referring to self in the writing, as “Lalon bole” or “Lalon says..” .
To date, tens and thousands of people nourish his philosophies at heart, receiving spiritual guidance through distress and confusion, influencing them to become better human beings in all aspects of life. He has a large number of followers living in Kushtia, who completely follow his lifestyle, and practice his songs and rituals on a regular basis, keeping his legacy alive. “Lalon Mela”, a summit of Bauls from all over the country and even West Bengal in India, takes place twice a year for three to five days; once in the Bengali month of Falgun (February-March), and once on Lalon’s death anniversary in October. The “Mela” or Fair is observed through celebrating Lalon music, discourse of his philosophies, concerts and competitions; with the message of living a meaningful life of a “Shahaj Manush”, or “Simple Man” as Lalon called it. This attracts over a hundred thousand people from all around the country to Lalon Fakir’s shrine, many come just to pay a casual visit, many out of curiosity, many to encounter the Baul lifestyle first hand, and many from the inner urge of pursuing spirituality. Besides that, the Lalon community is known for being very friendly and warm, welcoming the visitors and the tourists, sometimes accepting them to join in their everyday rituals and practice, giving the curious a firsthand touch of the real Lalon tradition and culture.
Many academics claim that authentic Lalon practice has reduced nowadays, in many instances being replaced with intake of exotic things, which, as claimed, Lalon himself never did. Another viewpoint dictates it is not unnatural for such creative minds of those days to take drugs like opium or marijuana. However perceived, the name Lalon creates a resonance unlike anything else among his followers. Lalon philosophy has done nothing but providing spiritual guidance; helping the purity of life to surface, making humanity prevail.