Sunday, October 18, 2015

Celebrating the Mystic Poet: Lalon Shah
The man who came and went the same day.....

Sketch of Lalon (Drawn by Jatirindro Nath Tagore in 1889)
Lalon Shah, was a Bengali philosopher, poet, folk singer and humanist. His poetry, articulated in songs, are considered classics of the Bangla language. People call him a mystical and metaphysical saint. He is the most prominent figure in the baul tradition. In his songs, he blended different traditions of devotional rites such as Shahajia of Buddhism, Shahajia of Vaishnavism, Sufism of Islam and several other traditional beliefs. Lalon says he himself doesn’t know who he is.”Lalon does not fit into the usual catagory of the so called ‘bauls’ or ‘fakirs’ who believe they are spiritual types who deny all worldly affairs in desperate search for a spiritual enlightment of the soul. The melodies, tunes and themes of his Baul reflects the metaphysical philosophy as well as the natural beauty, social reality and the facts of common people of Bangladesh. Baul song is a kind of folk songs songs that reflects the fusion of both Hindu bhakti movements as well as the Sufi songs.

Some Historians believe that Lalon was born on 17th October in 1774, in the part of the former larger Nadia district which is now known as Kushtia, Bangladesh. Legend has it that Lalon was born a Hindu and became a Muslim under unusual circumstances. Lalon had set out on a pilgrimage with friends, but contracted small pox soon after departure, and was abandoned for dead. A Sufi practitioner, Malam Shah, saved him from death. Later on, he was ordained into the discipleship of a certain Shiraj Sain, but his interpretation of Islam was radically different, a far cry from the Koran-based Shariati religious order. Lalon sought to combine it with a loose reading of Tantric Vaishnavism, for to him God was One; human beings have merely made up different names and created institutions to enshrine Divinity in external forms. Lalon wanted to situate his “faith” as counter-institutional, but not as a counter-institution itself.

Lalon worked within his small space in nineteenth century Bengal, always aiming to reach higher, or even enter the world of literary fame. The Bengali literates who controlled visible culture in Bengal in the 19th and 20th century traditionally viewed his music and poetry as "folk art." The literates have always taken what they most needed from Lalon and used it in their own agendas, whether it was to fold him up in the discourse of a "feel-good" secularism or use him as an icon for a new nation. However the case, Lalon, the true philosopher and artist, has existed on his own and in his own right always.

Followers singing at the Lalon festival
Lalon composed numerous songs and poems, which described his philosophy. Amongst his most popular songs are: ‘Sob loke koy lalon ki jat songsare’ ‘Khachar bhitor auchin pakhi’, ‘Jaat gelo jat gelo bole’, ‘Dekhna mon jhokmariay duniyadari’, ‘Paare loye jao amay’, ‘Milon hobe koto dine’, ‘Aar amare marishne maa’, ‘ Tin pagoler holo mela’ etc. It is said that he had composed about 10,000 songs of which only 2000-3000 can be tracked down today while others are lost in time and the hearts of his numerous followers. Most of his followers could not read or write, therefor unluckily for the lovers of Baul, very few of his songs are found in written context. Lalon had no formal education as such but his songs can educate the most educated of minds throughout the world. Long before free thinkers around the globe started thinking of a classless society, Lalon had already composed around 1000 songs on that theme.

Shrine of Lalon
Lalon died at the age of 116 years on 17th October, 1890 which was the same day he was born. The day he was ready to say good bye to his disciples it was a kind of celebration in songs and joy. In 1963, a mausoleum and a research centre were built at the site of his shrine, the place of knowledge-practices. Thousands of people come to the shrine known in Bangla as Akhra twice a year, Dol-Purnima, in the month of Falgun (February to March) and in October, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death. During these three-days song melas, people, particularly fakirs (Muslim devotees) and bauls (section of Hindu believers) pay tribute to Lalon.

Photo Credit: Internet

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