Vol. 5 Num 415 Wed. July 27, 2005  

Lalon singer Farida Parveen is a class apart

He who is for man
On this earth he who is for man
Achieves success in every endeavour
He who is for man.

-- (Lalon Shah's verses)

Lalon Shah, the 18th century mystic poet was influenced by Sufism, a spiritual philosophy. For many years Lalon's mystic songs have been rendered by singers in metros as well as by the fakhirs in aakhra (Lalon's followers living in the den).

However, widely recognised Lalon singer Farida Parveen is a class apart. As part of its Sufism research project, the French government will work on Farida and Lalon Shah's songs from 2006. Before Farida, French government has done similar work with Pakistani Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

What is the secret behind her success? Farida has a ready answer, "Theoretical knowledge is not enough for rendering a song. The melody has to be in perfect accordance with the singer's voice and rendition. This is particularly true of Lalon songs; just music sense cannot create a quality Lalon singer. Rather, one has to imbibe Lalon's philosophy and Sufism. One has to love human beings and other living beings and overcome all kinds of desire. This does not mean that one has to live like fakhirs at the aakhra.

"Obviously, I have respect for those who have made an immense contribution in preserving Lalon songs. However, some of them are not torchbearers of the spirit of Sufism. Some of them have addictions and some are responsible for blending the doctrine of Vaisnavism in Sufism. For instance, the practice of gerua attire and bearing a few musical instruments by the Bauls at the aakhra have come from Vaisnavism. But, a true devotee of Lalon is not supposed to do so. Like my guru Moksed Ali Shah, true Sufists at the aakhra do not use gerua attire. Instead, they wear white."

What is her reaction to the building of a complex on Lalon's mazhar at Kushtia? Farida says, "I do not support the idea and I have pointed this out to the authorities several times. The Sufis should be allowed to live in the midst of nature, not under artificial building structures. A complex could have been built near Lalon's mazhar, but definitely not at the mazhar."

Interestingly, in her early days Farida had no passion for Lalon songs. She was trained as a Nazrul singer. In 1968 she enlisted with Rajshahi Betar as a Nazrul singer. Moksed Ali Shah, a Lalon devotee who spent 60 years at Lalon's aakhra, guided her in Lalon songs. Farida recalls, "In the early days I did not like Lalon songs, specially those rendered by the fakhirs at the aakhra. Guru Moksed Ali Shah was acquainted with my father. He insisted that I become a devotee of Lalon. After the Liberation, I first rendered Lalon song Satya bal shupathe chal at the Dol Purnima celebration (Lalon followers celebrate the full moon of Chaitra, the last month of Bangla calendar). From then onwards I have become an exponent of Lalon songs. It is the will of Allah that I have earned a name as a Lalon singer. I do not want anything more on this earth. To this day, I render songs at the three-day Dol Purnima celebration."

Talking about the difference between her style and that of the fakhirs in their dens, Farida says, "Fakhirs at the aakhra sing Lalon songs in their own style. My emphasis is on the classical aspect to give it a more polished form."

Farida has formed a trust for the preservation of Lalon songs. This is funded by the Japanese government. Farida says, "Japanese government has been working on foreign singers. Our aim is to preserve the authentic tunes and lyrics of Lalon songs. For the lyrics we are using two reference books-- Banglar Baul by Upendranath Bhattacharjee and Haramoni by Monsur Uddin. We will record 800 songs in CD format. Besides, we will preserve the works of other mystic bards such as Hasan Raja, Dudu Shah, Pantha Shah, Radha Raman, Jalal Shah, Pagla Kanai and others. Moreover, through an annual festival on the mystic bards of the country our trust will help popularise folksongs worldwide."

Farida Parveen has rendered Lalon songs almost throughout the world. She was the recipient of the prestigious Ekushey Padak in 1987.

Farida Parveen