Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 40, Tuesday May 23, 2006


mystics and music

Mystics cannot help but be mystical. Their name commands that they be so. Bauls, fakirs (NOT the ones that beg for money) and shadhus are all quite similarly mystical. They try to live a life of simplicity by ignoring the constraints of money such as greed and ambition.

It's not to say they do not have ambition. Far from it their greatest ambition is to live a life delving into the finer details of philosophy and music. It's a utopian notion that seems strange, foreign and ultimately mystical to us general public who wake up everyday as Jerry McGuire screaming to 'Show me the money.' That, in a nutshell, is what shadhus are mostly about.

They live much like vagrants moving from place to place. They have long hair, beard and plain simple clothes generally traveling in groups. That's the stereotypical image and that is because any shadhu worth anything wants to be like the legendary Fakir Lalon Shah.

There are no written accounts of Lalon Shah except mostly what people could surmise. He is a great legend who created songs by scores that have insights into life wrapped in a mellifluous flow of words. His followers try to lead a life reveling in the beauty of his poetry. That is quite a simple concept and in that simplicity lies the difficulty.

The shadhus get together every year at Kushtia to celebrate Lalon's death anniversary known as dol purnima. Thousands go there to celebrate the man who is a legend in our music scene. He is a legend because music for him was everything. He had no sponsorship, no concerts and no product endorsement deals. He was into music for the sake of creating music.

Lalon Shah created many songs that have deeper meanings and implication about life and all its complexities. An underlying theme of his songs is a rally against prejudice.

Lalon bole haat a pele
Jaat poratam aagun diye

(If cast and prejudice had a physical form then Lalon would burn them in fire)

He believed that music is the best medium of transferring ideas and that happens to be the basic purpose of a shadhu.

His background is sparse with hardly any mention of his life even in his works. This was very unlike other poets of the era who were in comparison almost narcissistic.

It is thought that he was born somewhere in 1775 or 1772. Such is the way how legends are built with a lot of truth and half truth mixed in proportion.

Now why would you care to know about any of this? That's because bauls and shadhus are an integral part of our culture. They provide one of the many sparkling facets that define our heritage.

Becoming a shadhu is no easy task. This is despite the fact that it's a life absolving all materialism. You see, that's what really makes it tougher than anything else. The life of a shadhu revolves around music. They use it to spread the message of how to break free of life's constraints and attain spirituality.

In most cases those who become shadhus are people who have seen a lot of what life has to offer and not liked it. An aspiring shadhu has to select a guru (leader). It's all about gaining knowledge through life experiences.

The whole process of becoming a shadhu starts with where the devotee vows to give up all matters regarding material life. During this period a disciple chooses a guru and serves him as well as learning whatever the leader has to offer. This is known as akhra. Satisfying the guru is of utmost importance. This period may continue for a long time at the end of which the guru mentions a secret mantra to the disciple. That's when the disciple becomes a shadhu.

It's a day when other followers get together for a round of lengthy discussion mostly related to philosophy. An interesting aspect of their life is that of shadhon shongini.

This is a woman who is associated to a shadhu or guru without any rites or norms of marriage. The woman stays with the man taking care of him. She is also empowered enough to sing and create her own music. In fact, she ends up becoming guruma if the guru passes away. The followers and disciples then go to her for all their advises and training.

The life of a shadhu is getting more difficult day by day. Money is a major obstacle. Whereas even 50 years ago they could go anywhere and setup a show where they could simply get together.

Today it is difficult for them to organize anything without having to pay huge fat fees to public authorities. They try to stay out of materialism but get sucked into it despite everything. Not only that they are the victims of constant harassment by policing authorities.

Despite the difficulties shadhus have made it big in some instances. Humayun Shadhu holds a record for playing a wind instrument called shinga without breaking stride for 61 minutes. Abdur Raub has been one of the many invited musicians who performed in UK before the demolition of the Queen Victoria Hall.

While legends are being created everyday as a culture it is being pushed into a corner and slowly made to disappear. It's a small fantasy world that tries to show us a life without materialism.

By Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Photo: Amirul Rajiv



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