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Lalon & his songs

The hunt for spirituality and the 'real truth' is something that the recent world very smoothly disposes. Materialism has completely seduced the human mind. Many people in recent days believe in logic, but yet we cannot differentiate logic that is biased towards our own selfishness and worldly desires, and logic that is completely hungry for knowledge and truth.

Our beloved prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh), disregarded all idol worship through logic and searched for the real truth and found Allah in mount Hira. Buddha could not stand the differences between rich and poor and eventually found Nirvana through meditation. Likewise, Baul Lalon Fakir Shah, detested social barriers and religious exploitation. He searched for the true God and he realized that God exists within each and every one of us (the belief of the Bauls) and the search for God is one that must be carried out by oneself. In the Quran it is also said that Allah is closer to us than even the closest nerve in our neck. Many today inquire whether Lalon was a Muslim or a Hindu; however, that would have mattered very little to the man in question. Lalon believed that all logic and understanding lies within oneself and life is the path towards realizing them. As the father of philosophy, Socrates, had long ago stated, 'Thy Knows.' Lalon also believed in all people, regardless of sex, caste, religion, to be equal; he was always eager to help others in any way possible.

The real meaning of the word 'Fakir' is something very different than beggars. Real Fakirs are people who have no worldly connections; no desire for accommodation or clothes, no worry for family or food. They were people who used to live in their own spiritual worlds. They were people who were constantly helped by other people for food; however, the Fakirs never accepted anything worldly from anyone; no money, no extra clothing. They were always in the hunt for knowledge and realizing oneself and God. There are two types of Fakirs: Ghorke Majjuf and Saleka Majjuf. Ghorke Majjuf are those who always try to isolate themselves from the rest of the society, and even from their family, remaining absorbed in his/her own spiritual world. Normal people usually consider them as abnormal. Saleka Majjuf are those who feel obliged to their society and permits other people to get benefit from him. However, they themselves never get attached to anyone or anything; no worries, no concern, no desires. In this way, they continue their search for the truth. Lalon Fakir Shah may be described initially as Ghorke Majjuf, as he traveled, and later as Saleka Mujjuf, when he had settled down in Kushtia.

The Life of Lalon in brief
Lalon was born around 1774 in Harishpur village of Jhenaidah district. Although there are no direct facts referring to it, tradition has it that Lalon was born in a lower caste Hindu family, and was abandoned when he was affected with small pox disease, as many believed him to be dead. Malam, a muslim farmer found him in the Kaliganga river (a tributary of Ganga which used to flow through Kushtia), almost dead, at around the age of fifteen-sixteen. The farmer and his wife took him in and nurtured him back.

When he was in better health, Lalon tried to go back home. However, a shock awaited him as his family refused to accept him back because he stayed and slept with Muslims. The Muslim clergy also never accepted Lalon as a Muslim. These incidents made Lalon deride extremist orthodox religions.

The Muslim family had introduced Lalon to Siraj Shai who had a deep impact on Lalon's mind and had become Lalon's guru as we find Lalon mentioning him in many of his songs. Lalon had become a mendicant by travelling on foot and singing songs of humanity, love and God, later on settling down in Chhenuria, Kushtia. Here he had interactions with Rabindranath Tagore, who was one of the land lords of the area. Rabindranath was greatly influenced by Lalon and many of his songs have a stamp of Lalon's philosophy. Lalon passed away on the 17th of October, 1880 at the age of 116.

Lalon's Songs
Writing in 19th century lyrical Bengali, songs were the main method of revealing Lalon's messages and philosophy. They vary from the hypocrisy surrounded with religion to the universal message of God that goes beyond petty rules and rituals; the songs speak of becoming one with God by incorporating the qualities of God into oneself. To the bauls, the songs are a form of meditation, which they bring about not to preach, but for their own self-restoration. Lalon's songs can be categorized into several groups according to the message that the songs carry. A few of the categories are described below:

1. Hamd and Na't: These include songs of pardon, praise and devotion to Allah. Lalon calls Allah the helmsman of the boat (referring to death) to cross to the other shore. In these songs Lalon also states that for humans there is no one but Allah and He can only help.

2. Murshid-totto (songs for the guide): These songs acknowledge the prophet, Hazrat Mohammad (pbuh) as the spiritual guru (guide). Lalon says that the prophet is the intermediate between Allah and the believer, and the true believer keeps the prophet in front as a guide, to keep the known one (the prophet) before you to learn the unknown (Allah).

3. Atta-totto (songs for the soul): These songs refer to the knowledge that God exists with His beauty and grace within us; but He is elusive and Lalon strives become one with Him. Lalon says that every heart is a Mecca and one has to understand his own self before understanding God.

4. Deho-totto (songs for the physical body): This refers to the belief that the body is a cage, which will be destroyed, but which also nests the bird (the soul) and hence has to be taken care of. Lalon says the body is a miniature world and treasures all knowledge.

The following is a translation of the song, “Ami akdin o na dekhilam tare, amar barir kache Arshi Nagar, ak parshi boshoth kore,” an example of Atta-totto:
I have not seen Him even for a day;
Near my home there is a mirror-city,
and my Neighbour dwells in it.
All around the village is fathomless water;
The water is boundless,
and there is no boat to take me across.
I yearn to see Him,
(but) how shall I get to that hamlet?
What shall I say about this neighbour of mine?
He has no hands, no feet, no shoulders, no head.
One moment He is above the void;
The next moment He is afloat in the water.
If my Neighbour would but touch me,
all the pains of death would go away.
He and Lalon are here indeed,
but we remain countless miles apart.
from 'Songs of Lalon,'Translation by Brother James

In this song, Lalon refers to the belief that God resides within us and he is in search for Him. Lalon refers God as his neighbour and says that even though they live so close, he is yet to see Him.

In 1963, a mausoleum and a research centre were built at the site of Lalon's akhra (where he passed away), at Kushtia. Thousands of Bauls go there twice every year, during Dol-Purnima in February and in October, during his death anniversary. Three-day long song melas take place during those times as the Bauls pay tributes to their spiritual leader.

1. 'Songs of Lalon,'Translation by Brother James
2. 'Songs of Lalon,'Translation by Haroonuzzaman
3. Interview by Prof. Maria Mies with Farhad Mazhar taken on January 28, 2004

By Adnan M. S. Fakir

Book Review

The first time I read a Danielle Steel book, I was totally unimpressed. The story read like a dime romance stretched too far. So when I dived through my friend's collection for review-able books, and surfaced with Kaleidoscope, I was pretty sceptical about how interesting it might prove to be. Happily, I was proved wrong.

The story is about two Allied soldiers, Arthur and Sam, who enter Paris during the Second World War. They meet a beautiful red-haired Parisian mademoiselle, and Sam, is absolutely enchanted. After a hurried and rather desperate wooing, he wins her over, and leaves her to continue fighting, promising to come back to her. After a few agonizing pages in which the reader is almost led to believe that Sam will either die or meet someone else, the war finally ends, and he returns to America and saves up enough money for his beautiful Solange to come join him as his wife.

After the war, Sam pursues his ambition as an actor, and soon becomes a Broadway star. Initially, everything is roses as his career begins to take off, and he becomes the father of three beautiful children. As often happens with meteoric celebrities, however, he gradually acquires a lot of bad habits, including a penchant for chasing skirts. Initially, Solange turns a blind eye, but Sam pushes his luck too far, and there is a bloody confrontation, which ends with the actor shooting his wife.

Sam, who, despite his adultery, actually loved his wife, goes crazy, and turns himself over to the police, and after getting convicted for murder, commits suicide. A shell-shocked Arthur is left to manage the affairs of his best friend's three daughters: Hillary, Alexandra, and Megan. Married to a frigidly ambitious woman who does not want children, he is unable to adopt them, so, running out of options, he puts the two younger girls up for adoption, and sends the eldest to live with Sam's sister, who is an alcoholic.

The actual story begins at this point, with each girl growing up under very different circumstances, and the story of each unfolds when Arthur, upon reaching his twilight years, decides to atone for his failures and reunite the sisters.

I haven't read enough of Steel to be able to comment on her signature style, but in this book, she takes a Sidney Sheldon type plot, and marries Johanna Lindsey's eye for detail with Mario Puzo's objective narration of circumstances, so that we get a tender storytelling, which is gripping, but free of smut. A movie by the same name, has also been made, based on this book.

As for availability, Steele is a popular author in Etc, so if nowhere else, you're bound to find it on their shelves, and if you're very lucky, you might even find Kaleidoscope at a better price at Boi Bichitra.

By Sabrina F Ahmad


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