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Arvind Unnithan profile image Arvind Unnithan

A glimpse into a Baul performance

I recently had the privilege of attending a performance by Samanta Das Baul and his ensemble at Nosh Haus in Fort Kochi.

A glimpse into a Baul performance

Stepping into the room adorned with fairy lights and electric diyas, I quietly awaited an evening that was to blend both spirituality and universal harmony. Admittedly, I was not sold on the concept yet.

The Baul tradition, emerging prominently in the early 18th century from West Bengal and Bangladesh, has historically combined influences from diverse religious orders such as the Buddhist Sahajiya, Nath, Vaishnava Sahajiya, and Sufi mystics. Through their songs, the Bauls have protested against disharmony and inequality in multiple sectors, and envisioned a social order rooted in love.

The stage was sat as Samanta and his fellow musicians sat and tuned their instruments amidst hushed conversations from the audience. The Bauls occasionally spoke to their translator, Shilanjani, setting up the performance. Suddenly, a deliberate chord on Samanta's dotara cut through the air, signalling the start of the performance.

The music unfolded into the audience, with each instrument adding its own voice to the narrative: the plucked drum resonated with earthy tones, the ektara hummed with a melancholic sweetness, and the ghungroo bells sparkled like raindrops.

What truly encapsulated the evening was the inclusivity of the performance. Amidst this tapestry of sound, every Baul sang. Voices of varied tones and pitches intertwined, echoing the essence of unification. Even Samanta's 10-year-old son joined, his powerful voice cutting through with determination despite occasionally forgetting the lyrics.

"Baul songs bless us with aspirations of a good life, of friendship and love, of peace and equality. They rise in praise of the universe, of the human divine, and stride on with pride and penance." — Shilanjani

The performance at Nosh Haus became a testament to feminism, egalitarianism, and the understanding of the guru within oneself. Each note, each beat, each voice spoke to the universal language of music and the unifying power of the human spirit.

The performance by Samanta Das Baul and his team not only showcased the richness of Baul culture but also invited us to reflect on our own spiritual journeys and connections with humanity. It was a night where music transcended mere entertainment, offering a profound glimpse into the soul of a community dedicated to harmony, love, and social justice. It was a night where music transcended mere entertainment, offering a profound glimpse into the soul of a community dedicated to harmony, love, and social justice.

Arvind Unnithan profile image Arvind Unnithan
Writing, reading and grassroots organizing. Rap metal as well.