Baul songs

Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)

Country(ies): Bangladesh



Baul songs

The Bauls are mystic minstrels living in rural Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. The Baul movement, at its peak in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has now regained popularity among the rural population of Bangladesh. Their music and way of life have influenced a large segment of Bengali culture, and particularly the compositions of Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Bauls live either near a village or travel from place to place and earn their living from singing to the accompaniment of the ektara, the lute dotara, a simple one-stringed instrument, and a drum called dubki. Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vasinavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them. Bauls neither identify with any organized religion nor with the caste system, special deities, temples or sacred places. Their emphasis lies on the importance of a person’s physical body as the place where God resides. Bauls are admired for this freedom from convention as well as their music and poetry. Baul poetry, music, song and dance are devoted to finding humankind’s relationship to God, and to achieving spiritual liberation. Their devotional songs can be traced back to the fifteenth century when they first appeared in Bengali literature.

Baul music represents a particular type of folk song, carrying influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song. Songs are also used by the spiritual leader to instruct disciples in Baul philosophy, and are transmitted orally. The language of the songs is continuously modernized thus endowing it with contemporary relevance.

The preservation of the Baul songs and the general context in which they are performed depend mainly on the social and economic situation of their practitioners, the Bauls, who have always been a relatively marginalized group. Moreover, their situation has worsened in recent decades due to the general impoverishment of rural Bangladesh.



These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website

Safeguarding project (12-2008/10-2010)

The Bauls are minstrels who travel from village to village, earning their living by singing. Their music, poetry and way of life have profoundly influenced Bengali culture. Bauls do not identify themselves with any organized religion nor with the caste system. They emphasize the importance of the human body as the place where God resides.

While Bauls are scattered all over the country as well as in west Bengal (India), the project concentrates on the Baul community from the Kushtia region where a great Baul Guru of Bengal, Lalon Shah, lived and created a tradition of intergenerational transmission of Baul songs. The project aims at ensuring the proper transmission of Baul songs through a series of workshops bringing together gurus and young Baul apprentices. Gurus, experts and scholars will study and evaluate the transmission process with a view to extend it to other regions with Baul communities. In parallel, a census of Bauls all over the country will be made to establish a register of minstrels and gurus. Meanwhile, documentation will be gathered leading to the publication of notations and recordings of Baul songs. A book on Baul songs for promotional purposes and the organization of Baul Melas (fairs) will raise awareness among the general public of the Baul heritage and of the importance of supporting its bearers.