Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday announced the setting up of the Baul Academy in Birbhum, which she said would serve to preserve and promote musical and religious traditions of the syncretic sect spread throughout the state, particularly in the district. Mamata was speaking at the inauguration of the Jaydeb Mela — an annual fair that sees the pilgrimage of thousands of bauls and fakirs at Birbhum.
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Bauls are a heterogeneous group with many sects, whose membership consists of both Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims, and their tradition was included in the list of ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in 2005.
Mamata on Tuesday said that West Bengal is a state synonymous with secularism, where all festivals are celebrated with equal fervor.
“From Nabanna to Holi, Christmas to Durga Puja, all festivals are celebrated with equal fervour in Bengal. A visit to Birbhum is incomplete without meeting the bauls and listening to them play the ektara. Today, we have added the baul academy to the plethora of academies of the state. Baul songs help in shaping our lives. With just an ektar, they create such soulful music,” she added.
The chief minister said that the intention was to develop the Baul Academy into a world-class exhibition centre where people from across the globe could come.
Although, the origin of the bauls continues to baffle historians, the word first appears in Bengali texts as early as the 15th century. Baul music celebrates celestial love in earthly terms, and the music famously transcends religion.
Many famous composers including Lalon Fakir have criticised the superficiality of religious divides. Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vaishnavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them.
According to the UNESCO: “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 marginalised group. Moreover, their situation has worsened in recent decades due to the general impoverishment of rural Bangladesh.”
Mamata, meanwhile, went on to make a series of announcements for the district. “Birbhum is blessed with several tourism attractions. We will start eco-tourism projects in the forests of Birbhum,” she said while reiterating the government’s decision to set up a Biswa Bangla university in the district, along the lines of Visva-Bharati set up by Rabindranath Tagore.
“We have started Lok Prasar Prakalpa for our folk artistes. 80,000 artistes have been registered under the scheme,” she said, adding locals clubs should give opportunities to local artists to perform.