The long tradition of Bengal mysticism | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 14, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 14, 2009

The long tradition of Bengal mysticism

Md. Jamat Ali thinks highly of a work on Lalon Shah

Lalon Shah
The Great Poet
Abu Ishahaq Hossain
Palal Prokashani

THE work Lalon Shah --The Great Poet was launched at the Ekushey Boi Mela held at the premises of Bangla Academy in February this year. In this book the author aims at exploring a new dimension hitherto not revealed of the philosophy of Lalon, better known as Lok Kobi (folk poet) Baul Samrat (Bard Emperor) of the East. He was born in 1774 in Kushtia, Bangladesh.
It is our utter failure that we have not been able to introduce this spiritual guru to the world community owing to lack of proper research. Sporadic research now and then has taken place, but all these papers were prepared in Bangla and not in any international language such as English.
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore was remarkably influenced by Lalon. Tagore first translated some of Lalon's poems in English in 1925. It is considered as the first initiative to present Lalon's poetic philosophy to the West. Below is one of the translations on the myriad miracles of Lalon's songs:
"Nobody can tell where the bird unknown
Comes into the cage and goes out
I would feign put round its feet
The fetters of my mind
Could I but capture it."
Since the 1960s we find a new trend focusing on Lalon's true poetic genius. Litterateur Abu Rushd in 1964, Muhammad Mansooruddin in 1974, Nanigopal Debdas in 1997 (Kolkata) and Samir Dasgupta in 2000 translated some poems and songs of Lalon for the world community.
Lalon's contemporary literary period was the era of the epic and of pastoral and partly religious poems and ballads. Lalon is a fabulous poet and his poetry has a mesmerizing quality. A great change took place when Lalon's overflowing omnipotent poetry was rendered into German, Italian, French, Japanese and Hindi.
But a comprehensive evaluation of Lalon's works was never undertaken. Lalon's mystic philosophy was never viewed properly. His contributions to the philosophy of the whole world were kept in the dark for hundreds of years. The Bauls are spiritual minstrels. The Bauls of Bengal preserve one of the oldest and fascinating traditions of the East. They are saffron-clad folk singers who can be found wandering from village to village dancing and singing songs of mystical union with the divine power of God. They search for the inner self. Lalon spent an entire lifetime trying to understand the actuality of the soul. Baulism encompasses a wide range of religious opinions traceable to Buddhism, to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and to a man's own view of how he relates to God. God is hidden in the heart of man.
Abu Ishahaq through his research has revived a high magnitude of Lalon's doctrine that is quite different from that of the conventional Bauls. His songs, lyrics, and ballads excel those of all other Bauls of the East. Thus Lalon should be judged as a great Bengali poet with an elevated sense of philosophy. Traditionally, Bauls for their spiritual salvation keep themselves busy with singing and dancing, roaming from village to village with the ektara or dotara (one or two stringed lute) and return in the evening to their akhra (den). There are a few sects of Bauls, such as Grihi Baul (family led Baul). They believe that for salvation one should practise Prakiti Sadhan in the confluence of the vagina, which they call Triveni Sangom, in a special mood on special days only. Some of them even share their wives with their disciples and guru as part of their esoteric practice regarding immortality. Again there are Udasin (cynic) Bauls. They are mystics but practise morbid sexuality. In that sphere, the author says that Lalon was neither of the traditional Bauls. Our folklore heritage is very rich. In the subcontinent this genre of songs reached its acme and left a deep impact on society. Lalon Shah created a separate super composition of songs underscoring the bonding of Udash Baul and Grihi Baul and other Baul concepts. Lalon Shah's Moromi Darshan or Baultatta is a soul-searching endeavour.
Lalon was always surrounded by his disciples at his ashram. Once a year spiritual discussions used to held there. Lalon Shah in thought was an esoteric yoga practitioner. He practised his sophisticated philosophical doctrine for the salvation of human beings, to arrive at supreme knowledge. God created this world with love and for love. God is nowhere but in the human body.
The author says that Lalon preached his doctrine often using the horse as transport. Therefore, he should not be categorised as an ordinary Baul. He enunciated the superior quality of mankind. He was a notable preacher of Baul faith and Baul austerity.
Lalon was self-educated. He acquired education from different scriptures, a process which made him a great scholar. He had good grasp of the Persian and Arabic languages as well as Hindu theology. He possessed great understanding of the Holy Quran and Hadith. His observations of life are profound. His philosophy is pegged to the philosophy of the great philosopher Socrates, Rumi, Ibnul Arabi, Hafiz and Sheikh Farid. The self-imaginary is the ultimate knowledge in Lalon philosophy.
All the poems of Lalon Shah are basically in the form of songs; they come in the proper meter and superb lyrical form, have exquisite music, employ wonderful literary techniques and a balanced rhythmic presentation. Thus he sings,
"O, how long will I
Wait to get the union of my beloved?"
Lalon's mystic magical poems reveal a new meaning of life, a new horizon of thought and a new entry to the heart. He has introduced a new trait in literature. Lalon should be presented before the international community through the rendering of his literary works in different languages. Today the influence of Lalon's mysticism has inundated large areas of the globe. Lalon's poems have the power of overcoming the ages, not to say geography. Note these lines, in Hindi:
"Milon hoga ketne din mae
Mere mun mitwake sang mae."
Researcher Abu Ishahaq Hossain is an ardent explorer of Lalon. He studied as many as 280 books and other materials on Lalon Shah before the compilation of such a reliable document on Lalon's poetic philosophy. Lalon has enriched Baul literary work, using all forms of literary ornaments, compassion, analogy, allegory, simile and metaphor.
Lalon Shah was a great poet and philosopher of Bengal. In other parts of the world people have their Bob Dylans and Leonard Cohens. We Bengalis have our Bauls. Among them Lalon Shah is pre-eminent. He was a teacher and spiritual guru.
The book is a perfect read for all people, especially those who contemplate. It contains some repetition of facts and some spelling mistakes. But it is worth reading and may serve as a reliable document for future research on Lalon.

Md. Jamat Ali is a journalist .

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