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The moving music of Parvathy Baul – The Hindu


The philosophical depth of Baul’s songs combined with the infectious energy of Parvathy created an electric atmosphere at an event hosted by Emami Art in Kolkata on September 25. Playing iktara and duggi, with her Radha-Krishna paintings in the background (she studied fine arts at Viswa Bharati University), the singer soared to the highest spheres of her music. She jumped and spun around as if entering a trance state, as the audience was transported to the gentle plains of river Bengal and to Birbhum, the land of the red earth. The airs sung by the Bauls have moved the souls of the inhabitants of this region for centuries.

Parvathy Baul began the performance by blowing the conch and talking about coming out of a long period of isolation. “It’s not just a performance, it’s a good time to be back in the midst of my rasikas,” she said.

Born under the name Mousumi Parial into a privileged caste Bengali family, she took on her new name when she was ordained Baul. The Baul tradition is a philosophy and an art of living, staged through the songs of the poet-singers. They are mentioned in literary works dating from the 15th century. Mixture of Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi and Tantric philosophies, the Baul tradition has strongly influenced the culture of Bengal.

Parvathy’s first date with the musical form was on a train, where she met a blind singer. She was intrigued by how he seemed lost in his own world. Soon she embarked on a journey of self-knowledge by taking lessons from different gurus and through the practice of madhukori (seeking alms while singing on the trains). Eventually, she found the right guru in Sanatan Das Baul, in whose ashram she embarked on the path of devotion. Following the advice of her guru, Parvathy created Sanatan Siddhashram, a gurukul for Bauls, in Birbhum district in 2019. She now splits her time between Bengal and Kerala, where she works with her husband Ravi Gopalan Nair, artist of theater and puppeteer, for more than two decades in the dissemination of the Baul ideology through their organization, Ekathara Kalari.

Baul is fluid and agnostic to categories like religion. The same singer could go from a devotional song about Shiva to a Lalan Fakir song. Parvathy’s performance reflected this as she moved from song to song seamlessly and in no specific order.

Song about true devotion

“Usually I don’t decide in advance what songs I’m going to sing. I prefer them to flow naturally, ”she said at the event. Parvathy opened his show with a song by Gopal Khyapa, who lived centuries ago in what is now Murshidabad district. She also rendered a song about true devotion composed by Sanatan Das Baul: ‘Kather malay kaaj hobe na, swasher mala jopte hobe’ (wooden beads will not work, pray with the beads of your breath.

The confinement gave him time to learn more about the art. “The music is sadhana (devotion). A song composed by Panju Shah, a fakir from Bangladesh, says: aadhar chand mile murhid aadharo ghuchale (when the darkness dissipates, we can see the inner moon inaccessible). It was the first song I sang when I got back on stage after the lockdown, ”Parvathy said. She closed the performance with a song about Durga.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata.