Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kolkata's Cult of Durga: The Bauls, Mystic Minstrels

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved

One of the high notes planned (or rather hoped for) for the Kolkata's Cult of Durga Photo Expedition/Workshop was to document a performance by a Baul. After obtaining contact information by Chhandak Pradhan who's assisting me on the workshop, all arrangements were made surprisingly quickly, and we were successful in setting up a private photo shoot, and ultimately fortunate in meeting Satyananda Das and Hori Das.

We photographed both Satyananda and his partner Hori, who's Japanese (with fluent Bengali) and the music and the chants were just mesmerizing. We all had our audio recorders  working full time to capture the various pieces by Satyananda. One of the participants said that if this had been the only thing he returned with from this photo workshop, he's be perfectly content.

Wikipedia defines the Bauls as "a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal. They constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. They can often be identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments. Not much is known of their origin."

To the unversed, a Baul may appear as a musician sadhu with a one string instrument, but they are much more than that. Baul philosophy has mixed elements of Tantra, Sufi Islam, Vaishnavism and Buddhism. In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
Chhandak in action during the photo shoot and recording session of Satyananda and Hori.

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