By Swami Harshananda
Bāuls literally means ‘the crazy ones’.
Location of Bāuls
The Bāuls of rural Bengal, who are found even today, form one of the obscure religious cults of the time. They are wandering minstrels comprising mostly mendicants.
Origin Of The Word Bāul
The word ‘bāul’ is of uncertain origin. It is assumed to have been derived from either of the two Sanskrit words :
- Vātula - Affected by wind-disease, i.e., mad or crazy
- Vyākula - Impatiently eager
Both these derivations are consistent with the modern sense of the word : ‘Inspired people with an ecstatic eagerness for a spiritual life, leading to ultimate union with the eternal Beloved.’
Origin Of The Cult Bāul
Historically, this sect might have been derived from the Nātha Cult. However, the influence of Vaiṣṇavism and Sufism can easily be recognized. The Bāuls are most unconventional in their customs and manners, habits and practices. They pride themselves on calling their ways as ‘ulṭa’ or ‘the reverse’. That is why they do not care for formal observances of any religious practice.
Preachings Of Bāuls
The literature of the Bāuls is entirely in their songs and poems (in Bengali) couched in mystic terms and riddles. Whatever philosophy can be gleaned from these can be stated briefly as follows :
- The human body is the microcosm of the universe and the temple of the Dear one.
- This Beloved, also called ‘maner mānuṣ’ (‘the Man of the Heart’), is the Lord of the universe living in our heart. Hence, any search for Him outside is fruitless.
- This Divine Personality residing in us is our essential nature. Love is the means of achieving union with Him and the lover is the human personality.
- In the highest union, all limitations are transcended, all differences between humanity and divinity are annihilated.
- Madan, Biśa Bhumimāli, īśān Yugi, Kṛṣṇakānta Pāṭhak and Lālan Fakīr are some of the celebrated composers of the bāul songs.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore