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The Singing Sustainability Philosophers of Bangladesh
Alan AtKisson, 8 Apr 04

I keynoted an international conference on sustainability in Western Australia not long ago, and they put up a really great site where you can download everybody's papers and presentations.

So I went cruising around it recently, and I found something really wonderful, something I never heard about before.

The Bauls. The singing philospher-gurus of Bangladesh.

These are a mendicant class of gurus and spiritual leaders who live simply, make music (which I still haven't managed to actually hear), and sing about ... sustainability.

Apparently, they have songs about thinking systemically and long term, and managing water resources wisely, and other such cool stuff. They teach their followers to be wise about how they use the earth, and not consume too much. No milk, for example, unless you're a kid or an old person who actually needs it, otherwise it's really being wasted, "pouring water into a full jar".

If I weren't happily home with kids, I'd probably pick up and go to Bangladesh to listen to them. Instead, however, I recommend this paper, by Amzad Hossain and Dora Marinova, of Murdoch University. (It's supposedly about "tools" for sustainability, but it's really about life in Bangladesh as a model for sustainability.) Read especially the Appendix, which describes the day in the life of a Baul guru.

Here's what I found by way of a short explanation of Baul philosophy, in more general terms, the caption to the beautiful photo here:

Kangaleni Shuphia is a female Baul singer. Baul songs represent the philosophical identity of the rural Bengali culture. Baul is not only a kind of music, it is basically a Bengali religious sect. Bauls dedicate their lives to music, song and meditation, and belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition. The Bauls themselves are opposed to institutional practices, rites and customs, scriptures and speculative literature. Caste, special deities, temples and sacred places play no part in Baul ideology. They do not set up any images of divinities or religious symbols in their own places of worship. They believe their own body is the temple where the supreme resides.

If you find MP3 files or other useful links about these folks, please post comments!

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It takes a lot of Bauls to preach sustainability.

Posted by: SomebodyHadToSayIt on 8 Apr 04

Being interested in Transglobal Underground and Natasha Atlas, I found Senses (which I didn't enjoy as much as the other two) with roots in the Baul tradition: "Bapi brought together some musicians of his traditional Baul music group «BAUL BISHWA» with musicians coming from UK, France, Russia, Argentine and Congo and he made the group «SENSES»." []

Posted by: Alex Schröder on 8 Apr 04

The Bengali Bauls made a little splash back in the late 60s. There was a Nonesuch Explorer album and even a recording with Garth Hudson and some of the other members of The Band called, I believe, "Bengali Bauls at Big Pink."

Posted by: gmoke on 8 Apr 04

Here in the Bay Area, musician Jai Uttal has been greatly influenced by the Baul tradition & I'm sure could tell you much about his experiential research into this culture. He was nominated for a Grammy, which just shows how 'unified' the cultures of all peoples have become. Great music! He has a unique sound.

Posted by: Bee Bee Banks on 8 Apr 04

The Bauls are, as I understand it, something of an out-group - basically despised as filthy disreputable hippies in many places, and often associated with dubious tantric practices.

A lot of their music is encoded in "twilight language" where a song is ostensibly about something nice like riding a borrowed bicycle to the place where the three rivers meet, but actually about something else entirely...

All this from a dodgy old sufi who worked in the local new age book store used to be into their music: scurrilous rumor, most likely!

Posted by: Vinay on 9 Apr 04

Google is your friend:

Also, search on "baul lyrics".

Posted by: Siderea on 9 Apr 04

If you want to see a picture of some Bauls, look at the cover of the Bob Dylan album "John Wesley Harding."

Posted by: Marguerita on 13 Apr 04



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