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The Minstrel

The Minstrel

19 mins 21.1K 19 mins 21.1K

 ‘The process of growing up is very tricky, Khyapa. The time when a child is born, he or she is born free; simple and natural, knows nothing of good or evil, free from all shades of life. Yet, being born, the child  comes under the clutches of time. After that nothing ever remains as simple as before. The child crosses infancy, adolescence and grows to be a man or woman and slowly falls prey to uncertainty and confusion.’

Baul Rajanidas took a deep breath and continued………

-     ‘See, Khyapa, the dirt of time accumulates on the mind and block true vision.’ 

The Baul was speaking in a much suppressed voice, somewhat mystic, calling me ‘Khyapa’, meaning madcap or crazy – a very common word spoken with indulgence among the Bauls signifying a person who is overmuch with their ideas and also wise in understanding the ways of life.

Standing under a banyan tree in Bolpur, West Bengal- very near to Tagore’s Shantiniketan, I was intently listening to him. The Sun, like a puffy reddish ball, was setting across, spreading a dull, lusterless shade of pink over the horizon. A gust of wind was blowing gently over the large leaves of the huge tree. I felt a shiver running down my spine.


I was a ten-year old when I first met Rajanidas in a cool and breezy winter evening. My parents took me along in a pleasure trip to Bolpur in the district of Birbhum in a fete during the month of ‘Pousha’, popularly known as ‘Poushmela’, where Bauls from all over West Bengal and Bangladesh flock to exchange ideas expressed in their music.

Roaming around, we chanced upon a ‘Vaishnav Akhara’ for a musical evening of songs and dance by the Bauls. Rajani Baul, as being called, was singing a song with their traditional whirling movements with his ‘ektara’ (a single stringed musical instrument) held high. The high pitched music was intoxicating and filling in the air. The language of the rendering was peculiar and difficult to understand even for my parents. I heard each of them finding out altogether different meanings of the song. The other listeners were seemed to be  mesmerized; some were clapping and swaying with the tune.  

We met Rajanidas after the show. He was standing with all modesty while my parents praised his performance. I was instantly drawn towards him.  


Later, whenever we visited Bolpur, Rajanidas made it a point to come and meet with us with latest of his songs to entertain. My parents evidently moved with his behavior and music, might have given him our Kolkata address since on every occasion when he came to the city, he never missed a chance to visit us on holidays. 

Being a small boy, I was in awe of his peculiar attire and the magic in his voice. He was middle aged, many years older than me and of different view of life, yet, gradually, there developed an unusual camaraderie between us.    


Rajanidas Baul thus became a witness to my growing, inquisitive years. In that half-blossomed kingdom of many uncertainties, vagueness and mysteries; he was the guide, always trying to offer plausible answers to my pubescent questions with a smiling face with zest. I knew he was a Baul but could not quite grasp the meaning of that and also…. what he actually did to earn his living. I wondered why he lived like a beggar wearing a sewed alkhalla (a robe of different colors) crooning songs, very difficult to comprehend. 

Having seen many of them in Bolpur and Kolkata, I became very curious about the Bauls. It was only from Rajanidas that I came to know that basically the Bauls are a voluntary group of people irrespective of cast, creed and religion. The Bauls have a very simple divine life and ‘music’ is their only source of provisions.  


Mingling with a Baul had never excited my elders and seniors very much and they started talking disapprovingly of my involvement with Rajanidas. It was one thing listening to Baul music off and on but another proposition to have extensive interactions with them. From their strongly worded opposition I came to know for the first time that Bauls were of bad influence since they indulged in tantric practices. In their hush-hush discussions, I heard words like ‘Dehotatva’, ‘Purush-Prakriti’ etc. I was advised to be more attentive on my studies and also to avoid Rajanidas. The prohibition, however, incensed my inquisitiveness.

Rajanidas already had a notion of this and was trying to avoid meeting us at Kolkata. With an innocent smile on his face, he advised,-

-     ‘Khyapa, it is not good for a youngster like you to remain friendly with Bauls. In an educated and cultivated society like yours, it is very hard to accept our living style and practices. We are considered uncivilized and unclean’.

When, could an adolescent’s love and curiosity be suppressed altogether? I started seeing Rajanida at others’ places in Kolkata despite his opposition and my fear of being caught. 


I was growing….. growing in age and in ability to form ideas, ability to see things in new light. As the days passed by I started liking Rajanidas increasingly. I was being drawn to his mannerism, his skill of putting in plain words as per his knowledge to describe what was difficult to comprehend. It was during one of such intimate moments, the well informed Baul had, on my repeated insistence, explained to me the enigma of ‘Moner Manush or Adhor Manush’, the perception of ‘Guru’ (preceptor) or ‘Murshid’ (guide) also of ‘Deho’ (body).  

Rajanidas explained that the Bauls in most of their songs, express yearnings to be united with their ‘Moner Manus’ (man of the heart) or ‘Adhor Manus’ (who cannot be caught or confined). This quest for the ‘Moner Manush’ is to escalate the human love between lovers - man and woman, to divine love and subsequently to reach the Ultimate Divinity. 

As if to add weight to his words Rajanida once confided in me that Rabi Baul (Rabindranath Tagore), as said and respected among the Bauls, was also in search of his ‘moner manush’. Very sincerely, he started singing a Rabindra sangeet….


‘Amar praner manush achhe prane,

Tai heri taye sakol khane

Achhe she nayon-taray, alok-dharay, tai na haraye—

Ogo tai dekhi taye jethay sethay

Taka-i ami je dik-pane’ ……………………………………………


(‘The man of my heart dwells inside me.

Everywhere I behold, it's Him!

In my every sight, in the sparkle of light.

Oh I can never lose Him –

Here, there and everywhere.

Wherever I turn, right in front is He!)’


To my gradually maturing mind, the Bauls and their ways of life, their Sadhana created a very captivating feel in a whole. My quest for knowledge inspired me to pester the middle aged Baul to reveal the secrets of ‘Deho’, the human body. Rajanidas started with simplicity……..

-      ‘Deho’ is a temple where the soul lives. 

He questioned, as if to himself……..

-     What the ‘Deho’ is made up of?’ The answer is - Deho is made up of panch tattva (the five elements) like --- Kshiti (earth), Op (water), Tej (fire), Marut (air) and Vyom (vacuum) or Akash; and eleven Indriyas (sensory faculties) like Vak (mouth), Pani (hand), Pada (foot), Upastha (recreation organ), Payu (anus) led by the Mon (mind), then Chaksu (eyes), Karna (ears), Nasika (nose), Jivha (tounge) and Twak (skin).

Also, there are six ripus (enemies) like Kam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (avarice), Moh (blind attachment), Mad (vanity) and Matsarya (jealousy)’.

Rajanidas repeated………

-     all these make up the ‘Deho’ that has ‘Naba Dwars’ (Nine doors) …. the eyes (2nos.), ears (2nos.), nostrils (2nos.), mouth (1no.), anus (1no.) and the recreation organ (1no.).

The matured Baul took a deep breath and added,

-     ‘Khyapa, the body (Deho) is also known as the ‘Bhand’ and is treated as a mini-model of ‘Brambhand’, the Universe. We believe that everything in the universe is also contained in the body.’ 


Even though I visited Bolpur on many occasions after that, I had never had a chance to go to Rajanida’s home in early years. The chance came up when I disclosed to him that I had a girlfriend. I was almost twenty-one then. Rajanidas was not at all amused and seemed rather happy with the revelation.

Cheerfully, he retorted,

-     ‘Moner manush? Oh! I am so happy for you. Knowingly or unknowingly, we always seek true ‘Moner manush’ for ourselves. But are you sure she is the right person for you ?’

Rajanidas Baul took a whirling turn; head bent downward and started humming a tune-

‘Ami kothai pabo tare

Amar moner manush je re

Haraye shei manushe kar uddeshe, desh bideshe,

Ami desh bideshe barai ghure –

Lagi ei ridoy shoshi, shoda pran hoy udashi

Pele mon koto khushi, dekhtam noyon bhore………

(‘Where shall I meet him, the Man of my Heart?

He is lost to me and I seek him wandering from land to land.

I am listless for that moonrise of beauty, which is to light my life,

which I long to see in the fullness of vision in gladness of heart’……)


That day he invited me to come with him to his home. I agreed readily and accompanied him to his measly Akhara.

Dusk had fallen. The lights and lamps in the roadside shops were being put on in succession. It was also a cold and gusty day. Drawing the pullover closely, I followed Rajanidas in the desolate alley clutching my only kit- bag.  Rajanidas was humming a tune that expressed one’s profound love and regards for his Murshid or Guru. The tenor of his song was floating in the air as if touching the lengthening shadows of the trees alongside the pathway. The surroundings seemed like an illusion. I was thrilled.

There were some minutes of utter silence after the last tune faded away. The song was still ringing in my ears, when Rajanidas said,

-     ‘Guru is the spiritual guide. Nothing can be attained without the guidance of the Guru. But one thing is foremost… the Guru requires total surrender. Listen Khyapa, Bauls do not chant mantras or have any scriptures; for us Guru’s words are absolute. Without Guru you cannot know the unknown. The Guru tells you how to swim and how to reach the other shore, where all revelations are at hand.’


The neatness inside Rajanida’s akhara bore witness to a feminine touch and my bemusement turned into conviction when he introduced me to his ‘sadhan sangini’, Rani for the first time.

Rani having a wheatish complexion and medium built was very attractive in her appearance and it was difficult to judge her age. She cast a sidelong glance at me, smiled and addressed me as ‘Navin Khyapa’. I was then an energetic youth, had a girlfriend and being progressively familiar with poses and gestures of women. I smiled back, bid Namaste with folded hands and asked,

-     ‘How should I call you…. Ranidasi or Ranidi? 

Rajanidas was happily enjoying the little game played between us. Ranidasi affectionately requested me to call her as Ranidi and offered me tea with muri (parched rice).

Over an hour I spent with them, talking merrily. Although Rajanida was a bit speculative initially, he opened up later to reveal many traits of Baul Sadhana like conception of seven chakras - Muladhara, Svadhisthan, Manipur, Anahata, Visudhha, Agna and Sahasrara and their positions in the human body. I was introduced to basic secrets of the two eternal forces, ‘Purush and Prakriti’ (male and female). Time spent like the tides of a river.

Rajanida accompanied me while walking back to my temporary lodging. He seemed to be a happy man having talked about many secrets of Baul Sadhana. Hesitatingly I asked Rajanida about the seemingly great age difference between him and Ranidi. Rajani baul was laughing loudly. Still laughing, he said,

-     ‘So, Khyapa has really noticed the dissimilarities in our age. It is such that Rani came to my life much later, when my hairs have already started graying. She was abandoned and deserted by relatives and society after falling prey to the lust of a very near relative following the untimely death of her husband.’


Rajanida took a break and then continued,

-     Khyapa, one thing you have to understand here, we were very poor, lower caste and underprivileged, debarred and cut-off from society. I had already become a Baul then. Her hopelessness drew me near her. I had to talk to my Guru about her condition. We both met him on a day prefixed by him and I took her in with his blessings’.

The Baul’s face wore a weird look; perhaps he had gone back to his romantic days. He was talking as if picking up bits and pieces from the past.

-     ‘Rani too had no other option. Besides, a liberal life without social rules and bias of caste and religion attracted her to become a Baul’s Sadhika’.  

My interest again took the upper hand. I queried, -‘But, had you ever tried to find out whether she liked to live a life with you?

The Baul took his time to reply,

-     ‘Yes, I asked her on many occasions to know her mind. She replied back with a smile only. Khyapa, it’s very difficult to know a woman’s mind. Nevertheless, it was divine will. You know, we all are gifts of divine power and we search for divine presence within ourselves.’

I marveled at Rajani Baul’s words. How unique is their idea. Their sadhana is to remain unattached by the pleasures of life even while enjoying them. What an example of intricate relationship between body and soul! To pry more, I asked, - But then why a Sadhika is at all needed? Is it customary to have a Sadhika or Sadhan-sangini for success in your Sadhana?’

     - ‘See, in our belief as taught by my Guru, a man is born without                             pretention. Everything remains natural; it is what he sees. This is called     Sahaj bhav (natural aura). Take the case of a tree that grows naturally, following nature’s laws. Nobody tells it how to grow. It has no specific rules acquired by birth and has only its own inborn self to guide it’.

Abruptly, Rajanida fell silent with a thoughtful face and then again started with a song, saying,

     - ‘thus comes and goes the human soul. From time immemorial the soul comes and goes but what is its mystery? Where does it come from and where does it go?’

-- Khanchar bhitor achin pakhi kamne ase jai,

Dhorte parle mono beri ditam pakhir pai

At kuthuri noi daroja ata, moddhe moddhe jharka kata,

Tar opore sadar kotha aina mohol tai…..


(How does the mysterious bird flit in and out of the cage? If I could catch the bird, I would put it under the fetters of my heart.

The cage has eight cells and nine doors.

With latent openings here and there,

Above is the main Hall with a mirror chamber………….

oh my mind, you are enamored of the cage;

little knowing that the cage is made up of raw bamboo,

and may any day fall apart)


Continued again on the sahaj state, Rajanida said, - ‘It is that nature which, when realized in oneself, brings the state of free will and peace. The aim of Baul Sadhana is to return to the sahaj state. The process is extremely difficult. The humans have many enemies like the ripus and the indriyas contained in the body and the mind. These, in uncontrolled state, push the sadhak into total destruction. The basic requirement is to control these enemies. Kam, the uncontrolled lust is a man's worst enemy’. 

Rajanida made a gesture with his hands and asked, - ‘Khyapa, do you know anything about Suddha Prem?’

I was yet to respond when the Baul again started again, - ‘Kam has to be transformed into Suddha Prem (true love). Male and female energies, Purush and Prakriti, are contained within the body of each person. The male energy, resides at the top of the head in the highest chakra, the Sahasrara. Here it exists in a state of perfect unity without any qualities or form; here he is Atal (the motionless). Since in the Sahasrara everything is integrated into the motionless Lord, there is no duality between God and the devotee. This is the ultimate, In the process, it requires union of Purush and Prakriti, the sadhak and his sadhan-sangini. The sadhak needs to imagine himself as a woman. By ‘becoming a woman,’ it is felt that his union with a woman will no longer be provoked by desire for physical pleasure’. All the rites and practices happen under the careful eyes of the Guru ’




Speaking at length at a stretch, Rajanidas Baul stopped abruptly. He tried to change the topic possibly with a belief that things might be difficult for me to understand. Since, I had already gained knowledge of the chakras and a bit of Baul custom; it was rather helpful for me to get to the basic facts. Already I started liking the idea of sahaj sadhana. I questioned him about the female energy. Rajanida was looking a bit stressed, not knowing whether he did the right thing telling me the hidden specifics about their Sadhana. He threw me a blank glance and said,

-      ‘Let us end it here Khyapa. We will discuss it later when the time is ripe.      


After a long gap of four-five months and no contact with Rajanidas a chance came my way to do a Post Graduate course in Chinese Language in the Central University of Vishwa Bharati at Bolpur. However, in between, I got closer with my relationship with my girlfriend, Abira and incidentally I narrated the whole episode of my conversation with Rajanidas Baul.

On reaching Bolpur I visited Rajanidas’s home again to remind him that we had an unfinished conversation. Rajanida was cordial as before and invited me inside of his Akhara. While chatting, I raised the topic again at an opportune moment. Rajanida was silent for a few minutes as if recollecting and then started, -

-     ‘You have to perceive the maternal energy that resides within the body in Muladhar Chakra. Sadhak is required to worship the energy as the mother during Sadhana. The male principle or the father is in Sahasrara as Sahaj manush or Adhar manush. The mother rises from Muladhar, crosses many states signified by the chakras and to reach the Sahasrara ultimately to be united with the Supreme. Thereafter, there is no duality, no difference between the God and His devotee. The journey to meet the divine beloved ends there. However, there are many practical aspects of this process, which are difficult to fathom for one, who is not inducted in the faith. Even the most competent of the Sadhakas could not quite comprehend this mother energy.’


Rajanida fell totally silent. I started raising other unimportant issues but the Baul was unresponsive, immersed in his own thoughts.


A few months passed. I got busy with my studies and the ‘to and fro’ journeys I had to make to Kolkata. In between, my liaison with Rajanida grew strong and we met on several occasions to discuss many other things about the Bauls, one of which was their poetry, their songs. Later, reflecting on the details as told by Rajanidas, I arrived at a conclusion that in spite of having a very complex form of sadhana to achieve the Ultimate, their songs, though beautiful, were very difficult to understand due to the cryptic language and mysticism used in them. A Baul sadhaka would write a poem and when the poem sprung to life spontaneously from a deep inner state of being to express the inner ‘Bhav’ or experiences, this state of being is nothing but the state of Sahaja. These songs are ‘living wisdom’ or ‘the spoken truth’ coming from the deep realization of Sadhaka’s heart, completely soaked in the tears and laughter of love and longing for the Beloved, which is often described through the divine passion and unconditional love.


Some shocks awaited me after the completion of my PG course at Bolpur; my father passed away untimely leaving me alone to take full responsibilities of my mother and an unwed sister. The other, which hurt me more, was -- Abira left me in my grief when I was still mourning the death of my father. She chose a better option, leaving me for wealth and marrying into a very rich NRI family. I was restless, agitated and angry. Long hours, days on end, I remained engulfed in the memories of our togetherness, making up of stories to fashion sudden trips to Bolpur, meetings with Rajanidas and Ranidasi, the chats, the meager tea and muri with occasional oil cakes and coconut flakes. In spite of being very intimate, I had never tried to take advantage of Abira’s closeness with me.

Later, when I reorganized myself, the words of Rajani Baul -- ‘dirt of mind forms layers on our eyes to block the perception of real vision’ could ring a bell in my mind as things became clear. Anger, despair could no longer take control of me. I became quite and calm. Abira could not appreciate my love for her. It was no fault of hers; perhaps her inner vision was obscure, which made her opportunistic. Perhaps poor and isolated people like the bauls could manage to visualize things more clearly than us, the members of the so called cultured society.


Things moved fast. I had to leave Bolpur getting call for a transcription job at Kolkata that helped me immensely to be near to my mother and sister. Rajani Baul and Ranidasi saw me off with an invitation to their humble dwelling with little food and plenty of their mystic songs.

I became busy with my job and newly acquired responsibilities of becoming a family head and could not find much time or purpose to visit Bolpur. Rajanida was also growing older and could not come to Kolkata for longer periods as in the past. It was not before a span of three years or more that I got a call from our University for the post of a lecturer in Chinese language. I was happy and eager to have an opportunity to meet Rajanida among other acquaintances. 


After joining in my new job and certain initial occupations, I managed to get a day’s off to go to meet Rajanida at his home. The door of his home, made of mat and bamboo sticks was locked and Rajanida was nowhere to be seen. On my inquiry, a little boy playing in the open in front of the baul’s home conveyed that Rajanida had just left for a cup of tea from the corner tea-shop. There he was, sitting on the cemented platform around the fig-tree holding a cup of tea in his veined hands. Rajanidas stood up with a smiling face and offered me a cup of tea. Following initial pleasantries, I asked him where Ranidi was and why he was out for tea. The Baul smiled faintly and informed that Rani was no more. I sat abruptly on the platform as if struck by a blow.

Rajanida was talking slowly and what I gathered was Ranidasi died in a bout of malaria about a year back. Memories were once again surrounding me and I kept mum. I was visualizing her laughter, her glances and her dance with Rajanida’s songs and her sweet behavior. Rajanidas’s robe was torn at place, the face infested with many wrinkles but inside the man was same, that good old Rajanidas Baul. We came back to his Akhara. Rajanida sat and asked me,

- ‘Khyapa, got your moner manush? Or are you still searching?’

I smiled without a reply. No reply was required. Rajanida was talking to his self. He got up, fetched his ‘ektara’ and started singing—


‘Milon hobe koto dine

amar moner manusherei shoney…..


(When will I be united with the Man of my Heart?).


Rajanidas Baul was singing with a far flowing tune making short circles with the traditional baul movements tuning up the single wire on his ‘ektara’. His sight was steadfast and was fixed somewhere on the horizon. With a fervent prayer he was repeating the line again and again. The sight was unbelievable. It appeared that Rajani Baul was seeing the ultimate, his ‘Moner Manush’. It was felt that now the place belonged to Rajanidas only, nobody else.

Slowly, I slipped away leaving him with his prayers. Through the distance that I covered from there to my quarter, the tune was whispering in my ears ………..

– ‘when will I be united with the Man of my heart?

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