Baul music is simply not gaan or music, but also a convergence of gyaan or knowledge. This is 18th century “rural info-taintment” if we may that has survived until today. During the times of Fakir Lalon Shah an informal Akhra curriculum was advanced which had as its basis 4 specific “stations” termed Chotur desh, or phases which seekers on the Baul path will encounter. They are – i) Sthulo desh – novice, mundane, ordinary, common phases ii) Proborto desh - transitory, apprentice phases iii) Shadhok desh - perfected seekers, recognised, practitioner, and the penultimate iv) Shiddhi desh - one who has reached the height of self realisation.
Within this broad classification of phases, further subdivision was necessitated for a variety of reasons; a.) there were 14 different subgroups within each of the original 4 stations, meaning theoretically the works of Lalon could be interpreted into 56 different sub-categories b) Lalon like other Sages of Bengal preceding him was influenced by enumerationist Samkhya philosophy of Sage Kapila (5th to 2nd Century BCE), who advanced 25 Tottyo or discourse principals and c.) Lalon was conversant with the four Sufi Maqaam or stations i.e. i) Shariyat – origins, base, the path to the well, ii.) Haqiqat - Supreme Truth, reality check, iii.) Tariqat - differing ways and orders and iv.) Ma’arifat - Gnosis, God realisation, the state of extelligence i.e. beyond intelligence. So as to make it simpler and accommodate major Vaishnavite, Sufi, Sahajiya Buddhist philosophies, eight easily identifiable sub-groups or categories were also included into the 4 stations regime.
They are the Tri Tottyobaad which covered Sufi aspects of i) Noor Tottyo - discourses on light, enlightenment ii) Nabi Tottyo - discourses on the Messengers iii) Rasul Tottyo - discourses on Prophets.
Vaishnavite and Sahajiya Buddhist philosophies were grouped under Pancha Leela or five Pandeist course of willful acceptance i.e. i) Krishna Leela - Lord Krishna’s life story ii) Goishto Leela - cowherd’s music signifying Krishna’s boyhood tryst with Gopis, moral lessons, iii) Nimai Leela – discourses on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, reincarnation of Krishna iv) Gour Leela – Gaudiya Vaishnavism, discourses on Gouranga, another name for Krishna in Puranic scriptures, v) Nitai Leela –discourses on the omnipotent, “timeless supreme,” one who has no birth or death.
Historical records also suggest, there were several significant seats of learning called khadis or ashon for transmission of Baul music and philosophy with their own resident Gurus in geographically defined locales. They were: i) Pachu Shah in Gholdhari, Chuadanga ii) Mochai Shai in Abdalpur, Kushtia, iii) Gorib Shah in Sabdalpur, Jessore iv) Choudhor Shah in Kodaliya, Meherpur v) Shukur Shah in Alamdanga, Chuadanga, vi) Kanai Shah and Bholai Shah in Chotropara, Jhenaidah, vii) Ujal Shah in Jhaudia, Jessore viii) Iman Shah in Moheshganj, Meherpur ix) Shaker Shah in Choraigram, Kushtia x) Tinkori Shah in Bittipara, Kushtia and xi) Nengta Shah in Nischintapur.
The all inclusive, yet intense curriculums as well as the existence of transmission centers indicate the high musical and stringent spiritual standards practiced by Bauls since Lalon’s time as until today. Clearly Baul is just not a music form, but an organic sophisticated lifestyle statement which is scientific, and forward looking. The art form survives until present times due to the seriousness its practitioners emphasise on the esoteric messages of Fakir Lalon Shah for humanity, that has reverberated all across Bengal for centuries and as is evident now, reached a global audience.