FROM AKHRA TO FUSION: TRANSFORMATION OF BAUL MUSIC (PART-11)

Baul music – from acceptability to respectability and Khoda Buksh Shah Jr
Maqsoodul Haque

Bauls played a very significant role in inspiring Mukti Bahini guerrillas in their training camps

The history of Bauls as a pacifist, humane and secular movement has traditionally wavered and treaded on the fate and fortune of prevailing socio-political climate of Bengal at any given time. It is the consistency of their belief system and their remarkably progressive thoughts while living in the economic hardship of rural backwaters of Bangladesh that has constantly endeared then to common people regardless of faith, belief or religion. While the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971 was a watershed year in our destiny as a nation, it was also a turning point in assimilation and acceptance of Bauls into our cultural life. When millions of urban Bengalis fled townships and cities to escape brutalities of the Pakistan Army, their shelter were in villages, where for many it was a first time experience to share meals, and live on and off with the poorest of the poor – with Bauls being no exception to the rule. 

Bauls played a very significant role in inspiring Mukti Bahini guerrillas in their training camps. Together with songs of Tagore and Kazi Nazrul, those of Lalon and hundreds of other rural bards were effectively used for the war efforts and there were good reasons. Almost 85 percent of our valiant freedom fighters were from villages and Baul music as much as palli geeti as an art form is one they identified with instinctively, and perhaps genetically. Other than music, Bauls provided refugees and fighters spiritual guidance and psychological counseling in what were very traumatic times.

It was therefore not unusual that many displaced urban residents got their first clear views and understanding about the Bauls during the war, and this in turn assuaged their curiosity and made Baul music  not just a culture one could pass by, but importantly learn lessons on how to build a pragmatic, liberal, tolerant and exploitation free society. As the history of modern Bangladesh will surely attest, Bauls have been at the vanguard of any socio-political upheavals. Their music that has transformed from Akharas was by now a new force worth reckoning, and its strength emanated from an ability to adjust to demands of contemporary times, yet staying true to the rich tradition they have inherited and still actively live with. Bauls with twentieth century vision had arrived on the scene and set about dramatic new improvement and improvisations to the status quo.

Among the outstanding Baul luminaries of the new times, who created waves in preserving, archiving and documenting,  the contributions made by Khoda Buksh Shah Jr, (1927- 14th January 1990 – no relation of Khoda Buksh Shah Sr) is noteworthy. Born in village Jahapur, under Alamdanga in Chuadanga  district  he developed a keen interest towards music at a very young age, joined a Kirtan choir and dropped out of school permanently. He soon became went under the tutelage of his famed Guru Shukchand Shah. Discarding his usual attire, he donned the saffron robe of a Vaishnavite Fakir to mark his transformation, while taking in the rigors of the Lalon school of thoughts as his prime focus of musical and spiritual discipline. Also, other than  Shukchand Shah he spent 36 years of his living life under the tutelage of  Guru Bihal Shah.

Where he surpassed his contemporaries; not only was he an exponent of Lalon, he also held phenomenal command on works of notable “podokorta” (poets, bards) of the past such as Ramchandra Khyepa, Ramlal Pal, Rabi Shyam, Guruchand Gosai, Gopal Kashem Shah, Ekram Shah, Mofizuddin Shah – nearly 74 prolific Baul Masters of our times.  Khoda Buksh was indeed a walking, and living archive with clear idea of the historical trends of Baul music of over 200 years at his thumbnail.

Khoda Buksh Shah Jr is remembered as a Baul poet, singer, writer, philosopher and composer of extraordinarily high standard and great acumen, leaving behind an archive of over 800 songs penned and composed to his credit. He served with the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy from 1983 to 1987 as an expert on Lalon Shah’s music. In 1983 the Bangla Academy awarded him with a fellowship for his skill and mastery on Lalon music. It was during his stint with Shilpakala that he introduced artist from the Akhara tradition such as Kiron Chandra Roy, Kanonbala Sarkar, Indramohan Rajbangshi, Dil Afroz Reba, Chandana Majumnder etc to the mainstream. Other than that he took initiatives of recording hundreds of song of all the great masters post Lalon until the 1980’s and they are preserved at the Transcription Services of Bangladesh Betar. In 1990 the Government of Bangladesh, posthumously awarded him with the prestigious National Award “Ekushey Padak” for his outstanding contribution to Lalon Music and Philosophy as also his own works, being the first among two Bauls Gurus to have received this honor thus far.

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