Abul Ahsan Choudhury : The senior most Professor of the Department of Bengali at the Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh. He studied at Dhaka University where he specialized in Bengali literature and obtained a Ph.D. He has been teaching at the graduate and post-graduate levels for almost thirty two years. Dr. Choudhury is primarily an essayist and a researcher, his principal research interest is in folklore, mystic literature and 19th Century society and literature. His works on mystic baul poet Fakir Lalon Shain, Kangal Harinath and Mir Mosharraf Hossain have been acknowledged widely. He has a number of research articles besides seventy books in Bengali. He was the Editor of “Lokashitya Patrika” and has won Lalon Award-2000.


Mystic Baul Poet Lalon Shain :
An Icon of Folklore in the Social Context of Bangladesh


This paper seeks to study the mystic Baul poet Lalon Shain (1774-1890) as an icon of folklore in the social context of Bangladesh. Lalon appears to be the best transport to carry folklore as the voice of folks in general and represents the genres such as traditional art, literature, culture, and practice disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. His view on religion, society, human-beings, race and culture are found in his songs and show, at the same time, how Lalon acts as an icon of folklore in the social context of Bangladesh. To understand Lalon’s position, this study focuses on how the nineteenth century Bengali mystic saint and song-maker Lalon goes beyond the so-called social, political, religious, caste, creed, race and class distinction in the SAARC region and in the Globe as well. Despite the division of three independent countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh of the then undivided Indian Subcontinent, significant cultural unity has not stopped existing among them. Such cultural unity among these countries invites special attention to the practice of folklore, mysticism, Sufism and spiritualism. In all ages, a few individuals came out of tradition and created new philosophy to serve the humanity, to look for the Creator and His creation. Of such individuals, Lalon Shain who propagated peace, equity and harmony for all the people from diverse religions seems to be the greatest. Lalon shattered religious barriers, so-called customs and social restraints to achieve love for mankind. He is a true inheritor of the great mystics such as Kabir, Dadu, Ramananda, Tulshidas, Paltu, Rajjav, Shah Abdul Latif Bhit and Buleh Shah. Actually Baul Fakir Lalon Shain’s philosophy seems very much relevant not only for the unity in the SAARC countries but also in all the countries of the Globe. As a Baul, Lalon wrote numerous songs that testify folkloric elements in relation to humanity and brotherhood, spirituality and religion, peace and tranquility and such aspects of folklore, which virtually focus on all the folk-elements ancient and modern in SAARC region. Thus Lalon Shain has tremendously contributed to the understanding of folklore, especially because of his social awareness that is evident in his exploration of all aspects of human life not only in the social context of Bangladesh but also in the world context. Regarded as the best voice of Baulism that has clearly been exposed in his songs, Lalon dedicated himself to the cause of universal brotherhood of mankind. However, his body-based philosophy, practice of a sect among Bengali Sufis and Vaishnavs known as Bauls, his personal practice of such philosophy but speaking of it publicly through his songs, his music performance and practice embodying a highly syncretic philosophy drawn from diverse religious sources, his confrontation of orthodox fundamentalisms and preaching of radically different search for divinity may be relevant sources to analyze the mystic poet Lalon Shain as an icon of folklore in the social context of Bangladesh.

2. The countries in the Indian Subcontinent foster historical commonality and significant cultural unity. In this subcontinent there has always been a group of people who have ventured beyond established scriptural tradition to find a way to the freedom of man and to perceive God. These people, rising above caste, creed and communal division, attempted to define religion in the light of the simple truth emanated from the human heart. Discouraging conflict and division while encouraging hybridity and syncreticity, these people scrutinized the insipid, rigid and lifeless scriptural tradition with humane logic, common sense and social reality. In this process emerged the Vakti cult of the North and the South India, the Mahapurushia sect of Assam, the Sufism of Punjab and Sindh, the Vaishnavi Baulism of Bengal and many other major and minor mystic folk-cults. These mystic cults paved the way for the practice of humanism and communal harmony in the Indian Subcontinent mostly dominated by scriptural prejudices. Taking queue from the idea of love and devotion, the mystics embarked on an all-out struggle against discriminations based on caste, class or creed. Having their loyalty solely to the idea of human emancipation, they denounced hollow religious orthodoxy in favor of popular and liberal religious practices. The practices and philosophy of the Bauls and of Fakir Lalon Shain, in their origin and nature, relate to these mystic communities. In his perception, ideals and beliefs, Lalon, as we find, is an apt descendant of the great mystic poets of India such as Kabir, Dadu, Ramananda, Tulsidas, Nanak, Paltu, Rajjav, Shah Abdul Latif Bhit, Buleh Shah and so on.

3. The Baul practice has its root in Charyagitika, the practice songs of the Buddhist Sahajiya sect flourishing almost a thousand of years ago. Baulism flourished in the 17th century by adopting the popular cult centering on music, Guru-cult and body-based devotion (Bhattacharya: 1378, 289 and Sharif: 1968, 404). Baul religion was basically a hybrid of Buddhist Sahajiya cult, Islamic