Tag Archives: West Bengal

Arupa Lahiry Report

Excerpts from December 2012 Report

The field trip emerged as an interesting interaction between a classical dancer and a folk artist along with information regarding the basic lifestyle of a Baul saint.

This particular fieldtrip was conducted without prior preparation or a questionnaire allowing the three hours spent in Ghuskara ashram to be spontaneous and dynamic. The conversation freely allowed emergence of certain interesting facts punctuated with lyrical Baul songs. The highlight of the conversation was spirituality in Baul music as well as the learning aspect of this tradition. The conversation started from how my community elder was initiated into the lifestyle of Baul community. Without binding him into a question-answer format we conversed about his childhood which was dramatic and poverty-stricken. What emerged as a conclusion is often for the past one generation the children are sent to Baul elders to learn music as a way to sustain themselves. A big family with many children often the search or initiation in the Baul livelihood is not a romantic or spiritual search but one more realistic… one that of sustenance and survival.

My community elder, Kartick Das has been a self-taught Baul who has survived many an odd. He has been adopted by his guru Shri Kanai Das Baul. What was interesting to observe was that learning in the Baul tradition is very similar to my own gurukulavasam-learning discipline in Bharatnatyam, an Indian classical dance style. Neither a young Baul nor a young serious minded classical dancer is taught in the western class room hour bound fashion. Learning has no clock, nor limit. Songs were taught while ploughing the field and very often like in the classical system the young baul has to offer physical service to Guru’s household. The madhukari is the only way to sustain and begging teaches the Bauls the art of humility.

The discussion proceeded to the distinct dressing style of the Bauls and Kartickda showed us the peculiar way of tying the long flowing tresses of a Baul. It’s tied so that it resembles the female vagina of a human body. The robes are equally flowing symbolising a fluidity of the female body. Kartickda used a term called akarshan in Bengali which translated means power to attract. Whom to attract? For whom is this arrangement? The Hindoo Bauls believe in the philosophy that there is one supreme Man… Krishna. And the bauls are all female followers or Gopis of Krishna. Gobind as he is called or Govinda has to be attracted as he is like quicksilver and slips away before one realises. There was a discussion on the difference between a gayak/ performer Baul and a sadhak/ saint Baul. The different rituals in these two sects demand a difference in lifestyle. The sadhak Baul needs to take a female counterpart who is the intrinsic part of the Bauls meditation. Surprising, the Baul philosophy has ritualised even human union and it is through togetherness the philosophy proposes liberation. Detachment through attachment is what a Baul believes in.

Kartickda also demonstrated how the Khamak or musical instrument of two strings is taught to a young Baul. The bols were like mridangam syllables only more local and indigenous. He spoke about eating rice on a fixed meter drawing inspiration from daily life or how something as banal as food habit can be accommodated in teaching a young boy. Then he went forward to demonstrate the superior prowess of this simple instrument of two strings and how it can parallel a sarod in its own way.

The session also promised of a second session on deho-tatta where the duality of Baul language is going to be discussed.

The session was interesting as it emerged from a free space and flowed in its own pattern. It was also like pointers to the future sessions which will see the two disciplines coming together. The session was informative as it showed us the rhythmic cycles in Baul music and the playing of the percussion, the style of dressing, the signified behind the signifier and the simplicity of the lifestyle.

Conclusion: The session was like a pathfinder in the over researched field of Baul philosophy. Though a community the Bauls are believers of individuality and hence do not have many community rituals. They are individual saints or mendicants in search of a one to one relation with God. And hence, it is difficult for a Baul to indulge in community living.

January 2013 Report

Introduction: The January 2012 field trip covered visits to festivals or fair grounds continuing in a similar line of search of the understanding of body amidst the Baul fakirs and the interaction between classical and folk artists bridging the gap between art forms. This second instalment of the twelve month long fellowship granted from National Folklore Centre also had to put the contingency amount partially in use being inclusive of travel to interior parts of Birbhum. The people interviewed here are Katick Das Baul, my community elder, Tarak Das Baul and various other akhras or groups.

Overview: The field trip was interesting and startling in terms of discovery, as it revealed certain parallel features between a classical dancer and a folk artist along with commonalities shared by Baul and other Bengali folk traditions. The field trips conducted in two Baul-Fakir fairs revealed the influences of urban culture on Baul body and spontaneity.

Report: This particular fieldtrip was conducted with the purpose of documenting as many songs as possible in a format of performance. The purpose was also to meet different Bauls and interact with them to understand their society and culture. The obstacles unseen was the crowd and the gimmick associated with such fairs. Over the years both the Kolkata fair and the original Kenduli have developed as the centre of hedonism. People hang around the Bauls for various forms of intoxication prompting the Bauls either to shut down or pass on information which are half-baked. However the presence of the community elder helped the Tata fellow to cull certain important information that is interesting and completely unheard of before. The highlight of the series of footage was the session with Tarak Das Baul in Kenduli, Jaydev Mela. The conversation started with when was the akhra of Tarak Baul intiated. The flow of conversation continued with Tarakda pointing out towards the rich tradition of Baul, the oral heritage that is passed down generation to generation. He explained the tradition of Khoncha gaan which is much like the Taarja tradition of Bengal where one singer challenges the following singer with particular song. The knowledge reservoir expected out of a Baul is a lost heritage now.

He also spoke about the format a Baul performance used to follow piquing the interest and the similarity it has with the margam pattern of Bharatnatyam. Like a classical dance recital has an opening, middle and end; similarly a Baul performance has a pattern that a Baul must follow. However, the new generation Bauls who are busy with commercial gains are not even aware of such traditions let alone have enough song collection to keep the tradition alive. The songs sung by Tarakda were unusual and spoke about deho-tatta and its spiritual culmination

The other akharas proved to be commercial and disappointing. Kenduli’s biggest akhara Moner- Manush was a melange of Bauls coming and performing as well as musicians of international and national circuit coming and participating in a spontaneous jam. The most interesting of the entire lot were two songs where the community elder of the current research was joined by a Japanese flautist. The spontaneous interaction also revealed the possibility and fluidity of Baul music to lend itself to various interpretations explaining why so many experiments are being done with Baul music. The Moner-Manush akhra also had two other performances (including one by a lady singer) which though included Baul songs wre heavily dependant on Kirtanniya style of Bengal. The experience gave rise to the following questions:

Is there anything called purity in folk art forms?

Do various interpolations destroy the so called true spirit of the art?

Is urbanization destroying the grass-root culture of Baul music?

Is codification taking away the spontaneity from Baul music?

Where do the folk Baul end and the urban Baul begin?

Is public attention destroying Baul culture?

Conclusion: The sessions were interesting as they gave rise to various questions that will be searched for during the course of research. Also with the January documentation what became clear is a strong parallel current between the classical and folk art forms making it easier to do an inter-disciplinary study.

The control of the body and the desire to provide audience with instant enjoyment are leading the Bauls to bypass the songs heavier on philosophy. What remains is a reducing and disappearing collection of songs which needs immediate documentation that the current research is trying to preserve.

Excerpts from February 2013 Report

February saw a leaner approach adapted towards field activities. An urgent need was felt for introspection of the previous fieldtrips undertaken over the month of December and January to decide upon the future course of action.

Hence a break was taken from active fieldtrip. The only exception was an interview conducted on Paban Das Baul, a self acclaimed Baul who has converted his lifestyle under the influence of active urbanization. Preferring jeans and kurta above traditional “gudhri” Paban Das Baul’s conversion to an urban Euro centric Baul-hood has raised many an eyebrow and have earned him brickbats as well as accolades for his decision.

The aim of such a fieldtrip was to understand the encroachment of urbanization on folk art and folk lifestyle. With urbanization changes the definition of understanding of the “Body” which is the central premise of this research. The urban body is a more conscious body and bound up by various instructions existing within the matrix of disciplinary institutionalization. This is in direct contradiction to the Baul philosophy where the “Body” is the sacred space and its only institution. So to move back to the urban space is to in a way destroy the philosophy of the Baul sect. However, how illogical is it to confirm to the demands of the middle class expectations from folk art and its trademark backwardness was the purpose of undertaking such a field work.

 

The interview was conducted in Paban Das Baul’s flat in a elite locality of Kolkata very unlike the “akharas” of Baul which the current fellow had encountered so far in Birbhum. The fellow was also expected to buy the information in exchange of an amount of Rs. 5000/- which was considered as the fees for such an interview. The amount is a price paid as exchange of information.

The questions asked in the interview were:

  • Who is a Baul?
  • What does Paban Das understand to be a Baul?
  • How did Paban Das get initiated into being a Baul?
  • What is the difference between a Performer Baul and a Mystique Baul?
  • What is “Deho-tattya” or Body in Baul Philosophy?
  • When does a Baul dance? Is it a form taught formally?

In addition Paban Das explained to us his experience of opening Baul music upto Western influences and the various rhythmic patterns like “Darbeshi that” available in traditional Baul music.

The question that lies within the heart of the research is the understanding of “Body” in folk and classical art forms. The current fieldwork and revision of the research material provided many insights onto how a Baul treats his body. The various ritualistic approaches adopted by a Baul towards the sacred space of Body come forth both by the revision of previous fieldwork and recent scholarly readings undertaken.

The current fieldwork also pointed the research towards the necessary evil called urbanization that takes a toll on any folk culture. An analysis of it shows how the community has undergone a genetic transmission changing its form from being a folk-philosopher sect to a folk-urban performing sect. A section of society which started its journey as a marginalized one or beyond society today is occupied with the same problems attacking the mainstream. No longer does this folk society struggle under the problems of survival. It is rather the question of protecting the originality of the community that is threatening this over-exposed cult.

The current research also explores the musicality of this particular sect and found itself asking whether there is at all anything called traditional Baul music? What are its notations? What are the tunes it follows? Is there any fixed rule? These are the questions that the research will be addressing in its future fieldwork. It also advanced the fellow’s understanding of a Baul body and its focused dedication towards only the space called “Body”. Unlike the Vaishanavite cults the true blue Bauls do not believe in ritualistic worships. It is the human body which is the temple, provides the ornaments, rituals and understanding of this method called “Sahajiya” worship.

 

The interview provided insight into how urbanization is a necessary evil. In a world of twenty-first century it is impossible to avoid the inroad of urbanization. The interview also showed us the way of how a Baul today can be created out of nowhere much like any other genre of singers. A Baul need not be borne into the philosophy but a Baul can be trained into its singing. Much like a classical dancer a Baul singer too can be created out of practice and training. The spontaneity of Folk art is no longer the basic premise of the Baul tradition taking us to the question what is the tradition of Baul music?

 

Interaction with Paban Das explained how there are two distinct classes of Bauls beyond the division of Baul-Fakir – that is, one sect of Baul is more inclined towards performance and are the performing Bauls whereas the other sect is the mystique sufi Bauls who are practicing saints away from the world. However, as Paban Das repents today’s busy world has left hardly any space for Bauls like Radheshyama Baul, Nabin Chandra das etc who are philosophers of the highest order.

Their songs have spoken about the necessity of worshipping the conjugality or togetherness-Of finding detachment through attachment.

The songs recorded speak about such togetherness in man and woman.

Paban Das also spoke about the madness in Bauls or “khepami” as they call it and the ritualistic dance they perform, untrained but allowing the rhythm of the music take over a body.

The interview or field work of this month helped to understand the division between the Baul clans and how different the body is for a performer Baul or a mendicant Baul.

 

An inordinate curiosity and inexperience had led the fellow to jump into fieldwork without prior preparation. Repeated telephonic conversations led to a few interesting discoveries. The conversations clarified the fact that the common misconception that Muslim sect is the Fakir and the Hindoo sect is called Baul. A Baul/ Fakir has no religion and is not a Vaishnav saint as pointed out by Duddu Shah (a disciple of Lalan Shah) in his songs. It also clarified how close the Baul philosophy is to the theories of Mikhail Bhaktin. Bhaktin explained that the territories are always considered dangerous in human society. Anything that establishes connections with the external is feared or revered in human society. Like menstrual blood of a woman or human faeces. The conversations pointed out how without formalized/ organized religion a Baul is free-floating and beyond society. That is why a Baul is also often marginalized and feared.

This month the interaction with my director helped me to decide on a future plan of action. Post revision necessity was felt to visit Nadia which was earlier not part of the plan. The visit to Nadia was thought necessary to find an alternative line of thought to the Birbhum Bauls and their understanding of their philosophy. It was decided that it will be interesting to observe the Baul philosophy survival and adaptations in a geographic locality so close to the stronghold of Vaishnavism.

 

The interaction was also with Paban Das Baul somehow a marginalized character within the Baul community themselves for his bold statement of embracing change and welcoming it as a fashion statement.

The interactions cleared the future methodology to be undertaken by the current fellow in the course of next three month research.

 

Excerpts from April 2013 Report

The field activity was in the form of an extensive interview conducted with the collaborator. The topic centered around “Deho-tattya” or Body in Baul Philosophy. Collecting rare songs, discussing about the layers of symbolism found in Baul songs and also talking about the kinds of timeline followed in Baul philosophy formed the centre of the discussion.

The questions asked in the interview were:

  • Who is a Baul?
  • What a Baul understand by his body?
  • What is the difference between a Performer Baul and a Mystique Baul?
  • What is “Deho-tattya” or Body in Baul Philosophy?
  • What are the physical rituals involved in Baul philosophy?

The Baul songs were recorded which highlight the “Deho-tattya” philosophy. The songs with the language of symbolism highlight the nine doors/openings in a human body and the six ripus or emotions that control human body.

The interview was conducted in a particular house of Kolkata and was accompanied by Namasankirtanam at the back ground.

 

Prior to the fieldtrip the fellow undertook once again a detailed study of Professor Sudhir Chakraborty’s Baul Fakir Katha. The book provided a starting point afresh for the research and refurbished it with unknown facts about Deho tatta. The book provides startling facts like the Baul’s body especially a female Baul’s body is inspected after conjugal experience by the guru or his/ her senior disciples to understand whether the practioner has successful y incorporated the lessons or not. Baul philosophy is about control in ecstasy and the Baul’s sexual organs are hence inspected to understand whether he/she has succeeded in mastering that control or not. The book helped the fellow frame questions for her collaborator where she could ask the various meanings of the words highlighted through Baul music.

The book provides a take off point as the author steadfastly avoids any conclusive stand allowing the researcher onto various different paths without clouding his/her opinion. The book also opens eyes to the difference between regions, classes and sects even within the broader spectrum called “Baul”.

This particular chapter helped the fellow delve into the differences between a Baul and a Vaishnav and bring forth the collaborator’s ides on this particular topic.

The question that lies within the heart of the research is the understanding of “Body” in folk and classical art forms. The current fieldwork and revision of the research material provided insights onto how Baul and his songs treat his body. The various ritualistic approaches adopted by a Baul towards the sacred space of Body come forth both by the revision of previous fieldwork and recent scholarly readings undertaken. The songs which spoke about the hidden body under the wraps of social clothing and which has the power to disturb/ awaken depending on the person participating in the activity was invigorating. The song which spoke about the division within the body as three floors was an eye opener to the use of language in Baul music. That the mind is equated to the functioning of the court while the stomach/ heart of the middle floor are like businessmen only concerned with the functioning/ business of the body and the lowest part is the section which elevates you to the highest self forwarded the research into its understanding of the body within the scope of the research. The songs analyzed how a human body is also formed from mere thought which is there in the mind of the Father and then added to the body of the Mother to create a full human being.

The fellow found it rather difficult to ask such intimate questions to a male Baul and hence is in the lookout for a female Baul to understand the concepts of intriguing sexuality in Baul philosophy. Though most of the Bauls are ready to answer the problem also lies in the fact that owing to rapid urbanization Bauls are left with singing as a profession and not many veer towards the path of sadhana.

Homebound, glamour calling the bauls is fast becoming dissociated from their understanding of the body. The only ties that remain are the songs penned down by philosophers who understood and played around with the body.

The current research also explores the musicality of this particular sect and found itself asking whether there is at all anything called traditional Baul music? The Baul philosophy divides the music into division over the course of the day. It includes songs dedicated to Krishna out cow herding while it also speaks about the evening pain where the Lord is still not back. The pain is also a symbol of the lack of knowledge at the end of the life.

The songs have spoken about the necessity of worshipping the conjugality or togetherness-Of finding detachment through attachment.

The songs recorded speak about such togetherness in man and woman.

The songs highlight the independence of women within this particular class of Philosophers. It also impressed the fellow that ages before the advent of feminism the Baul philosopher could realize that without worshipping or understanding a woman and her body there can be no way to liberation.

 

This particular interaction was absolutely necessary for understanding the dehotatta philosophy in Baul-hood.

The community elder patiently explained the concept of body, the hidden lanes of body, lacing it with rare songs to highlight his conversation. The songs were essential in taking the research forward on the path of the concept of “understanding body in a classical and folk art forms. It was also clear that there are myriads of similarity between different folk forms in India. The concept of navarasa found an interesting parallel in Baul philosophy. The concept of controlling eroticism or “kama” by placing it on the top of emotions is also seen and explored within the disciplined boundaries of classicism. The concept of songs placed over the duration of aday and night, ragas based on different quarters of the day was something the community elder was drawing attention to again and again. However, he also acknowledged that most of the baul music is put together by unknown, unschooled singers and hence there are no fixed rules/ disciplines/ grammar in Baul music. An oral tradition few popular songs owing to oft repeated performances have attained a fixed structure. Otherwise Baul music like its practioners is free and flowing, borrowing influences and inspirations from all over. Kartick Das also spoke about the Tagorean influence on propagating and popularizing Baul music a fat that was highlighted earlier by Paban Das Baul in previous interviews.

 

Excerpts from May 2013 Report

 

The field activity was in the form of an extensive interview conducted with the collaborator and Ranajit Gonsai. The team travelled in the month of May to the interiors of West Bengal in Nadia district. Though there are Baul concentration areas in Birvhum, Bankura yet Nadia was selected keeping two purposes in mind. Nadia being geographically close to Bangladesh and being a hub of Vaishnavism came across as a perfect location for the next step. The journey took about 4.5 hours one way as Ranajit Gonsai’s ashram was approximately 30/ 40 kilometers beyond Plassey. Though the team had aimed to reach by 12 noon by the time the ashram was located owing to lack of landmarks and unfamiliarity of the terrain it was 3pm. Gonsai was also missing for the last couple of days and the team had almost given up its expectations of doing any constructive fieldwork that particular day. Not to mention the fact that the journey undertaken was a costly affair and a hectic planning to match timetables of four collaborators. However, the warmth and love which Gonsai’s family showered on the team thawed our reservations and fortunately Gonsai turned up after being amiss from home for the last three days. Work started in the nearby mango grove in the heat of May where the temperature stood at a boiling 40 degree. However, Gonsai’s experience and seniority in the field made the experience very satisfying and informative. Discussion of various literary terms, allusions in songs and recording of songs were done during this session. The fellow was also asked to participate by playing bells and keeping time along with the Baul music which made the session fun.  The discussion revolved around “Deho-tattya” or Body in Baul Philosophy. Discussion of the dual rituals, the procedure of diksha was discussed and recorded. Interesting point to be mentioned is the entire discussion was undertaken after Gonsai smoked a entire chillum which restored him to a state to talk and sing.

The questions asked in the interview were:

  • Who is a Baul?
  • What a Baul understand by his body?
  • What is “Deho-tattya” or Body in Baul Philosophy?
  • What are the physical rituals involved in Baul philosophy?
  • What are the rituals undertaken during “diksha”
  • Is a Baul a Vaishnav? What are the similarities in these two sects?
  • What is the meaning of the word “Jante-mora” or living dead?
  • Pala gaan or the sawal jabab system in Baul music

The Baul songs were recorded which highlight the “Deho-tattya” philosophy. The songs with the language of symbolism highlighted the experience of conjugal relation and yet transcendence of mere conjugality.

This particular fieldtrip was very important as Gonsai’s knowledge and expertise has fuelled the research. He patiently explained each of the questions. His songs were rare and not one of those oft repeated oft sung song list. He always explained to the fellow what was the tradition of “Palagaan” in Baul ,usic. A tradition fast eroding and disappearing, the pala gaan tradition was sung and explained by Gonsai. How it was expected that a song when it is thrown at one of the singers will be answered back by him through another song unfortunately the new generation of urban Bauls lack the depth and hence this particular tradition which was famous in Nadia is dying.

He also explained the term “Jente –mora” or living dead and how the Baul philosophy is all about prevention of exchange or ejaculation during conjugal relationship. It is about how to be detached during attachment or transcend the eros or erotic relationship. All that was read previously in Baul Fakir’s Katha was reconfirmed by Ranajit Gonsai. He also sang songs which added a referential time frame and it was easy to understand the colonial influence through reference of words like “Angrz” referring to English men and their cars which is the train. There was also reference to foreign words like “steamer” making the Fellow realize that colonial invasion in the worlds of Bauls.

 

This month’s fieldwork made the fact clear to the Fellow that it is important now at this juncture to interview a female counterpart in Baul philosophy. Though a lot of things are explained through symbolic discussion by male Baul singers/ practioners ,it is difficult to comprehend everything.

It also made the Fellow realize that for a Baul the ultimate is the body. As Gonsai explained, a Baul is one who is aware of the “ba” or Batash which goes in and out of the body. The body is the home for the breath or air. The body houses the soul. The soul is dressed in pitambar clothes or is Krishna the ultimate purush for Baul singers.

The stress given to finding the correct maaner manush or guru was also brought forth in this particular session. The guru is the one who initiates a disciple on the path of knowledge which a Baul cannot undergo alone.

A baul is beyond societal rules, beyond caste, beyond religion. He begins with his body and ends with his body was what the songs and discussions of this particular session highlighted.

 

This particular interaction was inclusive of three interacting participants. Ranajit Gonsai was an artist selected by my community elder Kartick Das Baul after much deliberation. Though I was interested in recording a different set of Bauls called Akas and Arman and Arjun Fakir, Kartick Das suggested that since I was looking for Pala Gaan tradition, Ranajit Gonsai being elderly will be a good choice.

Trusting my community elder’s advice I went to record Ranajit Gonsai and I was moved by his knowledge and experience. A humble and quiet man his expertise in playing dubki (the percussion) was eye catching. Also he was aware of the questions I asked and patiently answered them with humility. Kartick Das Baul’s advice was beneficial at the end of the day.

Along with that it was two Baul singers interacting with each other, discussing and clearing their own doubts. It was interesting to watch them singing and supporting each other, initiating discussions and helping each other.

The community bonhomie came across during this interactive and live session.

The community elder also asked questions that I wanted to ask…. Egging on Gonsai more towards discussion of Deho-tatta and its meaning in Baul principle.

Gonsai explained the term living dead and how life is about enjoying and yet transcending the enjoyment.

Gonsai explained about the Marfati and Sariyati styles of worship in Islam and went on to tell the interesting life he has led in Bangladesh, Murshidabad and Nadia. He being trained in Islam and Vaishnavism became the perfect example of Baul beyond the religion and caste.

They both also spoke about the diversity within Baul philosophy and how it is just a matter of realization for each individual. Ultimately it is a path that needs to be walked by each one of us.

 

Archiving Performances of Kondhei Nacho

Archiving Performances of Kondhei Nacho.

The aim of the project is to create an audio visual archive of Folk Puppetry Theatre performances of Odisha, make an informative database of the artists available, their repertoire and the style of puppetry that they practice.

Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr reputed, veteran puppeteer and a specialist on Rod Puppetry (‘Kathi Kondhei’) from Keonjhar district of Orissa will be associated with the project as an artist collaborator/guide/’sutradhar’.

 

Project proposed by :

Indraneel Lahiri

Cinematographer.

 

Project Collaborator :

Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr

Veteran puppeteer, expert in Rod Puppetry (Kathi Kondhai) Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy award winner 1982-83  Kendujhargarh, Odisha Odisha can be seen as a magical playground of puppets.

 

There are four kinds of techniques used for puppet theatre which is prevalent India, viz. Glove puppetry, String puppetry, Rod puppetry and Shadow or Leather puppetry.  In Odisha all of these techniques are common as well as a wide variety of their sub forms are found.  Most of the artists performing puppetry were from the Jhara fishermen community or Hatua community, both considered belonging to the lower castes. Traditionally the performers used to travel with their family members, perform at one village, halt for the night and carrying on to the next. Sometimes they performed with a glove puppet in one hand and playing dhol/drums with the other.  Orissa has its own share of a couple of forms of Ramayana and four Mahabharata. Viswanath Khuntia’s Vichitra Ramayan and the improvised ballads of Mahabharata mostly form the literature base of folk art forms like Pala and Daskathia which influences the puppetry forms greatly.

 

The performances are not only based on the epics and Harivamsha but also on social satires and dances. For example, in the puppetry dance of Kela Keluni, the puppeteers construct about 4 ft high model characters, based on a snake charmer and his wife, a lion and a lioness and the like.

The amusement lies in the skillful performance of the puppeteer and his story telling ability. The attraction of the puppets is their simplicity.

Though the Ravanachchaya performance is based on the hugely popular epic of Ramayana, which people have read, seen on television numerous times, still whenever the performances happens they do not cease to amuse/entertain. The shadow formed by primitive leather cutouts of the characters leaves most of the drama to the viewer’s imagination and he is enthralled by the drama unfolding in front of him.

For puppeteers like Sri Maguni Kuanr puppetry does not only mean the performance. Being an ace wood craftsman himself, he creates his own puppets from wood, makes clothes for them, paints, makes the backdrop where the performance is going to take place, writes the piece of drama to be performed, memorizes them, sings and performs.

The art form does not depend on new technological breakthroughs in projection and sound techniques as the production cost is kept at bare minimal but it is adorned with its own share of indigenous technical innovations.

Puppetry as a theatre form was very popular with the patronage of the kings of Kendujhargarh (Keonjhar ), Mayurbhanj, etc., today the performances are rare.

 

Relavance of the project:

Odisha especially is a state where many outstanding puppeteers have performed over the years.

In some remote villages, puppetry is a form of amusement during the fairs, but otherwise it is a rare occurrence. The puppeteers also have taken up other means to sustain their family. For example Sri Maguni Kuanr is also known for his carpentry skills. His talent for sculpting is best seen in the Kali idol that he is making in his locality.

Other puppeteer theatre groups in Bhanjanagar of Ganjam District have grocery shops or own bike repairing garages. Only during the festival season do they plunge themselves into puppetry, breathing a life into the puppets who for most of the year lie closed in a box… and there are hundreds of them.

Times have changed, mode of entertainment has changed for the masses. It’s an irreversible process. There are a few books on the history and tradition of puppetry in Odisha. The lucid writings of Gauranga Charan Das a scholar on the subject give the reader a vivid idea about the history and ethnography of the cultural practice. Through his efforts, a museum devoted to puppetry is going to be made in Pallahara near Kendujhargarh. Sri Das has been performing as well as teaching puppetry.

But there still remains a huge need for audio visual material of puppetry performances, both as training material for interested learners and also as reference material for future studies.

The aim of the project will be to create this audio visual resource by comprehensive video recording of the performances of various artists from all over Odisha both public performances during fairs,etc. and controlled training videos .

In today’s age the youth should see puppetry as an alternative career option, to have innovative new performances with contemporary stories.

Sri Maguni Kuanr our artist collaborator and resource person will guide us through the process helping us to understand the intricacies of the performances, the innovations and the challenges. I am privileged to have Sri Maguni with his solid fifty years of experience and expertise in the field as the ‘Sutradhar’ for the project. Sri Kuanr can elucidate on the change in materials that have been used in the puppetry for the last fifty years, i.e the technical advancement and also the change in aesthetics that it must have brought in. A small interview and performance of Sri Kuanr is compiled in the video submitted.

I have studied film making as my post graduation in the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune with cinematography as my specialization. I wish to make a small stage or performing space for the puppeteers for the video recording. I hope my knowledge of photography and lighting will come in handy during the process. Having a keen interest in different forms of puppetry and with the guidance of Sri Maguni Kuanr we will be able to build a comprehensive audio visual archive.

 

The Fellowship will ensure a professional, dedicated academic collaboration between Sri Maguni Kuanr and myself. With the financial support we will at least be able to bear the cost of travel of the artists’ and a small remuneration for their performance.

Mehodology :

Phase 1 : First Six months

The festival months when the puppeteers are most active are from November to April. Various performances in villages, towns, fairs, festivals will be captured in verite style.

A database of artists with the help of Sri Kuanr and sri Gauranga Charan Das will be made. Artists will be contact and their public performances will be captured.

Some artist will be selected for the next phase of the work.

Phase 2 : Next six months

The selected artists will be called (about ten) to a makeshift studio/ performance stage/ shooting arrangement near Sri Maguni Kuanr’s residence. Their performances would be shot in detail. The materials used and the entire process pre shoot will be recorded. A brief interview of the artists about them and their art will be made.

All the performances in Sri Maguni Kuanr’s repertoire will be covered in detail.

Very few people perform Ravanchchaya or shadow puppetry today. The puppets are small cutout pieces of leather very intricately designed. A detailed training video of the performances will be recorded.

Proposed output:

HD video clips of the artists’ performances and interviews in (1920X1080 lines) PAL and 16 bit 48 KHz audio.

 

Contacts: Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr
Purana Bajar, Kendujhargarh, Odisha. Ph: +91 8895975444.
Indraneel Lahiri
79, MIG II, Kanan Vihar Ph 2, Bhubaneswar Odisha Ph: +91 93731 99047
+91 98531 58011 Email : indraneellahiri@gmail.com Skype Id : lahiri.indraneel

Crossing the Bridge: Baul & Beyond

1.    Research project proposal :

Title:

Crossing the Bridge: Baul & Beyond

An attempt to understand Baul philosophy from the prespective of a Classical dancer:

A project that aims to unveil the dualistic meaning behind the lyrics of Bauls of Bengal aims to undertake this project more a threefold angle. Oft researched and very often collaborated with, Baul music is probably one of those folk arts that raises maximum curiosity. Saints or musicians? Artists or philosophers? Their music eludes all. A class of musicians who have spread themselves over Bangladesh, Nadia and Birbhum they are a class whose religion is neither Hindoo nor Muslim and at times both. A lineage that includes mythical names like Lalan Fakir and poet Jaydev it is their philosophy of body politics and the double edged beauty of their lyrics that attracted me most.  A line referring the wheels of cycle actually may mean the man and woman harnessed together to move in life. The only parallel that comes to my mind is the western Romantic poet Blake whose lyrics evoked the same romanticism and mysticism that is etched in the songs of the Baul Fakirs.

The project aims to:

  • To document the songs of three sects of Bauls coming from the three geographical locales: Bandladesh, Nadia and Birbhum. The docementation will not just be a mere documentation in terms of lyrics but through this particular documentation I will try to mitigate their exodus to different areas and their historical point of origin. The lyrics will also be re-read to offer a kind of interpretation of the lyrics.
  • To understand the “Sahajiya Cult” as they are known. What is their philosophy? What is their faith and practice?
  • To understand how the practicing Bauls understand their body. A philosophy that revolves round their body the Bauls express their music through lyrics that often refer to the physical body couched in mystique words. They also often talk about the man-woman relationship as a parallel to the relation between God and His devotee. Their music is expressed in circular gyres with a rhythmic pattern that also talk about union. So the project will aim to decode this understanding of body.
  • It will be an interaction between a classical artist (myself) and the folk artists to see whether it is possible to create a medium of exchange and create an hour long presentation which will be a collaborative project of the medium of classical dance and folk music for an hour.

The project will be inclusive of research to be presented in three parts:

  • A book on the history and the lyrics of the Baul sect
  • An audio-visual documentation of the entire twelve month interaction with the different folk artists of this particular sect
  • An hour long evening presentation(if possible) with live dance and music.

 

3.    Collaborator’s bio-data:

Kartick Das Baul is a renowned Baul singer from Gushkara, Shantiniketan in West Bengal. He is a well established performer who has worked with various world music organizations in Japan ,Berlin and the U.S for their festivals .

Kartick was also an integral part of the presentation of Dehotawtto and Fakiri songs at the World Sacred Music Festival in Berlin in December,2003. He runs his own Ashram in Ghuskara, Birbhum which serves as a database and networking centre for Baul music and its philosophy. A storehouse of knowledge Kartick Das is a performer par excellence and yet a practitioner of the philosophy that Sahajiya cult preaches

4.    Detailed work plan for one year:

Month I:

5-6 meetings with Kartick Das in his ashram in Birbhum to understand the principles of Baul sect all of which will be documented audio-visually. The discussions will also be presented at the end of the project in the book format.

Month II & III:

Sourcing songs with Kartick Das. Documenting it as he sings audio-visually as well as writing down the lyrics. Month III falls on January where a huge fair is held in Kenduli, a small village in Birbhum where all the Baul sects come and meet. I will be meeting different bauls and recording them as they sing as well pen down different lyrics so that I can present an unrecorded set of Baul songs from different cults.

Month IV & V:

A journey to Nadia to document the Baul sect there and interpreting the difference in treatment in terms of lyrics, music, culture and understanding the philosophy from the Birbhum Bauls though the root is the same.

Month VI, VII:

 Might involve a journey to Bangladesh to document the Baul sect there especially the women Baul singers. A cult which has looked at body from a different prespective, broken boundaries, how has the women negotiated their identity within that cult

Month VIII & IX:

Writing out all the material collected over 6 months and also editing the audio-visual documentary. Translating the songs in English for a wider reading audience.

Month X & XI:

Reharsing with Krtick Das to create an evening of Bharatnatyam and Baul music of one and half hour. In this process select and create a class of Baul singers and train them to interpret the Carnatic music system especially in terms of popular rhythmic cycles like “Adi” (a cycle of four) or Khanda Chapu (cycle of five). Since they have a rhythm instrument called “Ektara” so it will be an interesting project to see how these artists respond to the classical talam system.

Month XII:

Presenting a final evening of the end product as well as printing the final reading matter.

 

Description of the project:

The project “Across the Bridge: Baul & Beyond” aims to create a language to understand the Baul sect which so far has been interpreted only as an additional glamour tool to various fusion projects. The reading material will provide a glimpse to the rich literature hidden in their lyrics unread so far only to be enjoyed for the beauty of the sheer poetry. The audio-visual recording will offer a glimpse to the life of the Baul tradition and their interpretation of rhythm. The final two month workshop will offer them an understanding of music unexplored to the Bauls before.

My scholarly and technical ability to undertake your project.

Enclosed hereby is a letter of recommendation from the famous musician-composer of Bengal, Mr. Mainak Nagchowdhury with whom I had worked on a similar project where the Jhoomor musicians had come together with Western musicians to create a new language of music. So my experience in that particular workshop will lend me a hand this time also.

Similarly, along with my guru Padmashri Smt. Chitra Visweswaran of Chennai I have worked with the Kuttapattraiyas to understand how the folk artists use their body to various rhythm cycles as I have interacted with various scroll painters of Bengal when I had presented a paper “Jaydev and Beyond”  in a Sahitya Akademi seminar in Gurudas College, Kolkata in 2011, February.

Besides these experiences, I am myself a classical dancer trained by Smt. Visweswaran. Being an artist myself I hope to have enough sensibility to understand the artistic nuances I am planning to document through this project. I am also a Phd scholar in English literature (researching on “Gender and the body of an Indian classical dancer” on which I have earlier completed an MPhil from Calcutta University, 2005-2007) and have published articles in scholarly journals as well as presented papers in National UGC seminars. So the technical knowledge required to translate and document the lyrics of Baul music I presume to have with me.

 

Why this project requires the fellowship support?

  • The support of this project will bring an age old tradition of Bengal to light. Baul tradition has always been looked at from a point of curiosity but never have been documented for their lyrics which I feel will provide a study of the socio-political dynamics of how a marginalised group use language to express their sentiment but hidden from the civilised understanding of the society.
  • This project involves a study of three sects of Baul as well as an audio-visual documentation which requires the fellowship support financially.
  • And most importantly post-documentation it will be stored with the Centre for the use of the posterity a result a personal project cannot hope to have.

The expected output and impact of your project

The expected impact is far reaching. The lyrics will help us to decode the language of an entire sect and understand a philosophy. It will help the posterity to understand the philosophy of a sect who have always remained a mystical curiosity.

 

Email ID: arupa_dreams@rediffmail.com, arupa.dreams@gmail.com

Mobile Number: 09836050404, 033-24007422(landline)