‘The words may be in different languages but music is the same’: Parvathy Baul
As the recent Gurgaon Utsav came to an end on Sunday, the audience at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park stood up in unison. Parvathy Baul, one of the most respected exponents of Baul (a group of mystic minstrels) music had just given the last performance of the night.
In her characteristic robe and floor-grazing tresses, she rendered her first performance in the city with an ‘ektara’ in her left hand, a ‘doogi’ (drum) tied to her waist, which she played with her right hand, and her anklets (nupur) providing the beat and the rhythm. She narrated, sang and danced to stories about a world free of the shackles of religion and finding bliss in a simple and carefree life. Anando (happiness) was an integral part of her Bengali renditions.
She spoke to HT a day later about Baul music and the city. Excerpts from the interview:
The first Baul music I heard was through gramophone records. But, at that time I remember it did not strike me; I realised it was something different, but I hadn’t yet realised the depth of the music. It was only when I was studying in Shantiniketan that the performances by Baul masters stirred something deep within me. I knew at that moment I wanted to surrender myself to this music. After testing me for a long time, my master Sanatan Das Baul initiated me into the Baul school of music.
You learn one instrument at a time, you practice that instrument rigorously and then you practice all three. It is sadhana — a complete surrender of yourself to the music. It cannot transcend time — even if you practice eight hours a day, you cannot learn everything you need to learn. It is a continuous process to reach the inner depths of one’s soul and achieve perfection.
You know what struck me most about the audience in the city was the teenagers and the slightly older kids in the audience. They came up to me and told me that they really my performance. It was so endearing to hear them, not because they were appreciating me, but because it reflects their maturity and respect for the arts. It’s not easy for kids of that age to concentrate on a song for long, but these kids displayed signs of a strong mind.
See, Baul music is not just singing. It is the encapsulation of Indian philosophy at its core. It is a deep and living tradition and to be a part of it requires complete sadhana and dedication. Many say that Baul tradition traces its origin to as far back as the fifth century, when the students of Nalanda Vishwavidyaylaya would study the scriptures and narrate it to the public in musical tunes and colloquial language. Baul gaan is synonymous with gyaan. It is wisdom wrapped in melody and requires complete dedication. It can’t be transitory. It is not possible for everyone to do that.
What people are truly moved by is the vibration of the sounds. The words may be in different languages, but the music is the same. Baul music is a heart-to-heart conversation that talks of finding joy and happiness, living a free and unshackled life. Everyone aspires for this simple truth, and when they see the abandon and joy of the performer on stage, are moved deeply.
One should always stay updated and in touch with modern developments, but learn at least one traditional art form. Know your roots and let them grow deeper. Secondly, just know at least one Indian language. It will give wings to your imagination. The beauty of Indian languages is that they have so many words to explain one sentiment. You may read a translation and think you have deciphered it all, but some of the magic will have been lost.