Baul guru Lalon Shah was born in the eighteenth century and made a major impact through his songs about equality and the meaning of human life. Unusually, his work was not written down but was passed on by his followers.
Baul guru Lalon Shah
Lalon Shah was a legendary Baul of Bangladesh. Bauls are bands of people who compose and sing devotional folk songs in the villages. Though they are generally seen all over Bangladesh, they are mostly found in the districts of Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhenidah, Faridpur, Jessore, and Pabna.
They do not follow any specific religious belief; neither do they believe in idol worship or differences in caste or creed. They are humanists who believe that all men and women are equal. They believe that nobody is a born Baul, but one needs a Baul guru to become a Baul. Lalon Shah was one such Baul guru.
Research Task and Activity
Find out more about the Bauls of Bangladesh, Students can form groups and act out the induction of Bauls by their spiritual leaders.
Abandoned and a new community
Very little is known about the family background of Lalon Shah. He is said to have been born in Hrishpur village in the Jhenidah district in 1772 Ad. Some scholars say that he was born into a Hindu Kayastha family in Bhandara village in the Kushtia district.
Legend has it that when he was young, he caught smallpox and was abandoned by his community. He was picked up in a critical condition by a Muslim faqir called Siraj Sain who nursed him back to health. When he went back home he was not welcome by his community.
So he returned to Siraj Sain and was inducted by him and came to be known as Lalon Shah Faqir. He married a Muslim woman and set up his ashram in the village of Chheuriya to compose and practice his songs. He has a considerable number of followers who included both Hindus and Muslims.
Universal spiritual songs
Lalon did not receive any formal education but he had extensive knowledge of Hindu and Muslim religious traditions. He composed about two thousand spiritual songs the contents of his songs, though composed in simple words, speak of his deeper understanding of the meaning of human life and the philosophy of equality and non-communalism.
Lalon’s songs were created in a rural context, but the message these songs conveyed was universal in nature. Therefore he gained popularity not only among ordinary countrymen but also among the educated urban people.
It is this universal message which made Lalon’s song spread far and wide but also last through the centuries. This is why Lalon had influence not only on his great contemporary, the poet Rabindranath Tagore but also on many creative minds of today’s Bangladesh.
There are no written copies of Lalon’s songs, but they were later transmitted orally by his disciples. Lalon died on 17 October 1890 at his ashram in Chheuriya.
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