Kenduli Mela: The life and times of a Baul

| Last Updated: March 13, 2013 at 6:47 PM

The annual fair held at Jaydev Kenduli celebrates the unique musical art of the Baul community

Every year, during the month of January, the Lal Mati-r Desh (Land of the red soil) comes alive with the lilting strains of Baul music. Birbhum district in West Bengal, fondly known as the LalMati-r Desh owing to its rare red soil, is a cultural melting pot of the east.

This district has evolved with time as a cultural destination even for the modern generation. Rabindranath Tagore succeeded in putting Birbhum on the world map when he established the renowned Visva Bharati University at Shantiniketan. Many festivals are celebrated in this culturally rich district, including the notable Poush Mela in December.

Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels who travel through the land, pouring out soulful music

Jaydev Kenduli, about 42 km from Shantiniketan on the banks of the River Ajoy, is believed to be the birthplace of the famous poet Jaydev. An annual fair is organized here on the occasion of Makar Sankranti from January 14th to 16th.

Birbhum being the native land of Bauls, this three-day fair celebrates the unique musical art of the Baul community. The Bauls of Birbhum, their philosophy and their songs form a notable representation of the folk culture of the district. Birbhum has also been home to kabiyals, kirtaniyas and other folk culture groups.

Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal who travel through the land, pouring out soulful music and thus propagating an ancient musical tradition. Though Bauls are mainly Vaishnava Hindus or Sufi Muslims, the very tenet of Baul philosophy is universal love that transcends religion.

Baul music celebrates celestial love but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the Baul for his life-mate. With such a liberal interpretation of love, it is only natural that the Bauls are not inhibited by their religion and neither defined by it.

Bauls are usually identified by their distinctive saffron attire and a musical instrument called the ‘Ektara’. Their entire livelihood depends upon singing and they usually lead a wandering ascetic life.

Baul music celebrates celestial love

Their music being their all-encompassing religion, it is almost a monastic existence that they lead in pursuing and propagating their ideals through music. Though Bauls comprise only a small fraction of the Bengali population; their influence on the culture of Bengal is considerable. In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by
UNESCO. Lalon Fakir is regarded as the most important poet-practitioner of the Baul tradition.

The Kenduli Mela provides a wonderful opportunity to savour the music of these wandering minstrels who believe in the simplicity of love and life. Thousands of people from all over the world flock to Jaydev Kenduli every year to witness a piece of ancient rural India being brought alive in front of their eyes.

Its three days of non-stop performances and one can taste a slice of the lives and music of the Bauls. The fair also has other attractions like various stalls displaying a wide variety of local handicrafts. Tasting the local cuisine is also a must at these fairs. The entire ambience of the fair, coupled with the festivities and chilly weather in January, the Kenduli Mela provides an experience of a lifetime.

How to reach: Bolpur station in Shantiniketan is the nearest rail head. It is connected by regular train service from Kolkata and takes about three hours. Regular bus service from Jamboni bus stand connects Bolpur to Jaydev Kenduli. It takes about two hours. Travelling to Durgapur and hiring a local transport is another option to reach Jaydev Kenduli.

Where to stay: Accommodation in Jaydev Kenduli is very basic and frugal. Many people camp around the fairgrounds but it might not be advisable because of the weather. Villagers also rent out rooms at times. Ashram accommodation is also available at the village, but it is spartan. Staying at Shantiniketan and travelling to the fair is a better option.

Kenduli Mela provides a wonderful opportunity to savour the music of Bauls who believe in the simplicity of love and life

First Published: January 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM

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