Bangladeshi Sufi-Baul musician enthralls Delhi

December 22nd, 2008 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) Fifty-year-old Kangalini Sufia sings of freedom and god. The wandering minstrel from Bangladesh is a Baul folk musician of the Sufiana tradition - a blend of Bengali baul (village folk music) and the Islamic Sufi music that originated in Persia and subsequently travelled to India.A follower of Bangladeshi Sufi-baul legend Lalon Fakir, Kangalini was in the capital to perform at the ongoing Delhi International Arts festival with her nine-member band at the Ashok amphi-theatre Sunday.

“I am a native of Kushtia district of Bangladesh,” said the frail minstrel, clad in a yellow cotton sari in the traditional Bengali style with a red vermillion mark on the forehead.

She played a two-string instrument (do-tara) and a little wooden hand cymbal as she danced around the podium singing about “man’s desire to be one with the almighty”.

Kushtia, Kangalini’s hometown in western Bangladesh, is known for its association with Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who stayed at the Kuthibari (a mansion) in the district during his visit to Bangladesh, erstwhile east Bengal. Kushtia is also home to the shrine of Bengali Sufi mystic Lalon Fakir - and the Islamic University.

Kangalini had been initiated into the Sufi-Baul music early in life.

“I have been singing for the last 40 years since I was 14. But I became a full-fledged musician after my brother’s death in the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971. I took my mother and set out to perform across the country; but my mother eventually died of the pain of losing my brother and my father,” Kangalini told IANS in an interview after her performance.

The musician, who has composed over 500 songs, sang five numbers - three of her own compositions and two by Lalon Fakir. She began the recital with “Hawa dome dekho cheye” a composition by Lalon Fakir, and followed it up with her own songs “Jeevan cholar pothe and Matir Gachhe Lau Dorechhe”.

“The Baul-Sufi songs of Bangladesh are more spiritual than those of Bengal because most of them are connected to the Islamic faith and emanate from the Muslim shrines that dot the land,” she said.

“Baul is very popular in Faridpur, Kushtiya and Meherpur districts of Bangladesh,” said Kangalini, who has performed nine times in London, once in the US and recently in Italy.

“Sufi-Baul was a great hit in Italy,” the musician said.

The singer claims to be self-styled. “As a child I used to sing by myself, but as I became professional, I realised that I needed a guru and trained under Halim Bayati and Deven Khaba, two Bangladeshi baul exponents,” Kangalini said.

The Baul-Sufi tradition in Bangaldesh has been immortalised by Lalon Shah (Fakir),a Sufi saint. Most of his songs speak of self-understanding and have inherent messages that people often follow in their own lives.

According to Dhaka-based professor Anwarul Karim, in Bangladesh there is a category of Sufi mystics who travel with folk musical instruments and an alms bag. These dervishes, neither Hindu or Muslims, love music that speaks of the human body as the microcosm and the soul as the elusive bird. Their songs are full of rural analogies.

“The Baul traditions of West Bengal and Bangladesh are different and yet similar. As Bangladesh is a Muslim country, the Baul singers are extremely conscious of the language - it is a monument of language that celebrates life and spirituality. In Bengal, Baul is a bit about nostalgia,” said Ashok Vajpayee, pro-tem chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, who felicitated Kangalini and her entourage.

Baul music was declared a Masterpiece of Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.

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