Photo-Essay: Chasing the Mad Wind
Photos by Akash Sangma
Text by Ishan Marvel
Surveying the city jungle for a spot
The smiling Sanatan
Kanhai builds the rhythm on the kanjira while Santan tunes the dotara
The joy of melody
The charming Kanhai
Plucking the khamak
The dried tulsi stem given as a token of initiation to Kanhai by his guru Krishna Das
A serene spring evening
Guru Madhu Sudan
Like many others, I went through a Beat phase (mostly, a Ginsberg phase) after reading ‘Howl’, and that first lament to the best minds of a generation. Gradually, this interest led me to myriad trivia, including those related to our country. Thanks to Ginsberg, I also discovered Sunil Gangopadhyay, the Hungryalists, and the Bauls – a centuries-old community of wandering minstrels, who apart from influencing Ginsberg[i] during his time in Bengal, had a deep impact on Rabindranath Tagore[ii].
Then in March 2015, I happened to meet three bauls – Guru Madhu Sudan, Kanhai and Sanatan – while covering a new-age-psychic-spiritual-cultural festival in Delhi. Their child-like trust and demeanour, their candour and simplicity, and the sheer comfort radiating through their presence won me over in no time. One afternoon, they complained about the general city tamasha, reminiscing about their ardenesque ashram near Kolkata. So, the next day, on 15 March, Akash and I drove them to the forested area between Delhi and Gurgaon – to give them, and us, a break from the city.
It is hard to resist the call of the Bauls—their uninhibited voices and the igniting rhythm of their instruments. Their songs teem with esoteric metaphors and joyful melodies, passed on orally through generations of gurus and disciples. It is their method of worship and way of life – to connect to the godly potential within man – rooted in the assurance of a mystic tradition stemming from Vaishnavism, Sufism and Buddhism. Baul philosophy[iii] considers the human body as the microcosm of the universe, running on prana (breath). The key is to know one’s moner maanush (inner self) – rest are passing whims of the mayanagri that is our world.
Unlike most spiritual sects, the Bauls do not follow any particular restrictions or abstentions. Their lives reflect a curious mingling of the corporeal and the transcendental – the one constant being their faith in the universe and its unfolding with time. Such is the nature of the pagol hawa (mad wind) that all Bauls are said to be infected with. And to end, a note from Kanhai, “Anyone who is happy, is joyous – in those timeless moments, is a Baul.”
[ii] The Religion of Man by Rabindranath Tagore (In particular, The Baul Singers of Bengal by Kshiti Mohun Sen, printed as an Appendix).
Ishan Marvel was born in the mountains, but has spent most of his life in Delhi. Among other things, he writes. Lately, he has even started hustling.
Akash Sangma is a zen-punk who masquerades as a banker during the day. Otherwise, his calling is to wander the earth, chasing visionary flashes that could light up one’s brain
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.