Spirituality in Bangladeshi Baul Music

Introduction to Bangladeshi Song Writers 

Bangladesh has produced some of the finest poets, song-writers and artists who have contributed enormously to our sense of culture and heritage. The prominent ones who have received international recognition include Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the latter being renowned for his political activism during British colonisation of India.

Spiritual Music from the District of Sylhet, Bangladesh

In addition to the above, Bangladesh is known to be home to some intriguing songwriters and spiritualists, mainly originating from the Sylhet district. Such songs with a spiritual undertone are referred to as Baul songs.

  • Lalon Shah (1772-1890), a spiritualist whose identity was very vague was considered the icon of religious tolerance. He wrote about the divisions created by organised religions (Tin Pagoleh holo mela) and critiqued the concept of caste and ideas at the time about male superiority over women.
  • Hason Raja (1854-1922), a landowner from the village of Rampasha, Bishwanath was known for his indulgant lifestyle and later religious conversion. Hason Raja wrote hundreds of songs about the soul (Mathiro pinjirar majeh bondi hoiyya), its connection with the body and about the futility of a materialistic life (Lokeh boleh boleh reh).
  • Radha Ramon Dutta (1833-1915), born in the rural village of Keshoppur, Jagannathpaur was amongst those who wrote extensively about one’s relationship with God (sham kalia shona bondu reh).
  • Finally, more recently, Shah Abdul Karim (1916-2009) also wrote very simple but philosophical songs about existential issues (Mathiro pinjirai sonar moyna reh) including the attachment between the body and soul.

Bangladeshi Baul Music in the UK

Given the simplicity of their lyrics, Baul songs  have gained popularity both in rural parts of Bangladesh and here in the UK amongst the British Bangladeshi community (including second generations). Baul programmes are frequently aired on the many community TV channels and sung at various cultural festivals.

The following clip is an example of a Bangladeshi- born British singer who has carried the essence of spirituality into his music. Alaur Rahman is a well respected vocalist who has contributed significantly to Bangladeshi music in UK. Born in the district of Jagannathpur, Sylhet, Mr. Rahman spent his early education in an Islamic school. Although he later found himself drawn to music, Mr. Rahman has continued his interest in islamic spirituality through his singing of songs which are often existential in nature.

The song he is singing in the clip below describes the remorse of a person is who is regretful of how they spent their life in pursuit of irrelevant goals and false attachments. The song describes the time wasted without adequate remembrance of God. Although the music here is creating a joyful mood, this song is in fact addressing issues such as emerging mortality, lack of time in later life and the inability for us to go back and rectify our mistakes. 

I hope you enjoy this song by a talented singer who has been very successful and popular in his music career in the UK.