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Fakir Lalon Shah and his Songs

Fakir Lalon Shah, the most prominent figure in the baul tradition, is unique as he blended different traditions of devotional rites such as Shahajia of Buddhism, Shahajia of Vaishnavism, Sufism of Islam and several other traditional beliefs, raising some universal questions through simple chaftsmanship. Lalon songs have attracted widespread attention for their mystical approach to humanism as well as their melodious tunes. But even after 119 years of the death of Fakir Lalon Shah, we are yet to preserve all of his songs appropriately, though the government, corporate, NGOs and many individuals have been taking initiatives since the 1960s. Most of these programmes have been little more than ‘eye wash’ attempts to preserve something so rare and precious and in many cases have sparked controversy. Although it’s true that many high quality interpretations on Lalon’s philosophy are available, not many authentic works on Lalon’s biography and works exist.

A common problem that arises during the documentation of any orally transmitted art form the primary source is that nobody can claim his or her work to be absolutely authentic, since words change when it is transmitted from one singer to another, Lalongeeti is no exception to the trend. Lalon did not know how to write. According to his folowers, Fakir Maniruddin Shah, a direct disciple of Lalon, used to note down the verses. Over the years, most of Fakir Maniruddin Shah’s manuscripts are now untracable. Even the followers of Ohedaniat cult, the religious doctrine introduced by Lalon glorifying humanism, do not have all the manuscripts. As a result, for decades these verses have been orally transforming from bauls to bauls. Inevitably the lyrics have been modified.

According to the experts and true bearers of Lalon’s spirit, Lalon composed about two thousands verses. However, many rural claim that Lalon composed over 10,000 songs. The problem is that after so many years of Lalon’s death many pseudo Bauls have labelled songs composed by other baul gurus as Lalon’s. For example, many songs composed by Gopal Shah, Adam Chan, the folowers of Sati Mayer Ghar, have been later claimed as Lalon’s.

Moreover, compositions of less popular bards have been labelled as Lalon’s. For example, sharat Baul’s song titled chander gaye chand legechhe and Mukundu Das’ ‘Bolo ki shondhancy jai shekhaney’ have been rendered as Lalon songs by both urban and rural singers. ‘Tin gorbhe ache re ek chhele’ is another song that is also rendered as Lalongeeti, but the philosophy uttered in the song is not Lalon’s. It’s a pure Vaisnavism based song however Lalon was not truly a Vaishnav neither was he pure Sufi.

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Tanwir Muhammed Taqi