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The Esoteric Belief of the Bauls of Bengal

Charles H. Capwell
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Feb., 1974), pp. 255-264
DOI: 10.2307/2052187
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2052187
Page Count: 10
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The Esoteric Belief of the Bauls of Bengal
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Abstract

Among their fellow Bengalis, the Bauls, who constitute a religious sect, are esteemed because their traditions give them an enviable freedom to confront life as individuals. Their independent spirit, expressed in homely poems sung to common folk-tunes, influenced the poet Tagore's own music and poetry. Tagore's colleague, Kshitimohan Sen, revered them as contemporary apostles of an eternal and humanistic secret religion. The humanistic and iconoclastic nature of the Bauls is emphasized in later scholars such as Shashibhusan Dasgupta and Edward Dimock, who admit a tangential importance to certain sexual practices derived from Buddhist and Vaisnava Sahajiya. Upendranath Bhattacarya, however, in his Banglar baul o baul gan (Calcutta, 1971), has shown that a ritual coitus is at the heart of the Baul's esoteric beliefs and is the truly secret part of those beliefs as opposed to the exoteric humanism. My own field research, involving the recording of some 70 songs and conversations with several Bauls, supports Bhattacarya's view. Since little attention has been paid to this esoteric belief in published exegeses of the Bauls' poems, I translate six songs and discuss their doctrinal implications to show the need for a re-evaluation of the traditional view that sexual religious practice derived from Buddhist and Vaisnava Sahajiya is merely tangential, rather than central, to the esoteric belief of the Bauls.

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