Lalon, a bard of secularism
Widely celebrated as an epitome of religious tolerance, Lalon is one of the greatest mystic Bauls in the subcontinent. He envisioned a society where all religions and beliefs would stay in harmony, brushing aside any kind of superstition, fanaticism, sectarianism and fundamentalism.
Famed for his lyrical songs embodied with spirituality, Lalon left us few sources to know his life closely. For scanty resources, it is not known whether he was born in a Hindu or a Muslim family. But critics maintain that he had no formal education. One account relates that Lalon, during a pilgrimage to the temple of Jagannath with others of his native village, contracted smallpox and was abandoned by his companions on the banks of the Kaliganga River from where Malam Shah and his wife Matijan, members of the weaver community in a Muslim-populated village in Cheuriya, took him to their home to convalesce. They gave Lalon land to live where he founded a Baul community and remained to compose and perform his songs, inspired by Shiraj Sain, a musician of that village. Due to smallpox, Lalon lost the sight of his one eye.
The mystic Baul lived within the zamindari of the Tagore's in Kushtia and had visited the Tagore family. It is said that zamindar Jyotirindranath Tagore sketched the only portrait of Lalon in 1889 in his houseboat on the river Padma.
Soon, he turned inward and started composing songs. He was against religious conflict and many of his songs mock identity politics that divide communities and generate violence. He even rejected nationalism at the apex of the anti-colonial nationalist movements in the Indian subcontinent. He did not believe in classes or castes, the fragmented, hierarchical society, and took a stand against racism.
In a famous song he sang, "Everyone asks... What religion does Lalon belong to in this world? Lalon answers... What does religion look like? I've never laid eyes upon it. Some use Malas (Hindu rosaries), others Tasbis (Muslim rosaries), and so people say they belong to different religion. But do you bear the sign of your religion when you come to this world or when you leave this world?"
He was greatly influenced by the social movement initiated by Chaitanya against differences of caste, creed and religion. His songs reject any absolute standard of right and wrong and show the triviality of any attempt to divide people whether materially or spiritually.
His songs such as "Shob Loke Koy Lalon Ki Jat Shongshare", "Khachar Bhitor Ochin Pakhi kyamne ashe jay", "Jat Gelo Jat Gelo Bol", "Dekhna Mon Jhokmariay Duniyadari", and "Pare Loye Jao Amai" aim at an indescribable reality beyond realism. He was observant of social conditions and his songs spoke of day-to-day problems in simple yet moving language. His philosophy was expressed orally, as well as through songs and musical compositions using folk instruments that could be made from materials available at home; the ektara (one-string musical instrument) and the duggi (drum). Songs of Lalon were mainly confined to the Baul sects. After the independence of Bangladesh, the songs reached to the urban people through established singers. Many of them started using instruments other than the ektara and baya. Some started using classical bases for a polished presentation to appeal to the senses of the urban masses.
About his song collection, it is estimated that Lalon composed between 2,000 and 10,000 songs, of which only about 800 songs are generally considered authentic. He left no written copies of his songs, which were transmitted orally and only later transcribed by his followers. Also, most of his followers could not read or write either, so few of his songs are found in written form. Rabindranath Tagore published some of the Lalon songs in the monthly Prabasi magazine of Kolkata.
This minstrel and mystic Baul died at Chheuriya in Kushtia on 17 October, 1890, at the age of 116. The news of his death was first published in the newspaper Gram Barta Prokashika, run by Kangal Harinath. Lalon was buried at the middle of his dwelling place known as his Akhra.
Lalon's famous songs:
Dhonno Dhonno Boli Tare
Tin Pagoler Holo Mela
Ar Amare Marishne Ma
Milon Hobe Koto Dine
Pare Loye Jao Amai
Dekhna Mon Jhokmariay Duniyadari
Jat Gelo Jat Gelo Bole
Khachar Bhitor Ochin Pakhi kyamne ashe jay
Shob Loke Koy Lalon Ki Jat Shongshare
Emong Manob Jonom Ar Ki Hobe
Pare Ke Jabi
Monere Ar Bujhai Kishe
Manush Bhojle Sonar Manush Hobi
Ki Hobe Amar Goti
Holam Na Re Roshik
Ek Ochin Manush
Ay Dekhe Ja Tora
Amar Ghorer Chabi
Amar Ar Ki Hobe
Ar Kotodin Jani
Kori Mona Kam Chare Na Modone
Nigur Prem Kothati
Barir Kache Arshi Nagar