Things that Kushtia is famous for inevitably include Lalon?s mazaar at Chheuriya. It is a major tourist attraction, which takes priority over other interesting sights in the district of Kushtia. If you ever happen to be in Kushtia, you cannot help visiting Lalon?s shrine and listening to his songs. Throughout the year, the shrine is frequented by visitors from home and abroad regardless of castes, creeds, and religions. It is learnt from unreliable sources that even Rabindranath Tagore once visited Fakir Lalon Shah at his Chheuriya akhda (monastery) during his lifetime, and was deeply influenced by the mystic baul and his songs, which found expression in his own songs and writings. However, reliable sources say that Rabindranath?s elder brother Jyotirindranath Tagore, who was also a famous playwright, musician, editor and painter, used to visit Lalon while staying in Kushtia to look after his paternal estate. Jyotirindranath made a quick drawing of him, which still exists as the only portrait of the fakir until date. Mir Mosharraf Hossain and Kangal Harinath would pay regular visits to Lalon?s shrine. The more the interest in Lalon and his music increased, the more his shrine was frequented. Even the occidental scholars showed interest in this grand old man of baul music and his esoteric philosophy, and visited his Chheuriya mazaar. The endless flow of visitors ? the devotees and the common folks ?- is still there, which multiplies during festivals.
The star attraction of Lalon?s mazaar at Cheuriya is the holding of the Lalon festivals twice a year?once on Dol-purnima in the month of Falgun (February-March) and thence on his death anniversary in October. During the festivals, the Lalon akhda is thronged with thousands of bauls and devotees from across the country and West Bengal. They flock together and observe the festivals amid daylong and nightlong rendering of Lalon-songs. That does not necessarily mean that the off-festival times are devoid of the rendition of songs. As a matter of fact, hardly a day passes when the bauls, either in twos and threes or in larger numbers do not sit round somewhere at the shrine premises, and go on singing and playing music on the local instruments like ektara (a one-stringed musical instrument and khol (hand drum). They feel heartened when visitors listen to them with overwhelming fascination. Lately the festivals have assumed huge proportions and are being held amid tight security.
I had been a regular visitor to the Lalon mazaar since early nineties when I joined the Kushtia Islamic University as a lecturer in English. Leaving behind the ?sound and fury? of the capital, I took refuge in the cool lap of a country-town Kushtia. I heaved a sigh of relief for being ?far from the madding crowd?. Although there was little distraction in this small town, I preferred it primarily because of my fascination for this greatest baul of Bengal? Fakir Lalon Shah (1774-1890). I was one of the regular akhda-goers during the festivals. We used to have bumpy ride on the man-propelled wooden vehicles locally called van. My van-mates and I would sit on the van and swung our heads to the rhythms of the songs either sung by the van-puller or floated up from the mazaar as we approached it. In fact, the whole town assumes a festive mood and a feeling of joy and merriment among the people becomes evident during the festivals.
It is said that Lalon Fakir had composed about ten thousand songs of which only two to three thousand are traceable while others are consigned to oblivion or are living in the memory of his numerous followers. However, quantity does not matter in regard to Lalon songs. What it all counts is quality. The haunting melodies of his songs capture people?s heart and help realize the error of your ways. These are ?our sweetest songs that tell of saddest thought?. From everyone?s taste in the country the songs suit almost all tastes around the world.
There are, of course, subtle differences between Lalon songs sung by the genuine bauls of the Akhda School, and those sung on stage by the professional singers with orchestra. The differences lie in pronunciation, intonation, articulation and projection of the words and sounds of the song. Playing the ektara, the bauls render Lalon songs with spontaneous fluctuations of pitch. The sweet melodies of the songs in tune with the ektara or dotara make us dance with joy. The bauls are musical by nature, and hence their songs make us musical. The beautiful melody and the arcane message of their songs leave us with an ecstatic pleasure. I still grab at every opportunity to visit the centra1 p1ace of baul music, and enjoy the amazingly beautiful songs of Fakir Lalon. I am afraid, I may sound dogmatic chiefly to the connoisseurs of music who may disagree with me over my plain views on baul-songs. Given the hair-splitting judgmental process of song composing and tune setting, they may sure dwarf my emotion as sheer nonsense.
But I don?t care much about it. I know I cannot help it. As one of the teeming Bengali folks, my heart is swayed by the magnificent songs of the Baul-king. The stunningly beautiful lyrics and melodies like barir pashe arshinagar (the glass-town by home) or jaat gaelo jaat gaelo bole (saying caste is lost) or pare loye jaao amaey (take me to the shore) have been the eternal source of our spiritual pleasure. Fatigued and sick of the monotony of the humdrum life and chagrined in the heartless concrete jungle, we may sigh with relief, maybe, momentarily, and feel lost in ecstasies, if we sit by the shabby and unkempt bauls, and listen to their melodies. We cannot say we are doing trash.
Lalon Fakir is our musical messiah who possesses a tremendous relevance to our times. His importance as a minstrel can be viewed in the local and global context in present social and cultural ambience, when the whole human situation is fast deteriorating, hatred rules the roost, and culture suffers at the hands of intolerance, sectarianism, fundamentalism, orthodoxy, and fanaticism. A new generation of scholars, writers, and readers have started appraising Lalon?s songs with much interest and greater understanding. The true spirit of the songs can help us stand against the long shadow of ignorance, superstition, and dogmatism and lead people of various creeds, ideas, and dogmas to peace and happiness in this age of social unrest, political hostility, cultural aggression and religious intolerance. The UNESCO has rightly considered our baul songs as one of the ?Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.?
Lalon was a staunch advocate of humanism. A real Renaissance baul! He placed man at the centre of everything under the sun, underlined their value and agency, and established his doctrine of being golden through worshiping/ loving human beings. This may be called applied humanism, a great idea indeed, which has been shared and disseminated by humanists from pre-Socratic Protagoras down to this Bengali baul. Lalon?s philosophy of humanism can heal the wounds of communalism, and help create golden people in golden Bangladesh through mutual love and fellow feeling. What Lalon thought a hundred and fifty years ago can be an eternal source of inspiration for what should be done today to build up a secular Bangladesh in the truest sense of the term.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English
literature at Kushtia
Islamic University, Bangladesh.
Email: [email protected]