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Intoxicated by song, with Parvathy Baul

A musical postcard: mystic folk singing for A Tapestry of Sacred Music

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Published: 31 Mar 2021


Time taken : >15mins

Unbound by societal norms on their mystic paths, Bauls pour out their souls in song and dance.

Expressing herself in rhapsodic song and dance is Parvathy Baul, the most recognised female Baul performer in the world.

She expresses a poem written—with subtle wit, she believes—in dedication to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, affectionately known as Gauranga because of his fair and molten gold countenance. A 15th century Indian saint whom devotees consider an incarnation of the deity Krishna, Chaitanya's influence on Bengali culture is significant—his mode of worship of Krishna in ecstatic song and dance has had a profound effect on Vaishnavism, one of the major Hindu denominations in Bengal.

Parvathy chose to perform this song as part of Esplanade's A Tapestry of Sacred Music in our prolonged atmosphere of uncertainty, because it has resonated with her in her meetings with other Baul practitioners and in her contemplation of the path in search of the Divine.

The Bauls are a group of mystic folk singers or minstrels from the Bengal region, who constitute both a religious sect and musical tradition, and are part of the culture of rural Bengal. Their members are largely Vaishnava-Sahajiyas (devotees who practice a niche Tantric tradition) and Sufis (practitioners who expound on mysticism within Islam). The Baul tradition has been recognised in 2005 as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

About Parvathy Baul

As the most renowned female Baul performer in the world, Parvathy Baul is a practitioner, performer and teacher of the Baul tradition from Bengal, India. She is also an instrumentalist, storyteller and painter. She has performed in over 40 countries, including prestigious concert halls and music festivals such as the Noh Theater in Kyoto, the World Music Center in New York City, and the Festival of World Sacred Music in Fez, Morocco.

Parvathy’s technical virtuosity—her mastery of vocal pitch and tone while playing multiple instruments and dancing—has been lauded by music experts. The depth of her mesmerising performance is rooted in her deep spiritual practice, and is described by critics as “riveting” and “spellbinding”.

Parvathy’s performance work emerges from a long lineage of master Baul singers, dancers, and spiritual teachers. She studied closely with two of the most respected Baul singer-gurus of the previous generation, Sri Sanatan Das Thakur Baul and Sri Shoshanko Goshai. She was recognised by her gurus as both a musical and spiritual teacher in the Baul tradition, carrying forward their spiritual legacy.

She is a tireless advocate for the preservation and renewal of the tradition and frequently makes use of her international reputation to promote lesser-known master performers. Her efforts in bringing women more opportunities to train in the traditional Baul arts have also been unprecedented. Parvathy has recorded five music CDs and published a book on the Baul tradition through Ekathara Kalari, her non-profit institution which promotes ancient Indian spiritual traditions, with an emphasis on Baul arts and practices.

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