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Fakir Lalon Shah (Bangla: ফকির লালন সাঁই), also known as Lalon Shah (c.1774–1890), was a Bengali philosopher poet. He lived in the village of Cheuria in the area known as Nadia in the Bengal Presidency of British India, corresponding to the district of Kushtia in present-day Bangladesh.

Contents

Early life

The details of Lalon's early life are controversial and impossible to verify. Lalon also recorded very little information about himself, as he considered his spiritual endeavors to be a private matter.. As a result, accounts of Lalon's life are often contradictory and unverifiable. However, a general backstory of Lalon's early life exists in the popular culture.

Around the age of sixteen he was found floating by the bank of Kaliganga river, suffering from smallpox. He was taken to the home of Maulana Malam Shah and his wife Matijan, who brought him up. Lalon was in a near comatose state for many months and when he recovered lapsed into complete amnesia from which he never recovered in life.

Though Lalon's origins are unclear, it is believed that he had no formal education and lived in extreme poverty[1].

Philosophy

Lalon left no trace of his birth or his 'origin' and remained absolutely silent about his past, fearing that he would be cast into class, caste or communal identities by a fragmented and hierarchical society. Despite this silence on his origins, communal appropriation of this great politico-philosophical figure has created a controversy regarding whether he is 'Muslim' or a 'Hindu' -- a 'sufi' or a follower 'bhakti' tradition—a 'baul' or a 'fakir', etc. He is none, as he always strove to go beyond all politics of identities. Lalon sang, “People ask if Lalon Fakir is a Hindu or a Mussalman. Lalon says he himself doesn’t know who he is.”[2]

Lalon does not fit into the construction of the so called 'bauls' or 'fakirs' as a mystical or spiritual types who deny all worldly affairs in desperate search for a mystical ecstasy of the soul. Such construction is very elite and middle class and premised on the divide between 'modern' and 'spiritual' world. It also conveniently ignores the political and social aspects of Bengal's spiritual movements and depoliticizes the transformative role of 'bhakti' or 'sufi' traditions. This role is still continued and performed by the poet-singers and philosophers in oral traditions of Bangladesh, a cultural reality of Bangladesh that partly explains the emergence of Bangladesh with distinct identity from Pakistan back in 1971. Depicting Lalon as 'baul shomrat' (the Emperor of the Bauls) as projected by elite marginalizes Lalon as a person belonging to a peripheral movement, an outcast, as if he is not a living presence and increasingly occupying the central cultural, intellectual and political space in both side of the border between Bangladesh and India (West Bengal).

To understand the Baul, is to understand the state of nothingness associated with his rejection, by which it is not to be construed, as a willing suspension of disbelief, nor a reckless abandonment of responsibility or that of becoming inordinately fatalistic. It is a living quest to go back to the dynamics of where it all began: to our infancy as much as the first moments of creation. It is a quest we cannot undertake without some prodding assistance, albeit to our well charted ‘roots’, if we have one? Clearly, life is a blessed moment of procreation and an extension of the continuous cycle of Mother Nature which rolls on over, when we know all too well, it is also a process that simply cannot be rolled back.

It is in context of looking for meanings to living, versus that of death which is as an instant, if not completely the end of reasoning, and the probabilities of a life devoid of answers to the future and where it ultimately places us, is the harrowing spectre Man is condemned to life in his living. This premise of not knowing where ‘everything’ if ever ends is one that significantly dilates the implication and importance of NOW.

Works

Lalon composed numerous songs and poems which describe his philosophy. Among his most popular songs are khachar bhitor auchin pakhi, jat gelo jat gelo bole, dekhna mon jhokmariay duniyadari, paare loye jao amay, milon hobe koto dine, aar amare marishne maa, tin pagoler holo mela, etc.

The songs of Lalon give subliminal exposures to the reality/truth that lies beyond our material plane/realism. They give a feel of the indescribable. To an engrossed listener, his songs briefly open and close a narrow passage to peep through to the other world beyond the opaque glass ceiling of this world. Lalon sublimates the findings of the principal oriental philosophies and mysticism, foremost of which would include (a) Achinta-vedavedbad of Lord Chaitanya (the anitonomous realism of individual soul and Supersoul, both of which eternally coexist. The yarning of the individual soul to unite with the Supersoul, both of whom reside within the same individual body, which we are all gifted with. This eternal journey strives to achieve the infinitesimal proximity between the two, and as it progresses it becomes difficult to distinguish the journey itself from the salvation/mokshya/nirvana); (b) sufism, (c) Kundalini Yoga (transcending of the individual soul through the six chakras), (d) the mirroring of microcosm and macrocosm in all dimensions of the spiritual domain; and (e) panentheism . Lalon has demonstrated ultimate dexterity of literary minimalism.

Lalon always kept silent about his origin so that he does not get typecast into any particular religious group. He was observant of the social conditions around, and this reflects through his songs which spoke of day to day problems, in his simple yet deeply moving language. It is said that he had composed about 10,000 songs of which 2000-3000 can be tracked down today while others are lost in time and hearts of his numerous followers. Most of his followers could not read or write and so unluckily for the lovers of Baul, very few of his songs are found in written form. Lalon had no formal education as such but his songs can educate the most educated of minds throughout the world. Long before free thinkers around the globe started thinking of a classless society, Lalon had already composed around 1000 songs on that theme.

Lalon's songs tersely refute any absolute standard of 'right and wrong' which claims to pass the test of time. His songs show the triviality of any attempt to divide people both materially or spiritually.

Legacy

Lalon's shrine.

Poet Rabindranath Tagore in his 1933 London Hebart Lecture first applauded Lalan Shah as a mystic poet who discovered "soul" and the meaning of "man". Tagore said: "I discovered that 'man' from the songs of Lalon who said that "(ai manushe ase se mon....) "....) the 'man' is within yourself where are you searching Him." [3]

Lalon's philosophical expression was based in oral and textual traditions, and expressed in songs and musical compositions using instruments that could be made by any rural households from materials available at home: an ektara (one-string musical instrument) and a dugdugi (hand drum). The texts of the songs was explicitly written to engage in the philosophical discourses of Bengal continuing since Tantric traditions of the subcontinent, particularly Nepal, Bengal and the Gangetic plains. In Lalon critically re-appropriated the various philosophical positions emanating from the legacies of Hindu, Jaina, Buddha and Islamic traditions, developing them into a coherent discourse without falling into the mixes of being syncretic.

Influence

Lalon Shah had a perceptible influence on the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who introduced his own form of song that has similarity with the Baul tradition of west Bengal to the world. His music had been influenced by the diversity of mystic folk songs.

In 1963, a mausoleum and a research centre were built at the site of his shrine, the place of knowledge-practices. Thousands of people come to the shrine known in Bengali as akhra twice a year, Dol-Purnima, in the month of Falgun (February to March) and in October, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death. During these three-day song melas, people, particularly fakirs (Muslim devotees) and bauls (section of Hindu believers) pay tribute to Lalon.

American poet Allen Ginsberg was inspired by Lalon Shah in writing his poem After Lalon, included in the poetry collection "Cosmopolitan Greetings." Ginsberg adopts a poetic style similar to Lalon's own style, frequently repeating his own name within the poem.

Among the modern singers, Farida Parvin has recorded over 300 songs composed by Lalon Shah. Another notable exponents of Baul music is Shehnaz Baily, whose recorded works are rare but available in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi film director Tanvir Mokammel made the movie Lalon (film), in 2004, where Raisul Islam Asad portrayed the character of Fakir Lalon Shah.

Gallery

References

External links

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