Seeking Bauls of Bengal

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Seeking Bauls of Bengal – Jeanne Openshaw About the BookBauls have become renowned as wandering minstrels and mystics of India and Bangladesh, and are known through their beautiful, often enigmatic songs. They are recruited from both Hindu and Muslim communities, privileging the human being over such identities. Despite their iconic status as representatives of the spiritual East, and although they have been the subject of a number of studies, systematic research with Bauls themselves has been largely neglected. Jeanne Openshaw’s book is new, not only in analyzing the rise of Bauls to their present revered status, but in the depth of its ethnographic research and its reference to the lives of composers and singers as a context for their songs. The author uses her fieldwork, and oral and manuscript materials to lead the reader from conventional historical and textual approaches towards a world defined by people called Baul, where the human body and love are primary and female is extolled above male. This is a compelling story of creativity and dissent even in the face of persecution. About Jeanne OpenshawJeanne Openshaw is a Leturer in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His major interest since 1970’s has been contemporary South Asian religious traditions. He writes ‘My research has involved several years’ social anthropological fieldwork in West Bengal, as well as the study of relevant languages, especially Bengali, and associated literature.Initially my primary concern was ‘Hindu’ Goddesses, their devotees and sacred centres. Subsequently the focus of my work shifted to people called “Baul”, who recruit from both ‘Hindu’ (Vaishnava) and ‘Muslim’ (Fakir) communities, and who are known primarily through their beautiful and often enigmatic songs. These songs reveal a dual concern: with social and religious radicalism and with esoteric body-centred practices.’Current research and writing projectsAt present I am preparing a translation of hybrid Hindu-Muslim Baul songs of Bengal, with annotations, commentaries and discussion. The volume will focus on relatively neglected topics, that is, radical and dissenting songs.

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