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Title: Lalon  
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Subject: Music of Bangladesh, Baul, List of Bengalis, Salma Akhter, Bangladeshi culture
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Sain/Sai, Shah
সাঁই, শাহ (from Persian سای)
Lalon's only portrait, sketched during his lifetime by Jyotirindranath Tagore in 1889.
Native name লালন
Born c. 1774
Bengal Presidency, British India
Died 17 October 1890(1890-10-17)
Cheuriya, Kushtia, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in Bangladesh)
Resting place Cheuriya, Kushtia, Bangladesh
Ethnicity Bengali
Education No formal education
Known for Baul music
Title Mahatma/Fakir
Spouse(s) Bishōkha

Lalon, also known as Lalon Sain, Lalon Shah, Lalon Fakir or Mahatma Lalon (c. 1774– 17 October 1890),[1] was a Bengali Baul saint, mystic, songwriter, social reformer and thinker. In Bengali culture, he is considered as an icon of religious tolerance whose songs inspired and influenced many poets, social and religious thinkers including Rabindranath Tagore,[2][3][4] Kazi Nazrul Islam,[5] and Allen Ginsberg[6] though he "rejected all distinctions of caste and creed".[7] He was both praised and criticized in his lifetime and after his death. Throughout the life, Lalon sang of a society where all religions and beliefs are in harmony. His disciples mostly live in Bangladesh and West Bengal. He founded the institute known as Lalon Akhrah in Cheuriya, about 2 kilometers from Kushtia railway station. He is also regarded as the founder of the Baul music and known as the Baul Shamrat (The king of Bauls).[8]


  • Biography 1
  • Philosophy 2
  • Works 3
  • Legacy and depictions in popular culture 4
    • Film and literature 4.1
  • Gallery 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Everyone asks, "What Jāt does Lalon belong to in this world?"
Lalon answers, "What does Jāt 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 Jāts.
But do you bear the sign of your Jāt
when you come (to this world) or when you leave (this world)?

— Lalon[9]
[Edited to give a better translation]
Lalon's name as written, in a late 19th-century manuscript, by his disciple and scribe Bholai Shah, in unconventional Bengali orthography.

There are few reliable sources for the details of Lalon's early life as he was reticent in revealing his past.[2] It is not known whether he was born in a Hindu or a Muslim family.[10] His parents' names are also unknown. Lalon had no formal education.[11]

One account relates that Lalon, during a pilgrimage to the temple of Jagannath with others of his native village, he contracted smallpox and was abandoned by his companions on the banks of the Kaliganga River,[12] from where Malam Shah and his wife Matijan, members of the weaver community in a Muslim-populated village, Cheuriya, took him to their home to convalesce. They gave Lalon land to live where he founded a musical group and remained to compose and perform his songs, inspired by Shiraj Sain, a musician of that village. Lalon lost the sight of his one eye in smallpox.[10] Researchers note that Lalon was a close friend of Kangal Harinath, one of the contemporary social reformers and was a disciple of Lalon.[13]

Lalon lived within the zamindari of the Tagores in Kushtia and had visited the Tagore family.[14] It is said that zamindar Jyotirindranath Tagore sketched the only portrait of Lalon in 1889 in his houseboat on the river Padma.[15][16] Lalon died at Chheuriya on 17 October 1890 at the age of 116. The news of his death was first published in the newspaper Grambarta Prakashika, run by Kangal Harinath.[17] Lalon was buried at the middle of his dwelling place known as his Akhra.[18]


How does the Unknown bird go,
into the cage and out again,
Could I but seize it,
I would put the fetters of my heart,
around its feet.
The cage has eight rooms and nine closed doors;
From time to time fire flares out;.
Above there is a main room,
The mirror-chamber

— Lalon's song translated by Brother James
Disciples practicing lalon song at his Akhra

Lalon was against religious conflict and many of his songs mock identity politics that divide communities and generate violence.[19] He even rejected nationalism at the apex of the anti-colonial nationalist movements in the Indian subcontinent.[20] He did not believe in classes or castes, the fragmented, hierarchical society, and took a stand against racism.[21] Lalon does not fit the "mystical" or "spiritual" type who denies all worldly affairs in search of the soul: he embodies the socially transformative role of sub-continental bhakti and sufism. He believed in the power of music to alter the intellectual and emotional state in order to be able to understand and appreciate life itself.

The texts of his songs engage in philosophical discourses of Bengal, continuing Tantric traditions of the Indian subcontinent, particularly Nepal, Bengal and the Gangetic plains. He appropriated various philosophical positions emanating from Hindu, Jainist, Buddhist and Islamic traditions, developing them into a coherent discourse without falling into eclecticism or syncretism. He explicitly identified himself with the Nadiya school, with Advaita Acharya, Nityananda and Chaitanya. 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.


Lalon composed numerous songs and poems, which describe his philosophy. It is estimated that Lalon composed about 2,000 - 10,000 songs, of which only about 800 songs are generally considered authentic.[22] Lalon 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.[23] Rabindranath Tagore published some of the Lalon song in the monthly Prabasi magazine of Kolkata.[24]

Among his most popular songs are

  • Shob Loke Koy Lalon Ki Jat Shongshare,
  • Khachar Bhitor Ochin Pakhi kyamne ashe jaay,
  • Jat Gelo Jat Gelo Bole,
  • Dekhna Mon Jhokmariay Duniyadari,
  • Pare Loye Jao Amai,
  • Milon Hobe Koto Dine,
  • Ar Amare Marishne Ma,
  • Tin Pagoler Holo Mela, etc.

The songs of Lalon 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, they reached 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.

According to Farida Parveen, a renowned Lalon singer, the pronunciation of the words were also refined in order to make there meanings clearer, whereas the bauls' pronunciations are likely to have local influence.[11]

Legacy and depictions in popular culture

Lalon's Shrine

In 1963, a mausoleum and research centre were built at the site of his shrine in Kushtia, Bangladesh. Thousands of people come to the shrine (known in Bengali as an Akhra) twice a year, at 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 Muslim fakirs and Bauls pay tribute. Among the modern singers of Baul music Farida Parveen and Anusheh Anadil are internationally known for singing Lalon songs.

Film and literature

Lalon has been portrayed in literature, film, television drama, and in the theatre. Prosenjit portrayed Lalan in the Moner Manush, a 2010 Bengali film based on the life and philosophy of Lalon.[25] The film was an adaptation of Sunil Gangopadhyay's biographical novel of the same name. This film directed by Goutam Ghose, won award for the “best feature film on national integration” at the 58th Indian National Film Awards.[26] It also won Best Film prize at the 41st International Film Festival of India held at Goa from 22 Nov to 02 Dec 2010.[27]

In 2004 Tanvir Mokammel directed the film Lalon in which Raisul Islam Asad portrayed Lalon.[28]

Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem in 1992 named "After Lalon", where he warned people against the dangers of fame and the attachments to the worldly things.[29]



  1. ^ Basantakumar Pal, Sri; Chowdhury, Abul Ahasan (Editor) (2012). Mahātmā Lālana Phakira (1. Bhāratīẏa saṃskaraṇa. ed.). Kalakātā: Gāṅacila.  
  2. ^ a b Caudhurī, Ābadula Āhasāna (1992). Lālana Śāha, 1774 - 1890 (1. punarmudraṇa. ed.). Ḍhākā: Bāṃlā Ekāḍemī.  
  3. ^ Urban, Hugh B. (2001). Songs of ecstasy tantric and devotional songs from colonial Bengal.  
  4. ^ Tagore, Rabindranath; K. Stewart, Tony (Translation); Twichell, Chase (Translation) (2003). The lover of God. Port Townsend, Wash.: Consortium Book Sales & Dist. p. 94.  
  5. ^ Hossain, Abu Ishahaq (2009). Lalon Shah, the great poet. Dhaka: Palal Prokashoni. p. 148.  
  6. ^ Ginsberg, Allen; Foley, Jack (1998). "Same Multiple Identity: An Interview with Allen Ginsberg".  
  7. ^ Islam (Chief editor), Sirajul (2003). "Lalon Shah".  
  8. ^ Amanur Aman (16 October 2014). "Five-day Lalon festival begins today".  
  9. ^ Lopez, Donald (1995). Religions in India in Practice - "Baul Songs". Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 187–208.  
  10. ^ a b Seabrook, Jeremy (2001). Freedom unfinished : fundamentalism and popular resistance in Bangladesh today. London: Zed Books. p. 52.  
  11. ^ a b Tamanna Khan (29 October 2010). "Lalon Purity vs Popularity".  
  12. ^ Capwell, Charles (May 1988). "The popular expression of religious syncretism: the Bauls of Bengal as Apostles of Brotherhood".  
  13. ^ Lorea, Carola Erika (1 January 2013). Playing the Football of Love on the Field of the Body" 1 : The Contemporary Repertoire of Baul Songs""". Religion and the Arts 17 (4): 416–451.  
  14. ^ Banerji, Debashish (2015). Banerji, Debashish, ed. "Tagore Through Portraits: An Intersubjective Picture Gallery". Rabindranath Tagore in the 21st Century. Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures (Springer India) 7: 243–264.  
  15. ^ "Fakir Lalon Shai ... 120 years on".  
  16. ^ "Interview: Bengali Film Actor Priyangshu Chatterjee". Washington Bangla Radio USA. Retrieved 2015-06-30. 
  17. ^ "Fakir Lalon Shai …123 years on". Retrieved 2015-06-30. 
  18. ^ "Lalon memorial festival begins in Kushtia today". The Financialexpress. Retrieved 2015-06-30. 
  19. ^ L. Parshall, Philip (10 April 2007). Bridges to Islam A Christian Perspective on Folk Islam. InterVarsity Press. p. 89.  
  20. ^ Muthukumaraswamy (Editor), M.D.; Kaushal, Molly (1 January 2004). Folklore, public sphere, and civil society.  
  21. ^ Mazhar, Farhad; Buckles, Daniel (1 January 2007). Food sovereignty and uncultivated biodiversity in South Asia essays on the poverty and the wealth of the social landscape. New Delhi: Academic Foundation in association with International Development Research Centre. p. 69.  
  22. ^ Rahman, Syedur (27 April 2010). Historical Dictionary of Bangladesh. Scarecrow Press. p. 179.  
  23. ^ Lalon; Āhamada, Oẏākila (Editor) (2002). Lālana gīti samagra. Ḍhākā: Baipatra. p. 12.  
  24. ^ Tofayell, Z. A. (1968). "Lalon Shah and lyrics of the Padma". Dacca (Present  
  25. ^ Acharya, Anindita (3 March 2015). "Prosenjit Chatterjee starts an Indo-Bangladesh production".  
  26. ^ "Moner Manush receives Indian National Film Award".  
  27. ^ Singh, Shalini (2 December 2010). shines at IFFI"Moner Manush".  
  28. ^ "Tanvir Mokammel films screened in Morocco".  
  29. ^ Raskin, Jonah (7 April 2004). American Scream Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley:  

Further reading

  • Muhammad Enamul Haq (1975), A History of Sufism in Bangla, Asiatic Society, Dhaka.
  • Qureshi, Mahmud Shah (1977), Poems Mystiques Bengalis. Chants Bauls Unesco. Paris.
  • Siddiqi, Ashraf (1977), Our Folklore Our Heritage, Dhaka.
  • Karim, Anwarul (1980), The Bauls of Bangladesh. Lalon Academy, Kushtia.
  • Capwell, Charles (1986), The Music of the Bauls of Bengal. Kent State University Press, USA 1986.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Pranab (1989), Bauls of Bengal. Firma KLM Pvt, Ltd., calcutta.
  • Mcdaniel, June (1989), The Madness of the Saints. Chicago.
  • Sarkar, R. M. (1990), Bauls of Bengal. New Delhi.
  • Brahma, Tripti (1990), Lalon : His Melodies. Calcutta.
  • Gupta, Samir Das (2000), Songs of Lalon. Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka.
  • Karim, Anwarul (2001), Rabindranath O Banglar Baul (in Bengali), Dhaka.
  • Choudhury, Abul Ahsan (editor) (2008), Lalon Samagra, Pathak Samabesh.

External links

  • Lalon songs and Lyrics Archive
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