Baul is one of the few widely known and appreciated types of folk music in Bengal. Baul is not only a kind of music, it is basically a Bengali religious sect. The members of the sect are themselves called Bauls, and the songs they sing are named for them, Baul-gAn (Baul songs). It has been suggested that, etymologically, the word derives from Sanskrit word “Vatula” means “affected by the wind disease, mad”. On the other hand, it might be derived from Sanskrit word “Vyakula” means “restless, disordered”.
The Baul costume consists of a half-dhoti and an alkhalla ( saffron robes). Another noticeable identifying signs of Baul is their hair style. They don’t cut their hair, so a manner has been devised for coiling it neatly atop the head in a bun. They also wear a kind of necklace made of beads formed from the stems of the basil plant (tulsi).
Among the three B’sof Bengali folk music – Baul, Bhaoyaiya and Bhatiyali- Baul is distinguished from the others textually as religious music. The texts of bhatiyali and bhaiyaiya, though they may concern of Radha and Krishna, are mainly about the problems of love in separation or unrequited love. In Baul-gan, however, though songs of similar nature occur, they are thought of as allegories on the state of separation existing between the souls of men and the spiritual ground.
The instruments, extensively used by the Bauls are Gopiyantro, khamak, dotara, ghungur, nupur and duggi. Gopiyantro, often called “ektara” means one string and that is the most popular instrument for a Baul singer. The ghungur or nupur are always used in conjunction with gopiyantro or khamak. The baul singers also use “dotara” ( two strings) as their paraphernalia. Kartal/mandira and premjuri are used as the adjunct idiophones by the singers.