Ekathara Kalari

Parvathy Baul

Parvathy interprets a vast repertoire of sung poetry, whose ecstatic character belongs to the tradition of Bauls, mystic bards of Bengal.  She sings and dances to them, accompanied by two small instruments: the monotonous Ektara and drum Duggi. Although it follows the vocal style of her gurus Sanatan Das Baul and Shashanka Goshai, she always imprints flavour and energy of her own, gained from many other Baul masters.

Parvathy comes from a family of Brahmin astrologers and farmers originally from the province of Chittagong, Bangladesh. She was born in Assam in 1976. But the many riots that were raised in the region made life dangerous. Her father then decided to send his family to Bengal, in the small town of Kochbihar where, at the age of six, Parvathy began to awaken to the music. In Assam, she had attended meetings of Bihu, a kind of ritual dance during the harvest. Later, in Bengal, she remembered the song of gowalparia called mahouts, and especially the song called bhâvaya of Kochbihar.

Noticing her interest in music and dance, her parents resolved to provide training, she learned the rudiments of Kathak dance and Hindustani vocals with masters of the region: Jagadish Sharma, and Satyabrata Roy for singing, and Srilekha Mukherjee for the dance Kathak, but soon became resistant to the traditional system because she disliked the type of slavery imposed by teachers to their students.

She came in contact first with the world of Bauls, most of whom live in south Bengal, especially in the Bolpur districts of Bhirbum, Bakura and Murshidabad, when she met with a blind Baul, singing and begging in a train, she was fascinated by this man, who appeared to belong to another world.

Being seated among them, she felt more affinity with the Bauls. Gradually impressed by their music, she wished to address this vocal practice.  Touched by his sincerity,  Bhipad Taran Das Baul was the first to teach her some songs.  She then played for her friends on university campus. She also learned from Phulmala Dashi, a strong female Baul who asked her to join her while she did Madhukori (sacred begging) on the trains, so she could teach her some songs.

It was very hard for Parvathy to live the life of Bauls, but her determination was strong.  The image of a student of Brahman family, begging in trains provoked a great scandal, fueled also by the reputation of consuming alcohol and hashish for Bauls.  Parvathy was eventually expelled from her school and rejected by her family.

Gradually, she realized that music, dance and poetry of Bauls hid other things than their marginal lifestyle.  So she went in search of a master. One day she heard Sanatan Das Baul, a man aged about eighty years, singing poems about Radha.

Parvathy told Sanatan Das Baul she wanted to become his disciple. One day, after a long wait, he finally asked if she wanted to learn songs, and he began to teach her one or two. His method was simple: he sang a poem to her, and she had to repeat the verse, phrase by phrase.

Sanatan Das Baul seemed convinced by the aptitude and said she should be formally initiated.  Before the ceremony, Parvathy should make an offering and feed the whole village population.   As for the initiation proper, Parvathy remains discreet about it.

Parvathy was accepted as a full member of the family, Sanatan Das initiated her in the same way he himself had learned from his own master Nitai Khepa. He often took Parvathy with him when he went begging.

As a Brahmin girl, Parvathy could not help wondering if the path she followed was consistent with her real vocation.  She also knew very well what to do with all the teachings received.  While maintaining her links with the Bauls, she entered into politics and joined a group of street protest theater.

At this time it was noticed by Khaled Yochi, the director of a famous company, who urged her to join him at Hampi in the state of Bangalore. According to him, it was in Kerala that Parvathy could actually understand the way of Bauls of Bengal!

Without knowing why, Parvathy therefore decided to follow this advice and to visit Kerala with a single address, that of Ravi Gopalan Nair, a specialist in theater and friend of Khalid.  The meeting was actually decisive on the recommendation of Ravi, Parvathy began undergoing treatment for radical Ayurvedic medicine (her body had suffered somewhat from the effects of her wanderings), then the inevitable happened: she married Ravi and was initiated into the Tantric path.

After two years in Kerala, Parvathy returned to Bengal to find her master Sanatan Das Baul.  Seeing the improvement of her physical and mental condition, he considered her ready to receive teachings of a more esoteric nature. He agreed to convey the secrets of alchemy of the body and Bauls dance.

After she had gone through all the stages of initiation, the doors of the West opened to Parvathy.  She received the invitation of the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris and ethnomusicology workshops in Geneva. She performed as soloist for the first time in Europe in 2001.

Parvathy now feels her role as an intermediary between the tradition of Baul, weakened by the socio-economic development of Bengal, and the outside world.

By Laurent Aubert

Afterward

Since the writing of this article, Parvathy has traveled the world spreading the essence and meaning of Baul across cultures, often collaborating with other artists strongly rooted in their own cultures. She maintains the traditional style of Ektara, Duggi and Nupur played with voice and movements. The simplicity, she maintains, contains the essence, integrity and spontaneity of the Baul artform.

In her travels, she also quests to bring her experiences to her people. After attending the Transit festival for women, she was inspired to create two editions of the Tantidhatri festival: an International Performing Arts Fesitval for Women in Pondicherry and Bangalore.

She also teaches a few dedicated students at the Ekathara Kalari Gurukul, and organises the Baul Gyan Darpan: Immersive Retreats with Baul Masters at Ekathara Kalari every year.

 

Collaborations

Storytelling, theatre and dance: Kamigata Mai with Ken Yoshimora at Kyogen Theatre, Japan in 2005
Korean Theatre with Hyoung-Taek Limb of Seoul Factory in 2014
Dance collaboration with Anandavalli and Narelle Benjamin in 2013
Ongoing Collaborations since 2015 with: Bahauddin Dagar, Grigore Lese, and Odin Teatret