The second Baul Retreat took place from 13th to 18th October 2015, in Pondicherry. It could happen in Pondicherry, very close to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, because of Aurodhan Art Gallery and Guest House; the friendship between Parvathy Ma and Lalit Da has brought Baul Retreat to Pondicherry.
Baul Retreat is intended to create an introduction to those who are interested, to experience Baul, by immersing oneself to its inner work as well as physical work, through songs, yoga, pranayama, and many other activities. Initiated by Smt. Parvathy Baul, the first Baul Retreat took place in December 2014, at Ekathara Kalari’s own space in Trivandrum.
Being the first attempt, 2014 Retreat was a series of unexpected events – from the organisers’ point of view. All the volunteers were running around all the time, sleeping at midnight and getting up by 3am in the morning to set up the yoga ground.
But this was only a backstage story, and what was going on in the main arena was much more peaceful, magical and special – though, yes, intense. I could see the change in the participants’ expressions and look, day by day. Energy was building up in our kalari (the practice space). Even after a year, we still hear from participants how they remember and miss the experience. We have all witnessed some kind of transformation in every each of us.
At Pondicherry, the second Retreat, many things were different from the last one but to start with, we had to start without Parvathy Maa, our very core spine! She had to come back from Korea a day late. Lalit Da, the director of Aurodhan, also had to leave in the middle of opening ceremony. I do not remember many details around this time, but with all the supports and blessings, it worked out.
This time, Maa invited Sri Shahjahan Munshi accompanied by his son Sri Lokman Hossain from Bangladesh, and Sri Biswanath Das Baul, Sri Lakshman Das Baul, and Sri Nitai Chandra Das from West Bengal.
To introduce Shahjahan Miah in words, I will have to write, “visually handicapped”, but to all those present there, it was very clear that the impression the word ‘handicapped’ would give does not match at all what he is. Biswanath Da is the son and disciple of Parvathy Ma’s guru Sanatan Das Baul. His quiet but dignified style brought us to awe. Lakshman Da had been in the first Retreat too, and like last time he beamed everybody with his love and made all of us comfortable, along with Nitai Da, whose powerful Sreekhol playing uplifted us all.
In the morning, we started from 3.30am to visit Sri Aurobido Ashram for meditation, and then moved on to a terrace where we could view the sunrise for yoga class. Thanks to Mangal Da who has kindly offered us to use the space, we could every morning have the blessing of sunrise – this was how we started the day, every day. Atul Bhai and his team in the kitchen prepared us tea very first in the morning, and besides providing us delicious vegetarian meals three times daily, stayed up till everybody dispersed at night.
During the day, we had classes to learn songs from each Baul master. Each master inherits different streams of Baul parampara, and had different styles of teaching. These songs are what the participants would take back and carry with them as the key to remember the whole experience.
In the night, we had satsang with the masters. Each night, we could listen to the life stories and songs of Baul practitioners over many years. I personally think these satsangs during the Retreat are one of the best occasions to experience Baul songs. Certain trust and mutual connections are built over the days, and the presence of Parvathy Ma who translates the masters’ Bengali narrative into English makes a bond between both the participants and the masters. We also had the blessings of having Ananda Reddy ji and Jhumur Di from Sri Aurobindo Ashram who shared their deep knowledge about Shree Maa and Shri Aurobindo’s teachings with us, and Aurelio from Swaram in Auroville, for our satsang sessions.
The Baul Retreat might be different from some other events in the sense that all the volunteers do the work as seva, what often is translated as ‘selfless service’. We do it as an offering to what we believe in and love, and it is a part of our learning process, especially for those in the path. In the midst of all the craziness and overwork, we face ourselves raw and worn. The kind of exhaustion we get from seva is different from what we get from work for earnings. Somewhere in your consciousness you know that something is fulfilling and purifying even during painful time. And after all the tireless hard work, sometimes one acknowledgment from your guru can uncover you the answer to why you are doing this.
By: Tomomi Sato (Paromita)
Has studied Sanskrit, linguistics, martial arts and paintings among other things. She is a gifted writer and a painter, she was inspired by Baul path and has been practicing Baul under the guidance of Parvathy Baul since 2013. She has been the core team in organizing all the retreats.She divides her time between India and Japan.