লালন The Great
Fakir Lalon Shah (Bangla: ফকির লালন সাঁই), also known as Lalon Shah (c.1774–1890), lived in the village of Cheuria in the area known as Nodia during pre-colonial, undivided Bengal and which is the District of Kushtia in present-day Bangladesh.
Lalon intentionally kept his place of birth and the identity of his parents unknown. He had no formal education and lived in extreme poverty. Around the age of sixteen he was found floating by the bank of Kaliganga river, suffering from smallpox. He was taken to the home of Seraj Shah and his wife Matijan, who brought him up.
Lalon left no trace of his birth or his ‘origin’ and remained absolutely silent about his past, fearing that he would be cast into class, caste or communal identities by a fragmented and hierarchical society. Despite this silence on his origins, communal appropriation of this great politico-philosophical figure has created a controversy regarding whether he is ‘Muslim’ or a ‘Hindu’ — a ‘sufi’ or a follower ‘bhakti’ tradition — a ‘baul’ or a ‘fakir’, etc. He is none, as he always strove to go beyond all politics of identities. Lalon Fakir sang, “People ask if Lalon Fakir is a Hindu or a Mussalman. Lalon says he himself doesn’t know who he is.
Lalon does not fit into the construction of the so called ‘bauls’ or ‘fakirs’ as a mystical or spiritual types who deny all worldly affairs in desperate search for a mystical ecstasy of the soul. Such construction is very elite and middle class and premised on the divide between ‘modern’ and ‘spiritual’ world. It also conveniently ignores the political and social aspects of Bengal’s spiritual movements and depoliticizes the transformative role of ‘bhakti’ or ‘sufi’ traditions. This role is still continued and performed by the poet-singers and philosophers in oral traditions of Bangladesh, a cultural reality of Bangladesh that partly explains the emergence of Bangladesh with distinct identity from Pakistan back in 1971. Depicting Lalon as ‘baul shomrat’ (the Emperor of the Bauls) as projected by elite marginalizes Lalon as a person belonging to a peripheral movement, an outcast, as if he is not a living presence and increasingly occupying the central cultural, intellectual and political space in both side of the border between Bangladesh and India (West Bengal).
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