Satyananda Das Baul, Autobiography of early life - Recorded by NICO in France, 2014
Translated by Atindriyo Chakrabarty
I can recall some of my past memories. My parents used to say that whenever i would hear a song anywhere, i would sit quietly and listen. And when the music would be over, i would return home and start playing or trying to make music with whatever object i could lay my hands upon. Anything would do – doors, bowls. My mind followed whichever song i heard.
I began growing up. Many in our village used to sing and play musical instruments. This included many brothers and uncles of the neighborhood. Even my own elder brother was a good artist. He used to play the dotara and the flute. There was a sadhu-ashram in our village. We would go there since childhood. At times i would go there on my brother’s lap; sometimes, on my uncles’.
Time flowed on. We had many goats. I would take them out to the forests to graze. And once in the forest, i would sing the songs that i had heard and were in my mind. I would sing them out aloud. I felt shy singing them out loud in the village before all the people. The privacy of the forests would be a refuge for my musical courage. I would take the goats to graze in the forest, and sing alone.
There was a Jatra-theater in our village. The Master of the theater heard my songs from afar. And there would be other people working in the fields, even they could hear. Everyone wondered
– ‘who is it singing so beautifully?’
There were other cowherds and goatherds of our village. They would say
– ‘it is Satyananda’. Actually, my name was Santosh back then. So they would say
– ‘it is Santosh singing’.
Those who heard, would say in reply:
-- ‘what a beautiful voice!’
And they would add
– ‘why does he not sing for the Jatra team?’
Then, the Master of the Jatra began to coax and cajole me out of my shyness – to make me sing in public. I would feel very shy. But the Master was insistent. He went on encouraging me. He would sit with the harmonium and would make me sit close to it. And then, he would tell me –
- ‘let’s hear you singing: ‘sa’’.
Whichever key of the harmonium he would press, my voice would reach there. Then everyone said
– ‘this boy would be able to learn singing. We must make him a part of the Jatra-troupe.”
There was this custom of ekaboli or ekangi in a Jatra-play. A child would sing the intro at the beginning of such play. I began singing the ekaboli for our Jatra-team. Before long, people from other villages began to call me to sing for the Jatras of their villages too. I would go there and sing.
In this way, i began to visit my uncles in and around our village who could sing. Besides, there was that ashram in our village. I would see many sadhus there. The thought of becoming a sadhu thus began to grow in me since childhood. My mind would brim with hopes of becoming a sadhu. The sadhus grew fond of me because of the music. They began to praise my voice and singing. I realised that if i can continue with my musical pursuit, i shall be well liked by the sadhus. Thus, i realised that the music shall enable me to be in their company. I also realised that, if i can sing and make music well, many of them would call me to hear my singing and playing, and, in their company, i shall also be able to learn how to become a sadhu. So, whenever any group of sadhus would call me, i went to them without fail.
Other than to the sadhus, whenever i would hear of any musical event happening anywhere in the vicinity of the village, i would go to listen. These visits resulted in much scolding from the elders at home.. My father would call me and my four brothers and say
– ‘Look, you five are brothers. One of you is becoming a Baul. He wants to learn. Let him, because if he really can learn, he would be able to go to many countries. Many people would love him. But if we seek to keep him back by force, people will be deprived of the music and he will also be sad.’
Having thus obtained permission from my parents to carry on with my pursuit, i would go to all the carnivals that happened around the village, particularly to the ones where the sadhus would come and sing. Soon, i began to look for a sadhu-baba who could be my Guru and initiate me into the path of the sadhus. I would travel with many sadhus in our village-ashram and also in the carnivals. While doing so, i would keep mental tabs of the sadhu-babas whom i would like.
The sadhus and other spiritually inclined folks of our village began to say:
- ‘You have to get the pancha-nam or the Five-Names to learn of the ways of the sadhus’
Everyone would recommend some sadhu or other of their liking for such initiation. But in my mind i was still looking for the sadhu who can be my guru. My mind was restless. I was yet to find the right sadhu.
There were many children with musical proclivities in our village. Together, we set up a tiny Baul-akhara. There was a sixteen-reed harmonium in the village; it was a small ‘single’ harmonium. I would play it every day. Someone advised us:
-- ‘listen, you must light incense sticks and dhuna around the harmonium before touching it.’
The harmonium was placed at the thaan, i.e. the open-air temple, of snake-goddess Mansa. I would sit there, light incense sticks and dhuna. Back in those days, we used to get an inkpot of kerosene at ten naya paisas. Inkpots were available in those days because people in the villages would still use quill and ink to write – the quills being made of shar or grass-straw – bulrush reeds. So, i would dip cotton in the inkpot filled with kerosene and light it, and i would also light incense sticks. Then i would practice playing on the lyrics musical notations as my Master had taught me – i would follow his instructions to the dot. As i would keep practicing in the light of the kerosene-lamp, the others would arrive and then we would begin playing the Baul songs. In this way, i learnt a few good philosophical songs. Soon, the Bauls began calling me from many places to go to their akhaRas and sing. Thus, i could travel to many more places.
I would return home late every night. Mother would keep my food covered below my bed. Weary, i would eat only a part of it. The rest would remain heaped in the plate below my bed. Rats and cats would often feast on it. I would not tell of this to anyone lest i get scolded.
Thus, as i was living as a wanderer, a sense of sheer excitement became palpable – the Sonamukhi fair was about to arrive. But i was too young and folks at home said
– ‘oh come on! Who goes to Sonamukhi fair? Plus there are some of these so-called sadhus who are always in the lurch to steal children. They themselves have no children, that’s why.. Your parents will cry if you go missing from there. Don’t go’.
In this way i was prevented from going there for three or four years. I was getting angry because of this. So i teamed up with a group of musicians and took the bus to Sonamukhi, without telling at home. I reached Sonamukhi and began seeking
– which sadhu do i let be my Guru?’
I had decided to not return home, to become a sadhu, a baul. I made friends with Nimai, a boy of my age. I liked him, and I stayed with him. He told me:
‘My Gosai is very good. Take diksha from him.’
-- ‘oh yes i want to see your Gosai’
And so he took me to his Gosai. Such soft, beautiful a human, he was a human of soil and earth! He seemed like the human who never gets angry, who never scolds you even when you make mistakes! i told Nimai –
‘yes, i will take the Five-Names from your Guru’
He told me to come on a specific date. I did. I was given the Five-Names and a thin two-reed garland was tied to my neck. When i returned home, my brothers began with their sound and profuse scoldings –
‘why did you take the (sacred) garland without telling us? Do you know what all rituals you have to follow?’
-- ‘whatever happens to me will happen.’
-- ‘who is this Guru?’
i said – ‘Bhagawan Das from Amarpur. I also have made a guru-brother named Nimai.’
Nimai’s mother was known as Khepi-Ma. She would eat a lot of chalk-earth. She would eat that all the time.
Days dragged by. I had received the Names. .
A year passed on and the next Sonamukhi fair arrived. I went there again and began seeking. There, by the pond of the Babus, i saw Radharani Goswami and Krishnananda Goswami. I liked them a lot. I wanted to be with them. It was as if they held all the dreams of my childhood, all i wanted to do out of life, a vast dream of life… I stayed in their company during the fair and, once it was over, i returned home. I didn’t know where their ashram was, never asked.
Us, young boys of the village, we’d make music, we had our own group of Baul-music now. One day, a person arrived on cycle and asked me:
-- ‘what’s your name?’
-- ‘you sing Baul songs?’
-- ‘yes, but it’s not just me, we are a group of friends…’
-- ‘where do you sing?’
-- ‘We have built a performance-place out of straw and hay, below a bhalai tree. There are around five or six of us – Gopal, Aditya, Robi, Gaju-da, Ranjan. We sing and make music’
The man quietly for a while and then told me –
-- ‘take me to your house’
At my house he said that a sadhu has heard me singing in Sonamukhi and has liked it immensely. So he has asked for me.
Folks at home said:
-- ‘No no, he is being a lot with the sadhus lately, but these are unknown places, and we don’t know you either. How can we send him off with an unknown person?’
I was very eager to go, to meet the sadhu who has called for me. i couldn’t speak out in front my brothers. But i kept on imploring to my parents to allow me to go.
At this point, this man said –
-- ‘Our ashram is close by. There’s a Baul fair going on. You can also go and see whenever you wish to’
Overjoyed, i packed clean clothes, showed my respect for my parents and told my brothers –
-- ‘Don’t worry, i won’t go far away. The fair happens for three days; after that i shall return.’
They told me
-- ‘Okay then, go, but do come back after three days, do not stay over.’
and they told the man who had come to fetch for me:
-- ‘Take him there safely; see that nothing untoward happens on the way. It’s an unknown place – he hasn’t been there before. He might get lost. Many kidnappers roam around these days. He is a young boy, hasn’t been around much’
To this, he said:
-- ‘Don’t worry; he will be in good care. I shall ensure that nothing untoward happens. I shall bring him back.’
I was very happy. We had some food at our house and then reached the ashram.
I saw that sadhu-baba and sadhu-ma whom i had seen at the fair. I felt like crying, but i was also worried that if i become a Baul for good, my parents will be sad.
I got so much love from them that before i knew it, a week passed by and the second one was also about to be over. My parents were worried stiff. They began looking for me. Then my father got the news that I am at this ashram at Jamkanali where a fair happens around this time of the year, and he was advised to look for me there. Hearing this, my third brother arrived at Jamkanali on a cycle. This was where the ashram was at. He saw me; I saw him too. But then, he went back without insisting to take me back. Custom ordains that whoever comes to an ashram has to eat something there. But he did not, all he did was see me, see that I was doing alright; and then he went back. I forgot all about this in the general excitement of things.
Then I saw my father approaching. His knees were scathed. He told me:
-- ‘I have looked for you in so many places.’
‘But, I am good here. I won’t go back. I don’t want to’
Father went home. But then he came back with my mother.
Seeing this, Sadhu-baba and Sadhu-ma sent me home. They told me –
-- ‘Come back whenever you wish to’
They assured my parents
-- ‘Nothing bad will happen to your son. We shall keep him well.’
Then they turned to me and said:
-- ‘Go. Look how your parents have become worrying about you. They have not even eaten anything. Your father has scathed his knees looking for you here and there. You must go.’
I returned home once again.
I began moving to and fro between my house and the ashram again and again. My parents became okay with this and my mind was at ease once again. When i was around eight or ten years old, the other boys of the village began saying
- ‘He will turn into a complete sadhu soon. Get him married at once. Or else, he won’t lead a family life. He will run away and become a sadhu. He has received the love and company of the sadhus. He can’t stay at home; he will surely run away’
Without letting me know, folks at home began arranging for my marriage. They saw a prospective bride. They whispered between themselves:
- ‘He won’t go to see the girl or to marry; the bride must be brought to the village and then they must be made to marry.’
Days and hours were fixed. The bride had come. I did not know. I thought some relative must have come to our house. I was doing my own things – singing songs, playing music etc, i was busy in my own chores, was going to houses of my friends, and all that.
I had a friend – a boy named Robi, who was hard of hearing. While singing, he used to make many mistakes in rhythms. Robi had loved me a lot. I had loved him too. Hearing being impaired, he used to talk very loudly. Robi shouted out to me:
- ‘do you know what will happen today?’
I asked back:
Amazed at my ignorance, he asked me:
- ‘you really don’t know?’
- ‘no, i really don’t’
- ‘eh, you’re lying.’
- ‘no i’m not lying. tell me what will happen.’
I was suspicions. So many relatives have come to my house. A girl had come too. Something must be going on. I insisted
- ‘tell me, c’mon’
- ‘you will get married today’
- ‘really? are you speaking the truth?’
- ‘yes, i really am. I will swear by whomever you want me to. I swear by Ma Kali.’
- ‘uh oh!’
I was worried a lot. But then, a theory and logic of god, of faith, arrived unto me. A huge book can be written about this someday.
After that, I wore two shirts and two pyjamas – one set above the other. I packed the Doobki – a small musical instrument which I myself had crafted and chiseled – in my bag. I said to people at home:
- ‘i will take a short trip to Bankura and come back. I need to fetch some stuff.’
To this the folks schemed:
- ‘okay, let him go, his mind shall be at ease, now that he is not thinking of being a sadhu. Good, let him be away for some time. By that time we shall be done with the customary arrangements. It is good this way because if we let him know now, he will run away and never come back for the wedding.’
Having thought thus, they told me:
- ‘okay, go, but do come back early, after getting whatever stuff you seek to get. Do you have money?’
- ‘yes, i have money.’
I had around fifteen or twenty rupees. A friend had given this to me. I have forgotten his name. He used to love me a lot. I took the money, took a bus and reached straight to Durgapur. In Durgapur i took a train. Before boarding i asked
- ‘will this train go to Tribeni? Mogra Tribeni?’
- ‘yes, it will stop at Mogra.’
I had heard of this place. There was a singer Bhuban Das who hailed from our village. He, too, had run away. I had heard of this from our Guru.
I was excited. I kept on asking everybody
- ‘Is Tribeni about to come?’
For a long time, everyone kept on saying:
- ‘No it is still far away.’
The train went chugging on and on. Then someone told me:
- ‘This is the Mogra station. Get down here.’
So i went down.
There I saw several Vaishnavs, anointed with Tikas and carrying musical instruments. There was this tall guy with long hair named Tarapada. He, too, had a Tilak and was carrying a harmonium. Even I had long hair. Seeing me, he called out:
- ‘Hey boy! Where is your home?’
- ‘My house is in Bankura’
- ‘Where are you going?’
- ‘I have come out of my house. There is a sadhubaba who has a dotara and plays it, and he sings too. He also has a daughter named Kalyani. They used to stay in our village. They used to love me a lot. I have come to look for them. I have heard that they stay in Mogra Tribeni these days.’
- ‘come let us go! Can you sing?’
- ‘yes, a few songs i can.’
- ‘what instrument have you got? haven’t you got any?’
- ‘i haven’t got formal training anywhere. But i have a Doobki.’
Doobki was not a common name. It was called khawnjoni.
- ‘come, I will take you to your Guru. I know where he is. For now, you come with us.’
- ‘yes, let us go then.’
With them, i reached a village. They were singing. I was trying to join in, but i was not being very successful. I stayed all day. Once the day passed by, they took me to their house, gave me food. I took a bath. Then they asked me:
- ‘do you remember your Guru? do you know where he is?’
- ‘ i don’t. But i have heard that he stays here.’
- ‘come, i’ll take you to your Guru’
In Tribeni, there is a Kali-tola established by Raghu, the famed dacoit from times long past. We found them staying at a tiny rented room right beside that place. He saw and embraced me, made me sit on his lap.
- ‘How did you come?’
- ‘I have come like this. I won’t go back.’
- ‘alright, stay then.’
I stayed there for three years. My parents had become like mad with worries.
After three years, once again folks at Mogra planned to get me married. I was still at Tribeni.
It was a night before the Poush-Sankranti, devotees take the holy-dip of Makar. I told my father-Guru:
- ‘I need to go to Liluah.’
My music-Guru cooked some hot rice. He made me eat that with jaggery and finely ground coconut. It tasted like the dessert payesh. We had the food together. Then I packed by bag, put my Doobki in. I did not let Goshai know. I took the train from Mogra station straight to Durgapur. Then I took the bus from Durgapur, and returned home.
I saw my parents once again. They had become sick and frail with worries, they had not eaten properly. The whole village crowded at our yard. My parents began crying.
- ‘we won’t do anything like that ever again. Do what you want to do. But please stay at home. Don’t go anywhere. Let us die first, then go wherever you wish to go.’
- ‘okay. i won’t go anywhere from you. I only will go to the fairs, to my sadhu-baba and sadhu-ma who come there. I won’t go anywhere else. I might stay with them at times but i will come back; and you can also go visit me there anytime whenever i’m there.’
Thus my days went by, singing and playing music in the village and staying with my parents once again. I would go to the ashram – at times for a week, at times for a couple of weeks, and at times even for a month. They did not worry much. There were times my mother would come to see me in the ashram during my stays there; and there were times when my father would.
Then came the time for me to take Sanyas – the ordination. They took me to Jaydev. Much commotion grew surrounding my initiation. Bhagawan Das said
– ‘he had taken the Five-Names from me. He is from our place, he has met the sadhus close to us, and thus he must take his sanyas-initiation from me. Why would he take sanyas from you?’
Nimai’s mother joined in:
- ‘yes, right from childhood he has been with us. He would come to us and meet sadhus from since when he was a child.’
Radharani-Ma, on the other hand, was getting annoyed by this.
She put her foot down –
‘If you think you can take him away from us, by all means, do try!’
At this point, i spoke out
-- ‘All of your quarrels are pointless. I have learned the five names from Goshai. They are my Guru. I will take my Sanyas from them.’
I was about to take Sanyas. I was told:
- ‘there’s no messing around once you have taken Sanyas’
There was a kuchila plant around the place. Guru-Ma took me beside it and began explaining to me:
- ‘you see, Goshai is very strict on things like these. See, he has no family, no friends. He is of a very angry disposition and temperament. If you go along any wrong path then you will be destroyed in the society of the sadhus.’
- ‘no, i shall not go along any wrong path. I shall abide by whatever you tell me.’
I remember my ordainment at the fair. My head was shaved. A sack and a stick made of bamboo were given to me. I was made to walk all along the village. It was a big thing.
This ceremony happened at a time when my visits to their ashram had become infrequent; at one point of time I had even stopped going. But now, after taking the Sanyas from them, i began staying with them, in their ashram. But I would go home to see my folks sometimes.
The rules of ordination require that after taking Sanyas, the monk is not supposed to drink water from his parents for twelve years. So i would not enter the house. I would stand by our pond to see them. My parents would come. They would say:
- ‘We are well, you be good. Go now. Come whenever you wish to, whenever you feel sad.’
My parents would also come to the ashram whenever my absence made them very sad.
Thus the days went by. I used to stay in the ashram. The,n one day, my father fell ill. One of my brothers came and told me of this. He said that father might die. I went back to my house. The rules of sanyas forbade me from entering the house. So i shacked up at my neighbor’s house right next to ours. I was sleeping there. At midnight, i felt my mind restless. I approached my house. My father was writhing in pain. In a while, he passed away. I could not put fire in his mouth as the funeral rite. My elder brother did that. Within a month, mother, too, fell ill. Her belly had hardened up, it had become as hard as dry earth. She couldn’t eat anything. In this way, my mother, a good human, also went away. I became all alone. I had stopped going to the village except on rare occasions, but i would not stay for long and slip away soon after i would visit.
The story of my companionship with sadhus is very serious. I remember many things of my life right from childhood. I have not forgotten.
After that, years passed by in company of the sadhus. I would sing and play music at many places. Then i began longing to go to foreign lands, to travel in foreign climes, to sing at foreign places. Right from childhood i had this wish.
During my stay with the sadhus, i was told that i need to marry, that it is a part of my practice of faith – to get a ‘mother’. The Goshai insisted on this. My mother-superior, she had ordained the companion who was chosen for me. She was called AaTbai-ChonDi. On Ma-Goshai’s insistence, i agreed to exchange garlands and sandal with her. I had to obey what the Guru said.
After our ritual-marriage the Guru said:
- ‘Why will you go anywhere else? Stay as the house-husband over here. There are so many cows and calves here! You will get to drink a lot of milk.’
By then, i had learned some of the ways of the monks. I told my Guru –
‘i can stay here, Baba, if you show me the way to live. Or else i won’t.’
So many things were in my mind. The girl would stay for a few days and then would seek to go home. After every couple of days or so, she would seek to return to her parents. Bitterness thus crept into my mind.
Mother-superior got to know of this. She called many sadhus, including Banshi. The girl's parents also came. The sadhus told them:
- ‘Now that you have given your daughter to faith, now that she is wedded to a sadhu, why pull her homebound this much? Your daughter keeps on going back to you all the time. You must understand this that you have given your daughter to a monastic life.’
The girl’s mother said:
- ‘i have planted the tree, won’t i have the fruits?’
- ‘then don’t you want this for her?’
- ‘no, i must be obeyed. Just because i have got a son-in-law doesn’t mean that i have let go of her.’
- ‘so, what do you want?’
- ‘if i am not obeyed then i will take my daughter and go away. i will marry her off to someone else.’
Then Radharani-Ma said:
- ‘alright, so you say this in presence of the sadhus?’
- ‘yes i do’
- ‘alright then, please take her away. But see to this that no slander spreads in his name because of this, and make no demands out of him ever again in future. Or else, you will be in much torment, for much grief shall pay visit to you from this society of the sadhus.’
They woke up in the wee hours of the next dawn, took their daughter, and went away. I stayed on at the ashram.
I was approaching adulthood.. I had been singing and playing music ever since i was a little boy; these things were dear to me. My elder-brother too was close to the sadhus but he could never become a sadhu. He became a family man, but passed away within a few days of taking to familial ways. After that i renounced family-life in entirety. Even my parents had passed away and thus there was nothing to hold me back from becoming a full-fledged monk in the ashram. I had no yearning, no maya, left in me for my house. My Goshai would say this in rhyme:
‘oh, if you become an ascetic, you shall go to a place far away
where there are no traces of friends, family, relatives and own people’
So, i would not think of my village. If i saw anyone from the village, i would hide myself and run away.