Lalon Fakir: Songs (19th Century)

Lalon Fakir was born in 1774 in an obscure village in the district of Kushtia, now in Bangladesh). One of the greatest mystic-singers the Indian subcontinent has ever produced, Lalon was perhaps the most radical voice in India during British colonial rule. Like Kabir, he had no formal education and lived in extreme poverty. Writing in nineteenth-century lyrical Bengali. Lalon composed numerous songs which still provide spiritual and political inspiration to the Bengali rural peasant--a class from which Lalon himself came, and also to freedom-fighters all over the world. He celebrates the freedom of body, soul, and even language from all repressive and divisive forces. Always opposed to casteism, sectarianism, and colonialism, Lalon represents and exemplifies the true revolutionary and secular nature of his community known as "Baul", a community of low-class, illiterate, wandering singers whose wisdom and wit do not come from academic training, but from an active contact with a life intensely lived.

What images are used here to symbolize mental freedom? Howare women used to argue against distinctions based on caste in the second poem?


A Strange Bird

Look, how a strange bird flits in and out of the cage!
O brother, I wish I could bind it with my mindís fetters.
Have you seen a house of eight rooms with nine doors
Closed and open, with windows in between, mirrored?
O mind, you are a bird encaged! And of green sticks
Is your cage made, but it will be broken one day.
Lalon says: Open the cage, look how the bird wings away!


Casteism

People ask, what is Lalon's caste?
Lalon says, my eyes fail to detect
The signs of caste. Don't you see that
Some wear garlands, some rosaries
Around the neck? But does it make any
Difference brother? O, tell me,
What mark does one carry when
One is born, or when one dies?
A muslim is marked by the sign
Of circumcision; but how should
You mark a woman? If a Brahmin male
Is known by the thread he wears,
How is a woman known? People of the world,
O brother, talk of marks and signs,
But Lalon says: I have only dissolved
The raft of signs, the marks of caste
In the deluge of the One!

Translated by Azfar Hussain


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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 2, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.

The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 2. Reading About the World is now out of print. You can search for used copies using the following information:Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-567425-0 or Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 2, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-512826-4.

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