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Articles about music and musicians
Social Change, through the Kabir Bhajan Mandali program, an experiment
The Real Punjabi Music by Himanshu Verma
Purna Das Baul interviewed by Pallavi Bhattacharya
The Tales of a Minstrel
Purna Das Baul interviewed by Pallavi Bhattacharya

Introduction : He has been a globetrotter for 67 years, Purna Das Baul was a special guest at Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger's home. The Baul Samrat of India shares his travel stories...

Purna Das

The bauls of Bengal have forever been wanderers. The tonic drone of their ektara is associated with mendicants seeking alms and carries overtones of sacrifice and homelessness- the spirit of the bairagi.

My father Nabini Das Baul would wander from place to place of worship singing baul songs. Though I was born in the Ekchakka village near Rampurhat in Birbhum I spent my childhood in a vagrant manner, as my father could never dwell for long in a single place. In those days villages of Bengal had monasteries of vaishnab monks where convocations would be held. I visited many of these convocations with my father, spent invaluable hours with many sadhus. Ever since I was a little boy I've been meeting interesting people through my travels. My father was invited to sing at fairs and pujas and I always accompanied him.
When I was just six years old the famine in Bengal threw our family into abject poverty forcing me to go out to the streets to sing Baul songs to save the family for starvation. This crisis in the family turned to be a boon in disguise, it made me embark on the roadway of eternal travel. When I was seven I started singing songs on platforms and trains, which made me travel even further. In this juncture of my life I met Sita Ram Omkarnath, a renowned saint who encouraged me to sing baul songs on soils alien to Bengal. At nine I found myself singing in Jaipur and winning the hearts of the audience to win a gold medal.

My first visit to Kolkata fascinated me. I was then in my early teens. I met many music artists and performed at Rang Mahal theatre and the Bongo Sanskriti Mela.  We put up at Jorasanko Thakhur Bari.  I soon started recording with my father in Kolkata and my cassettes became bestsellers.

It was in the late 1960s that I first went abroad. Albert Grossman- Bob Dylan's ex-manager invited me to the US to sing at a music festival in San Francisco. I toured the US singing at other music festivals and thereafter Grossman took me to Bearsville, Bob Dylan's hometown.

Bearsville was situated in the township of Woodstock. Known world wide as the quintessential New England Village, Woodstock is a pretty tiny town and the Western pilgrimage for music lovers and artists. It's a desolate town in the downtown area you'll find quaint shops and galleries with spiral staircases. It's a unique experience to explore its alleys and hidden side streets. Its countryside is full of surprises with cosy farms, mysterious inns and hospitable country stores.

Bearsville gets its name from the bears, which were on the prowl there to eat apples from its orchards and grapes from vineyards. Thankfully I never came face to face with a bear. I would love to see deer rolling on the grass bed carpeted with apples. Rabbits would scurry about and birds would chirp all day.

When I was working with Bob Dylan I lived in a wooden house with an adjoining swimming pool in the hilly woods in Bearsville. Dylan was a very friendly young man. On coming to know that we could only eat rice he had sent over sacks full of rice to our home and said that we weren't allowed to leave until we had consumed all of it. Dylan loved Indian dishes. In fact he would often come over and taste my wife's khichri. She would add apples instead of potatoes as the fruit grew in abundance there.

Purna Das with Bob Dylan
The recording studio of Bearsville looked like a castle in the woods. It was an ideal fairy tale setting. My guesthouse was situated very close to the music studio. I could work at the studio whenever I wanted to and if I was not in the mood of composing music I could come home. I remember Dylan traversing the countryside on horseback and strumming his guitar seated on a barrel. I fondly recollect all the jamming sessions with him. Before long we recorded albums together. Dylan would call himself the 'baul of America'. He pointed out to me that he wore patchwork jeans very much like my pied guduri and we both sang songs celebrating humanity- so where did the difference lie?

Meeting Mick Jagger in Nice, France was an equally stimulating experience. It was the hippie age when I toured France. Nice is a city with great scenic beauty. Green pine forests fringe the deep blue shores of the Mediterranean and the landscape soon ascends into a rocky and hilly terrain. The museums of Nice and its intellectual ambience have attracted artists, painters, writers, sculptors and musicians.

Mick Jagger's manager had invited me to work at the Rolling Stones studio in Nice. Ironically I had no idea who Mick Jagger was at that time though his music company had invited me. The Rolling Stones building was on the seashore was of palatial grandeur. It resembled the Victoria Memorial and had a beautiful glass ceiling from which sunlight poured in. I would spend hours gazing at the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean and the amazing aquatic life down below. The recording studio was underground completely cut off from any external sound.

When I first saw Mick Jagger he was on the seashore dancing to my music with the agility of a snake and then started strumming his guitar.  I was slightly far off singing, but we could see one another. Not knowing who he really was I told his manager that his dance was distracting me. His manager simply politely requested me to turn away from him and sing.

Purna Das(right) with Mick Jagger(center)
To my surprise soon I got a dinner invitation from Mick Jagger. He was driving like crazy while taking us up the hill to his home. He had turned an old castle to his home set amidst grape vines. Rolls Royce and sports cars were parked in front of his house.  I was his special guest. Mick Jagger was then married to Bianca, a daughter was born to them, he specially requested me to bless and name his daughter, as I was a spiritual person from India.  I named his daughter Krishna.  Jagger treated us to a lavish banquet. Chubby, colourful pet cats roamed about in his house. Mick Jagger was a motorbike racer - had many bikes and a helicopter. He fast became friends with the youngest son who was a child at that time and showered him with gifts.  I recorded the album Jai Bangla with him.
I had taken just one picture with Jagger and when I got it developed at a studio in London, the person at the counter asked me how I had got to know him.  I said both of us were artists.  Right then the television in the studio started beaming Mick Jagger coming out of his home and travelling to the airport.  "This is Mick Jagger, one of the greatest musicians of the world."

Purna Das in Hollywood

I have toured many countries.  All my air tickets will form a huge pile.  Bauls are wanderers who can never stay at one place for a long time.  Every country of the world is my home.  Every country I have been to has been of special significance to me starting from Japan - the land of the rising sun to the far West.  I can visit the same country many times and every time I'll be enchanted by something refreshingly new.  I am also proud to be a cultural ambassador of India.  It was a great honour to me to sing at the Tennessee Folk Festival.  I have a Baul Academy in San Diego now and have to travel there often.  It's nice when foreigners come forward to touch my feet at airports saying they have been overwhelmed by my music. 

It has also been a pleasure travelling with my family; two of my sons are settled in Mumbai and Paris, so I visit those cities regularly.  My wife has accompanied me on most of my travels, she is a musician too, and both of us have many memorable travel memories. Santiniketan is a favourite travel destination of mine because it is so close to Kolkata and I have formed a Baul Society there.  It is true that urbanisation is gradually creeping into Santiniketan - there are more streets, Internet cafes and high rises. Yet, it still has peace, sanctity and cultural ambience.
hough I have a house at Dhakuria in Kolkata, I have no fixed address whatsoever. I am still a wanderer at 74 years of age. I'd like to share with you a few lines of my favourite baul song:

Gari cholche ajob kole
Ei Deho diye mati poripati
Aguun, jol aar hawar kole

Our body is like a vehicle always travelling fuelled by water and wind. From dust we have come and after our travels are over we will return to dust.


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