Rethinking Femininity, Renunciation and Spirituality

By: Shilanjani Bhattacharyya  

The paper will attempt to explore lived experiences of ‘Baul’ women of the Indian state of West Bengal in the sphere of the syncretic spiritual tradition they engage with, while situating them in the philosophical character of renunciation of the "Baul" spiritual path. The Baul philosophy reflects aspirations of an egalitarian social order, while aiming towards the recognition of the divine in all human beings regardless of caste, class, gender or religion. The paper will commence with a discussion of the Baul philosophy, while proceeding to understand the position of Baul women in the claim of egalitarianism of the Baul spiritual path. To this effect, voices and experiences of Baul women, gleaned through ethnographic fieldwork, will be presented in an attempt to understand how their agency is exercised and their identities cultivated and negotiated in their daily lives vis a vis what is portrayed and upheld in the ideals of Baul philosophy. The lives of ‘Baul’ women, as informed by personal field notes, will also be juxtaposed against the enduring hetero-normative structures of the mainstream Bengali society they are situated in, to explore the variations or similarities that emerge in their lives, by the virtue of being Baul. Additionally, an in-depth analysis of various Baul songs, especially those written and practised by Baul women will be presented, so as to explore the domain of what they sing in relation to how they live and create meaningful lives for themselves in the social and spiritual contexts they regularly inhabit.

Baul, Women, Bengal, Gender, Spirituality, Renunciation
Religious Community and Socialization
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Shilanjani Bhattacharyya

Masters Student, Advanced Centre for Women's Studies, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India