“It’s been a long cherished dream,” says Parvathy Baul, the doyen of Baul music, whose searing songs never fail to touch listeners. The artiste is talking about Sanatan Siddhashram, which she is building in the heart of West Bengal, close to Santiniketan. She says that will be the permanent home of Ektara Kalari, a Baul gurukul that Parvathy and her husband, Ravi Gopalan Nair, initiated in 1997.
“This has been a dream of mine ever since I met my Guru Sanatan Das Baul. He’d told me that it was very important to create spaces to practise and respect the practice of the Baul tradition, which was born in villages, river banks and paddy fields of rural Bengal, where minstrels wandered, seeking sustenance from the community around, in return for the music and the wisdom that they offered. The mendicants lived in humble akharas,” says Parvathy.
Sanatan Siddhashram is named after Sanatan Das Baul, who passed away on February 28, 2016. “In the past, Baul was kept alive in akharas around Bengal. All of that is changing however, as villages change with the times. Hence, creating such spaces is important,” says Parvathy.
Sanatan Siddhashram is built on four acres in Kamardanga in Bhirbhum district of West Bengal. “We will have rooms for the Gurus and students to reside, workspaces, sadhana spaces, an archive and a library,” says Parvathy. The Baul Archive is a project close to Parvathy’s heart. “As Baul is an oral tradition, the teachings of the old masters have not been well documented. I want to collect as many Baul songs as possible and create a digital archive, which will become a place of research.” The Ashram will have a herbal garden, a pond and an open air theatre. There will also be a space for practising Kabiraji, a form of holistic healing that is practised in Bengal.
The Ashram will also offer new courses for the village children in Baul music and yoga. Designed by Pune-based architects, Saurabh Malpani and Prasanna More, the buildings have sun-baked mud bricks, fire-baked bricks, terracota tiles, palm leaves, wood, bamboo... for the construction. “We have also started growing our own food.”
The Ashram has already played host to two Baul Gyan Darpans, gathering of Bauls, in 2018 and 2019. The registration for Baul Gyan Darpan 2020 has started. Parvathy holds classes at the Ashram in between her tours. She is touring Europe for raising funds for her project. “It took me years to fulfil part of my dream; I know it’ll take a lifetime to accomplish it.” She signs off saying: “Once it is completed, I’d like to take a break from travelling, and spend more time on composing new songs, painting and, of course, teaching.”