Folk Sects

Folk Sects may be broadly classified into four main religious communities: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. Alongside these principal communities, there are some folk sects having different religious faiths, lifestyles and cultural patterns. Though they are not completely detached from the main religious streams, they cherish separate and independent concepts and perceptions, and their life-styles are different. These sub-communities emerged at different times and in different places. Although some sub-communities have dispersed and spread, they remain confined mainly to their places of origin. Religious sub-communities, like the Balahadis, baul, kartabhaja, Jagomohani, matuya, Nyada, and Sahebdhani, are found in both Bangladesh and west bengal in India. These groups may also be referred to as 'folk communities'.

Balahadi Balaram Hadi (1780-1845) of meherpur, kushtia, was the founder of this community. The ideal of the Balahadis is to lead a pure and simple life, above greed and sensuality. They consider praying to be their fundamental duty. According to them, the universe is the body of God. Hindu disciples call their deity Hadirama, while Muslim disciples use the term Hadi-Allah. Though declining in numbers, the Balahadis are still to be found at some places like Meherpur, Nishchintapur in nadia (India), Daikiari in Purulia (India), Shalunigram in Bankura (India) etc.

Baul The Baul form the most well-known folk sect or community in Bengal. It is believed that the community came into existence as a result of the blending of the Muslim fakir or mendicant class with the followers of the sahajiya cult. Although the Baul community was in existence before lalon shah's time (1774-1890), it was only with the coming of Lalon that the community established itself as a social force. Lalon Shah's ideas of common spiritual ties between people of diverse religions appealed to ordinary people, particularly oppressed farmers and weavers.

There are both itinerant Bauls as well as Bauls who live at home with their families. Itinerant Bauls depend on alms and wander about singing and playing their ektara in search of their maner manus or ideal being. The Baul are iconoclasts, believing in neither caste nor creed. They say that both body and soul are important and that God lives in the human body. Although the Baul community originated in the districts of Kushtia and Nadia, it has spread from sylhet and Tippera in the east to Birbhum-Manbhum (India) in the west.

Jagomohani Jagonmohan Gonsai (17th century) of the village of Baghasura in Sylhet district was the founder of the community which was organised by Ramkrishna, one of his disciples. Jagomohinis believe in the Vedas and lead ascetic lives. They are iconoclasts and do not consider the tulsi plant or cow dung to be sacred. Songs, known as Nirvan Sangit, form an important part of their religious worship. They have a total of twelve holy places including Machulia and Jalsukha in Sylhet and others in faridpur and dhaka.

Kartabhaja awul chand was the earliest preceptor of the Kartabhaja community. He started the community with 22 followers. His disciple, Ramsharan Pal (?-1783), organised the Kartabhaja community following the ideals of his spiritual guide. While the community includes both Hindus and Muslims, there is a predominance of Hindus, particularly from the Sadgop, Kalu, Muchi, and Vaishvava communities. Kartabhajas celebrate Dolkhela, Dol Purnima, Baishakhi Purnima, and laksmi puja. They believe that bathing in the Himsagar Lake is as sacred as bathing in the Ganges.

Kishoribhajan is a Vaishnava sub-community located in Sylhet. However, they oppose orthodox Vishnu philosophy and are followers of the Sahajiya cult. In their meeting places they perform dances and songs based on the Radha-Krishna story. Every male member has a female partner, whom he initiates in the art of love. There is also a diksa-guru, an initiator guide, who initiates disciples. They believe in five elements: nama (God's name), mantra (mystical words), bhava (essence), prema (love) and rasa (sentiment). Among these five elements, love and sentiment are of cardinal importance.

Matuya Sri harichand thakur of Urakandi in Faridpur (now gopalganj) was the founder of this sect. His son, Sri Guruchand, helped organise it. Thus both of them are equally respected. The word matuya is derived from matta or matoyara, meaning completely engrossed. The Matuya follow twelve principles, among them, universal humanism, social welfare, truthfulness, mercy to animals, self-help and uttering the name of God. Songs form an integral part of their worship, as they do that of Bauls. The scheduled castes of Faridpur and khulna districts are the main followers of this cult.

Nyada Birbhadra, son of Nityananda, was the founder of this community. The Nyada are somewhat similar to the Vaishnavas and Bauls in dress and practices. They utter the phrases Haribol and Bir Abadhut. They have also some austere practices like the Bauls. They wear loose, patched, multi-coloured robes. They wear caps, carry cloth shoulder-bags and hold a stick and a coconut shell in one hand. They maintain themselves on alms. The descendants of the community still live in the Dhaka and Birbhum districts.

Sahebdhani The Sahebdhani community originated in the village of Dogachia-Shaligram in Nadia. The actual founder of this community is unknown, but both Muslims and Hindus contributed to it. The Sahebdhani are iconoclasts and do not believe in caste or creed. They believe in congregational prayers and hold them every Thursday. They call their spiritual guide Dinadayal, Dinabandhu. They have certain esoteric sexual practices. They hold an annual festival and mela (fair) during Baisakhi Purnima in the village of Brittihuda on the banks of the river Jalabgi. The community has decreased considerably in number. [Wakil Ahmed]

Bibliography KS Shastri, Banglar Baul, Calcutta 1954; Akshaykumar Dutta, Bharatbarsiya Upasak Sampraday, Calcutta 1870; Sheikh Gaus, Khulnar Loka-Sahitye Itihaser Upadan, Khulna, 1981.