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There are two classes of Bauls: ascetic Bauls who reject family life and Bauls who live with their families.
Ascetic Bauls renounce family life and society and survive on alms. Women, dedicated to the service of ascetics, are known as sevadasis (seva, service dasi, maidservant).
The Bauls themselves attribute their lack of historical records to their reluctance to leave traces behind. Jeanne Openshaw writes that the music of the Bauls appears to have been passed down entirely in oral form until the end of the 19th century, when it was first transcribed by outside observers.
suggests that Bauls are descendants of a branch of Sufism called ba'al.
In 1982-83 the number rose to 905; in 2000, they numbered about 5,000.
Those who choose family life live with their wives, children and relations in a secluded part of a village.
Like the Sufi, the Baul searches for the divine beloved and finds him housed in the human body.
Bauls call the beloved sain (lord), murshid (guide), or guru (preceptor), and it is in his search that they go 'mad'.
Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition.In order to become Bauls, they recite some mystic verses and observe certain rituals.Baul music celebrates celestial love, but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the Baul for his bosh-tomi or lifemate. Some wear malas [Hindu rosaries] around their necks, some tasbis [Muslim rosaries], and so people say they've got different religions.Their music represents a long heritage of preaching mysticism through songs in Bengal, as in the Shahebdhoni or Bolahadi sects.Bauls pour out their feelings in their songs but never bother to write them down. It is said that Lalon Fokir (1774 -1890), the greatest of all Bauls, continued to compose and sing songs for decades without ever stopping to correct them or put them on paper.