Songs of the Old Madmen: Recovering Baul Songs from the Note-Books of 19th and 20th Century Bengali Saint-Composers (EAP1247)

Aims and objectives

The songs of the Bauls (literally “mad”, intoxicated by divine love) are composed by gurus or spiritual teachers and performed by itinerant folk musicians. They are transmitted among low-caste communities in India and Bangladesh, where they are recognized as intangible cultural heritage. An encyclopaedia of beliefs and practices, Baul songs discuss ideas on cosmogony, health, sexuality, meditation and everyday life. This project aims to digitize 10.000 hand-written songs from the personal note-books of influential singers/songwriters of the Baul tradition, located with their lineage descendants in West Bengal (India). It also aims to locate endangered note-books of important gurus to protect other corpora of songs in the future.


This project has achieved the preservation and digitisation of 13 handwritten notebooks of Baul songs, three albums of correspondence between guru and disciple, historical documents, and numerous photographs of Baul performers and their families which have been found within the pages of the notebooks.

This collection provides important primary sources for the study of the Baul tradition of Bengal, showing how the songs are passed down across the generations and transmitted from older gurus to contemporary singers/practitioners. It will share unprecedented information about the continuity and change in the repertoire of Baul songs, while also offering a window to understand the intimate and devotional relationship between gurus and disciples of this tradition.

A survey was produced as part of the project outcomes:

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: