She was in her early 20s when she gave up education to pursue her passion - Baul music. Today, the world knows her by the name Parvathy Baul and she has enthralled millions across the globe with her voice and mesmerising role as a story-teller.
Parvathy was studying at Santiniketan University, when she decided to give up education and begin her quest of the ‘rootless’ (One of her early teachers, Phulmala Dashi, once told her that Baul means ‘the rootless’). ‘’In Santinketan, where I studied visual arts, we had a holistic education. There was no art, no sculpture...all arts merged together beautifully. I came across Baul music during an event that was held on the campus because Rabindranath Tagore wanted to make a bridge between Bauls and the so-called intellectuals of Bengal,’’ she says.
‘‘This quest for the rootless provoked a stream of thought within me. I was eager to know more.’’ And so Parvathy left her graduation mid-way and wandered. ‘’This wandering took me to the ashram of Sanatan Das Baul at Sonamukhi in Bamkura district in West Bengal,’’ recalls Parvathy. The octogenarian guru initiated her as a Baul in 1997.
Bauls are nomads and spend their time singing songs of Radha Krishna. ‘‘Radha is also seen as a Baul. She is more important in a way as she ultimately met her beloved, which signifies atma reaching paramatma,’’ she explains. ‘’We have songs on breathing called dehtatva, and sadhnatatva, which teach various stages of sadhana,’’ says Parvathy, who gave her first performance in 2001.
Citing another reason for her love towards the performing tradition, Parvathy says, ‘’the form is unique as it is the only tradition which requires you to be involved physically as well as spiritually. You pray as you sing, dance and play instruments, all at the same time,’’ she says. ‘‘Initially I was drawn to it as an art form; the spiritual part came to me slowly over the years.’’
At 37, Parvathy has reached the highest stage of ‘sadhana’ in Baul. She can sing ‘mahaterpad’, the song of mahatma, which only the masters are allowed to sing. ‘’We pray God to remain humble. After certain years, a great artist can get over ego. We have to remember that we serve God,’’ says the humble singer. She dons the role of a Baul performer with the ektara in hand and duggi under her palm and when she is singing and dancing, she can carry you to the mystical world.
Parvathy’s transformation as a true Baul materialised in Kerala in 1997 which she visited as a part of her study on Indian spiritual tradition. ‘‘There my guru-turned-husband G Ravi trained me on techniques that are used in theatre, as surprisingly they have taken a lot of inspiration from Baul concepts,’’ says Parvathy.
They now live in Thiruvananthapuram where they run an ashram ‘Ektara Baul Sangeetha Kalari’. ‘’Besides being a puppeteer and mask-maker, Ravi is an art director and has worked with several international collaborations,’’ she says.
Currently, Parvathy along with Ravi are on a self assigned mission to spread the Baul tradition to other parts of the country. And their trip to Odisha for the BMC event is a part of the long journey.
She perfomed in Bhubaneswar this week for Samarpan, a Sufi Music Festival, organised by the Bhubaneswar Music Circle (BMC).