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Sain/Sai, Shah
সাঁই, শাহ (from Persian سای)
Fakir Lalon Shah.jpg
Lalon's only portrait, sketched during his lifetime by Jyotirindranath Tagore.
Native name লালন
Born c. 1774
Horishpur Horinakundo Jhenaidah, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in Bangladesh)
Died 17 October 1890(1890-10-17)
Cheuriya, Kushtia, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in Bangladesh)
Resting place
Cheuriya, Kushtia, Bengaldesh
23°53′44″N 89°09′07″E / 23.89556°N 89.15194°E / 23.89556; 89.15194
Ethnicity Bengali
Known for Baul music
Spouse(s) Bishōkha

Lalon, also known as Lalon Sain, Lalon Shah, or Lalon Fakir (c. 1774– 17 October 1890),[1][2] was a Bengali Baul saint, mystic, songwriter, social reformer and thinker. In Bengali culture he has become an icon of religious tolerance whose songs inspired and influenced many poets, social and religious thinkers including Rabindranath Tagore,[3][4][5][6] Kazi Nazrul Islam,[7] and Allen Ginsberg though he "rejected all distinctions of caste and creed".[3] He was both praised and criticized in his lifetime and after his death.[8] His disciples mostly live in Bangladesh and West Bengal. He founded the institute known as Lalon Akhrah in Cheuriya, about 2 km. from Kushtia railway station. He is also regarded as the founder of the Baul music and sometimes called Baul Shamrat (The king of Bauls).[9]

Early life[edit]

They are curious to know what Lalon's Jāt (the Bengali word for caste in the Hindu religion) is,
Circumcision tells a Muslim from others,
But what is the mark of his (Muslim) woman?
The Brahman is known by his thread,
How do I tell who is a Brahmani (Brahman woman)?

— Lalon

There are few reliable sources for the details of Lalon's early life as he was reticent in revealing his past, though there has been considerable speculation about his physical appearance, religious background etc.[10] One account relates that Lalon, during a pilgrimage to Murshidabad with others of his native village, he contracted smallpox and was abandoned by his companions on the banks of the Ganges, from where Malam Shah and his wife Matijan, members of the weaver community in a Muslim-populated village, Cheouria, took him to their home to convalesce.[11]
They gave Lalon land to live where he founded a musical group and remained to compose and perform his songs, inspired by Shiraj Sain, a musician of that village.


Everyone asks, "What Jāt does Lalon belong to in this world?"
Lalon answers, "What does Jāt look like?"
I've never laid eyes upon it.
Some use Malas (Hindu rosaries),
others Tasbis (Muslim rosaries), and so people say
they belong to different Jāts.
But do you bear the sign of your Jāt
when you come (to this world) or when you leave (this world)?

— Lalon[12]
[Edited to give a better translation]

Lalon was against religious conflict and many of his songs mock identity politics that divide communities and generate violence. He even rejected nationalism at the apex of the anti-colonial nationalist movements in the Indian subcontinent. He did not believe in classes or castes, the fragmented, hierarchical society, and took a stand against racism. [see Jāti]

Lalon does not fit the "mystical" or "spiritual" type who denies all worldly affairs in search of the soul: he embodies the socially transformative role of sub-contintental bhakti and sufism.

He believed in the power of music to alter the intellectual and emotional state in order to be able to understand and appreciate life itself. The texts of his songs engage in philosophical discourses of Bengal, continuing Tantric traditions of the Indian subcontinent, particularly Nepal, Bengal and the Gangetic plains. He appropriated various philosophical positions emanating from Hindu, Jainist, Buddhist and Islamic traditions, developing them into a coherent discourse without falling into eclecticism or syncretism. He explicitly identified himself with the Nadiya school, with Advaita Acharya, Nityananda and Chaitanya. He was greatly influenced by the social movement initiated by Chaitanya against differences of caste, creed and religion. His songs reject any absolute standard of right and wrong and show the triviality of any attempt to divide people whether materially or spiritually.


How does the Unknown bird go,
into the cage and out again,
Could I but seize it,
I would put the fetters of my heart,
around its feet.
The cage has eight rooms and nine closed doors;
From time to time fire flares out;.
Above there is a main room,
The mirror-chamber
O my heart, you are set on the affaires
of the cage;
(Yet) the cage was made by you,
made with green bamboo;
The cage may fall apart any day.
Lalon says,
The bird may work its way out
and fly off somewhere.

— Lalon's song translated by Brother James

Lalon composed numerous songs and poems, which describe his philosophy. It is said that he had composed about 10,000 songs of which 2,000-3,000 can be tracked down today while others are lost in time and hearts of his numerous followers. Most of his followers could not read or write either, so few of his songs are found in written form.

Among his most popular songs are Shob Loke Koy Lalon Ki Jat Shongshare, Khachar Bhitor Ochin Pakhi kyamne ashe jaay, Jat Gelo Jat Gelo Bole, Dekhna Mon Jhokmariay Duniyadari, Pare Loye Jao Amai, Milon Hobe Koto Dine/ Amar moner manusher shone, Ar Amare Marishne Ma, Tin Pagoler Holo Mela, etc.

The songs of Lalon aim at an indescribable reality beyond realism. He was observant of social conditions and his songs spoke of day-to-day problems in simple yet moving language. His philosophy was expressed orally, as well as through songs and musical compositions using folk instruments that could be made from materials available at home; the ektara (one-string musical instrument) and the duggi (drum).

Legacy and depictions in popular culture[edit]

In 1963, a mausoleum and research centre were built at the site of his shrine. Thousands of people come to the shrine (known in Bengali as an Akhra) twice a year, at Dol Purnima in the month of Falgun (February to March) and in October, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death. During these three-day song melas, people, particularly Muslim fakirs and Bauls pay tribute. Among the modern singers of Baul music Farida Parveen, Anusheh Anadil, Rinku and Arup Rahee are internationally known for singing Lalon songs.

Film and literature[edit]

Lalon has been portrayed in literature, film, television drama, and in the theatre. Prosenjit portrayed Lalan Shah in the Moner Manush, a 2010 Bengali film based on the life and philosophy of Lalon Shah.[13] The film was an adaptation of Sunil Gangopadhyay's biographical novel of the same name. This film directed by Goutam Ghose won the Best Film prize at the 41st International Film Festival of India held at Goa from 22 Nov to 02 Dec 2010. In 2004 Tanvir Mokammel directed the film Lalon in which Raisul Islam Asad portrayed Lalon Shah.



  1. ^ Basantakumar Pal. Mahatma Lalon Fakir (in Bengali). Shantipur: (1956), Dhaka (2010?): Pathak Samabesh (Dhaka). 
  2. ^ Wakil Ahmed (2005). Lalon Geeti Samagra (in Bengali). Dhaka: Baipatra. p. 12. ISBN 984-8116-46-X. 
  3. ^ a b [2] Anwarul Karim, Banglapedia
  4. ^ Choudhury 1992,p. 59.
  5. ^ Urban 2001, p. 18.
  6. ^ Tagore, Stewart & Twichell 2003, p. 94.
  7. ^ Hossain 2009,p. 148.
  8. ^ Choudhury 1992,p. 106.
  9. ^ Amanur Aman (16 October 2014). "Five-day Lalon festival begins today". The Daily Star. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Choudhury 1992,p. 3.
  11. ^ Film of the life of Lalon
  12. ^ Lopez, Donald (1995). Religions in India in Practice - "Baul Songs". Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 187–208. ISBN 0-691-04324-8. 
  13. ^ "Review: Moner Manush". December 06, 2010. NDTV movies. Retrieved 29 August 2012. 


  • Choudhury, A. A. (1992). Lalon Shah ISBN 984-07-2597-1
  • Urban, H. B. (2001), Songs of Ecstasy: Tantric and Devotional Songs from Colonial Bengal, Oxford University Press (published 22 November 2001), ISBN 978-0-19-513901-3
  • Tagore, R.; Stewart, T. K. (translator); Twichell, C. (translator) (2003), Rabindranath Tagore: Lover of God, Lannan Literary Selections, Copper Canyon Press (published 1 November 2003), ISBN 978-1-55659-196-9
  • Hosaain, A. I. (2009). Lalon Shah: The Great Poet ISBN 9846030673
  • Beurle, Klaus, Der Mensch des Herzens. Eine theologische Deutung von Gedichten des bengalischen Mystikers Lalon Shah (St. Ottilien, EOS, 2011).
  • Bandyopadhyay, Debaprasad.2012.Non-Linguistics of Silenceme: Lalon
  • Lalon Geeti Portal

Further reading[edit]

  • Muhammad Enamul Haq (1975), A History of Sufism in Bangla, Asiatic Society, Dhaka.
  • Qureshi, Mahmud Shah (1977), Poems Mystiques Bengalis. Chants Bauls Unesco. Paris.
  • Siddiqi, Ashraf (1977), Our Folklore Our Heritage, Dhaka.
  • Karim, Anwarul (1980), The Bauls of Bangladesh. Lalon Academy, Kushtia.
  • Capwell, Charles (1986), The Music of the Bauls of Bengal. Kent State University Press, USA 1986.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Pranab (1989), Bauls of Bengal. Firma KLM Pvt, Ltd., calcutta.
  • Mcdaniel, June (1989), The Madness of the Saints. Chicago.
  • Sarkar, R. M. (1990), Bauls of Bengal. New Delhi.
  • Brahma, Tripti (1990), Lalon : His Melodies. Calcutta.
  • Gupta, Samir Das (2000), Songs of Lalon. Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka.
  • Karim, Anwarul (2001), Rabindranath O Banglar Baul (in Bengali), Dhaka.
  • Choudhury, Abul Ahsan (editor) (2008), Lalon Samagra, Pathak Samabesh.

External links[edit]