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History of 4th July – Lalon Fakir & his Akhra

History of 4th July – Lalon Fakir & his Akhra

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4th July - Lalon Fakir

This article explores the history of 4th July, highlighting notable events such as the invention of the commercial steam engine, the detection of nickel, the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, the independence of the Philippine Islands, and the publication of the English novel Alice in Wonderland. However, the main focus is on the foundation of Lalon Akhra by Lalon Fakir.

It is the 185th day of the year and as I read the history of 4th July I find it is this day when Thomas Savery of Britain obtained the patent for the first commercial steam engine in the year 1698. Later in the year 1751 a Swedish chemist named Friedrich Kronstler succeeded in detecting nickel. It is also the day of American Independence as representatives of 13 states of America signed the Declaration of Independence of this country in the city of Philadelphia on this day in the year 1776. Interestingly exactly 170 years later Philippine Islands gained independence from the United States of America in the year 1946. Besides it was this day in the year 1865 when the famous English novel Alice in Wonderland was published. This way several significant events occurred on this day but what I would like to share is an event from the history of 4th July that brought a new thought process through music. My first story the spiritual left of Bengal.

The Spiritual Left of Bengal

History of 4th takes us back to the year 1797 when Lalon Fakir founded an institute known as Lalon Akhra in Cheuriya, about 2 kilometers from Kushita railway station.

Lalon was a prominent spiritual leader, philosopher, mystic poet, and social reformer in Bengal. He was also known as Lalon Shah, Lalon Fakir, Shahji, and titled Fakir, Shah. Lalon is considered an icon of Bengali culture, and his teachings have had a profound impact on numerous philosophers, poets, and social thinkers, including Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and Allen Ginsberg.

Lalon’s philosophy revolves around the essence of humanity and rejects all divisions based on caste, class, or creed. He vehemently opposed theological conflicts and racism, emphasizing the unity of all beings. Lalon’s teachings encourage the pursuit of the soul, transcending worldly concerns. He embodied the socially transformative role of Bhakti and Sufism in the subcontinent, promoting spiritual enlightenment and social harmony.

Due to Lalon’s reserved nature, there is limited information available about his early life, and reliable sources are scarce. The exact details of his birth, including when, where, and how he was born, remain unknown. Lalon did not receive any formal education.

According to Sunil Gangopadhyay’s book “Moner Manush,” Lalon’s past unfolds during a pilgrimage to the Jagannath temple. He contracted smallpox and was abandoned by his companions on the banks of the Kaliganga River. Fortunately, Malam Shah and his wife Matijan, members of the weaver community residing in the predominantly Muslim village of Cheuriya, found him weak and brought him to their home to recover. As he grew up, Lalon found guidance from his mentor, Siraj Sain, a Baul saint from the same village.

Lalon resided within the zamindari of the Tagore family in Kushtia and had interactions with them. It is said that Zamindar Jyotirindranath Tagore sketched the only known portrait of Lalon in 1889, while they were together on his houseboat on the Padma River. Lalon passed away on 17 October 1890 at Chheuriya, at the age of 118. The news of his demise was first published in the newspaper Gram Barta Prokashika, which was run by Kangal Harinath. Lalon was laid to rest in the center of his dwelling place, known as his Akhra. Researchers highlight that Kangal Harinath, a contemporary social reformer and a disciple of Lalon, was a close friend of the spiritual leader.

Lalon’s creative output was prolific, encompassing a vast collection of songs and poems that encapsulated his profound philosophy. It is estimated that Lalon composed somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 songs, although approximately 800 of them are widely regarded as authentic works. Remarkably, Lalon did not leave behind any written copies of his compositions. Instead, his songs were passed down orally and later transcribed by his devoted followers. However, it is worth noting that many of his disciples were also unable to read or write, resulting in a scarcity of written records for a majority of his songs. Rabindranath Tagore played a significant role in preserving Lalon’s musical legacy by publishing some of his songs in the monthly Prabasi magazine of Kolkata.

Among the extensive repertoire of Lalon’s compositions, several have gained tremendous popularity, including:

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  • 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,
  • Ar Amare Marishne Ma,
  • Tin Pagoler Holo Mela
  • Dhonno Dhonno Boli Tare
  • Emon Manob Jonom Aar Ki Hobe

Lalon’s songs transcend the boundaries of conventional realism, aiming to evoke an ineffable reality beyond description. While being acutely aware of the prevailing social conditions, Lalon conveyed the struggles of everyday life in his songs through simple yet emotionally resonant language. His philosophical teachings were not only conveyed orally but also expressed through musical compositions accompanied by folk instruments crafted from readily available materials, such as the ektara (a one-string musical instrument) and the duggi (drum).

Originally, Lalon’s songs were primarily associated with the Baul sects, but after Bangladesh gained independence, they gradually found their way to urban audiences through established singers. As their popularity spread, some performers began incorporating different musical instruments apart from the traditional ektara and baya. In order to appeal to the sensibilities of the urban masses, some artists started incorporating elements of classical music for a more refined presentation.

According to Farida Parveen, a renowned Lalon singer, there have been refinements in the pronunciation of the words used in Lalon’s songs, making the meanings clearer. This departure from the local influences on the bauls’ pronunciation was aimed at enhancing the accessibility and comprehension of the songs.

That’s all from the history of 4th July.

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