6. The Spirit of Place: Shared Encounters with the Bauls and Fakirs of West Bengal

Religion and Senses of Place - Graham Harvey

Denise Doyle [+-]
University of Wolverhampton
Denise Doyle is a Reader in Digital Media at the University of Wolverhampton, Adjunct Professor of Digital Futures at Ontario College of Art and Design University, Toronto, and the Principle Editor of the Journal of Virtual Creativity, Intellect, UK. Her research interests include: art-science dialogues, STARTS, VR/AR/MR, the phenomenology of digital space, interactive film, philosophies of the imagination, immersive technologies, practice-based research methods, and digital narratives. Having secured funding through the International Research and Innovation (IRIS) scheme she is currently Principle Investigator for Investigating Successful STARTS Methodologies (2019-21). With a background in Fine Art Painting and Digital Media, Denise has contributed research in the fields of art and technology, phenomenology, performance, video games, art and consciousness, virtual worlds, and digital arts practice through book chapters, edited book, and articles. She edited the artist led book New Opportunities for Artistic Practice in Virtual Worlds (2015). Denise is currently writing a monograph on Digital Embodiment for Intellect, UK, and sits on the editorial boards for the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media (Routledge) and the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds (Intellect).
Tara Baoth Mooney [+-]
Independent Artist, Musician and Design Consultant
Tara Baoth Mooney is a multi disciplinary Independent Artist, Musician and Design Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in music, sustainable fashion, and art. She is committed to both curiosity and reflection on the relationships between humans, their environment and the elements that surround them. Her work often explores the non-linear nature of self, place and narrative in other people's lived experience and she uses different tools to explore these questions through her practice. This work has brought her from the Jim Henson Studio in New York, to the heart of fashion production in China, Bangladesh and India as well as working as a musician and artist in residence in UAL, London and UCD Ireland. Her work is featured in Fletcher and Ingun Klepp (eds.): ‘Opening up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book’ (Fletcher/Klepp, 2017), ‘The Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion’ (Fletcher, 2016) and the textbook on Sustainable Fashion: ‘A Practical Guide to Sustainable Fashion’ (Gwilt, 2014). Tara is a named inventor on the patent ‘A system and method for garment design online’ (WO/2009/118197). She has a Master's degree with distinction that focuses on the complex relationship between Fashion and the Environment from London College of Fashion, UAL. Over a 5 years period Tara worked with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) exploring innovative approaches to community development in Bangladesh through her work with womens’ groups, University fashion students and SME’s. Tara is currently completing a PhD at the University of Wolverhampton where she is exploring the complex relationship between people living with dementia and their cherished garments.


There is no knowing or sensing a place except by being in that place and to be in a place is not, then, subsequent to perception ... but is an ingredient of perception itself. Such knowledge, genuinely local knowledge, is itself experiential (Edward Casey (1997, p. 18) The rich history and sheer diversity of folk art practices in South Asia is repeated across the many states of India, already well known for its intense saturation of the senses. In particular the state of West Bengal, the onetime seat of British India and the birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore, is host to an array of intangible folk art practices. These practices are often specific to particular regions or even small clusters of villages. In Spring 2011 a group of artists, musicians and dancers from Europe were invited to participate in a ten-day cultural exchange workshop in Calcutta (hosted by the Indian organisation and agent for change, Banglanatak dot com). Working alongside three distinct groups, the Chau dancers, the Baul and Fakir spiritual musicians, and the Jhumur rural singers and dancers, ‘moments of play’ and ‘moments of exchange’ became pivotal points of mutual exploration, thus providing a platform for cultural exchange. Through this encounter a number of themes and questions emerged. A potential consequence of rapid change and globalisation is the loss of heterogeneous cultural and spiritual practices (already being seen in the state capital Calcutta where the practice of throwing figures of gods and deities into the Hooghly river is now actively discouraged). Cultural exchange, however, is not a contemporary phenomenon; witness the meeting of Rabindranath Tagore and WB Yeats in London in 1912 and again in 1913. Tagore credited the "national awakening" of Ireland, as being Yeats' return to "the ancient poetic tradition of Ireland" and similarly Yeats claimed that Tagore's poetry was crucial for a "new Renaissance" that had "been born in" India’ (Chakravarty, 1998, p.165). Tagore is a well known figure who was himself inspired by the Baul and Fakirs spiritual songs and practices. During a two-day trip to a Fakir village on the Bangladeshi border, the group were introduced to an extraordinary female Baul, Shubadra Gaan, who played the harmonium and sang of God as ‘Manush who never changes’. In this chapter we propose to reconsider our experience of place through those encounters a number of years ago that still hold clear in our memory. Evenings spent at the Fakir village on the border of Bangladesh are remembered through those cultural encounters as ‘lived experience’ and the spirit of that particular place through to the extraordinary encounter with Shubadra Gaan.

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Doyle, Denise; Mooney, Tara Baoth. 6. The Spirit of Place: Shared Encounters with the Bauls and Fakirs of West Bengal. Religion and Senses of Place. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2021. ISBN 9780000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=41479. Date accessed: 08 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.41479. Nov 2021

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