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Writing the SelfThe Life and Philosophy of a Bengali Baul Guru$

Jeanne Openshaw

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780198062479

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198062479.001.0001

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(p.231) Appendix 2 The Manuscript Texts and Chronology

(p.231) Appendix 2 The Manuscript Texts and Chronology

Writing the Self
Oxford University Press

(p.231) Appendix 2

The Manuscript Texts and Chronology

Raj’s autograph manuscript comprises 375 loose sheets, approximately 9 inches wide and 4 inches long, the vast majority of which are written on both sides, in Bengali verse. The manuscript is held together by two roughly engraved wooden blocks (pāṭā) of slightly larger size. The entire manuscript is written in Bengali script, with the exception of a couple of proper names, which are written in roman letters as headings, or on loose pages.

As the size and variety of content suggest, Raj’s manuscript was composed over a long period of time and in different places. Dating and chronology are particularly problematic in a loose-leaved collection. The physical characteristics of the manuscript, such as the presence of different inks and paper qualities, and variations of handwriting style, assisted with relative dating of the different works. Dates written within the manuscript, or carved (or written) on the wooden covers, provide a more absolute time-frame (although there are problems associated with these, especially in the case of the JC—see below).1 The content of the various texts within the manuscripts, including the citing of specific events, as well as oral accounts collected during fieldwork, clarify the chronological picture further. This collective evidence suggests that Raj did not embark on the writing of any of the texts before departing householder life in c. 1901 CE.

Raj may well have started writing as a hobby early in his life, in common with many literate Bengalis. What is certain is that writing gradually became one of his life’s obsessions. He clearly spent a great deal of time and effort on perfecting his craft. Whereas the JC, Text A and Text B were written or copied out in large sections, three texts were built up over long periods, sometimes item by item: Riddles, Remedies, and Songs (this last being crucial to the present work). As such, they are characterized by a great variety of papers and inks. As mentioned above, establishing relative chronology was aided by distinct colours of ink used by Raj, some of which were home-made. For example, assigning a rough date to the last few pages of the JC was assisted by the rarity, in the rest of the manuscript, of the brown ink in which those last few pages were written, as well as their content.

(p.232) My conclusion is that, of the four main texts in the manuscript, two (the JC and Text A) were begun after Raj left householder life (c. 1901), but before he met Rajesvar in Icchapur (1907). He perhaps began to cut his creative teeth on drafts of the JC, and, in accordance with his change in status, by copying out traditional texts (as in the beginning of Text A), a conventional practice which gradually blossomed into more creative composition.

(1) The Autobiography (JC) of Raj Krishna

Sixteen sheets of verse text, written on both sides. It seems more than likely that Raj arrived in Icchapur with the first 25 pages of the JC already written in some form. Indeed, particularly in the light of its content, it is quite likely that this section was the first of Raj’s extant works to be written. There is then a gap, presumably owing to loss of interest in the work, although these 25 pages were probably copied out in neat during his stay in Nadia, before the elopement. The final few pages (pp. 26–9) were clearly written much later, in rough and cursory fashion, perhaps when Raj felt impelled to further brief introspection on his life or perhaps urged on by intimates. From the content of these last pages, and the colour of the ink, it can be concluded that this last section was written within a short period of time, after Raj had been in Jalsagar for many years.

(2) Untitled ‘Text A’

One hundred and fifty-one sheets (of which one is missing) including table of contents. Judging by its content, it began to be transcribed and composed from c. 1901, sometime after Raj left householder life. It was completed by the time Raj eloped with Rajesvar (1912). Text A constitutes Raj’s capital as a guru. This text is an assemblage of heterogeneous (largely Vaishnava and renunciate) contents. Its neat and regular writing suggests that it is a fair copy, based in part on numerous notes compiled by Raj during his time as a renouncer. Some of the individual texts of ‘Text A’ comprise traditional materials, including writings attributed to named authors; other sections are adapted or composed, and occasionally ‘signed’, by Raj, who names himself separately as writer, as well as owner of the text.2 The text begins with the kind of technical Vaishnava credentials and other background materials useful for establishing a ‘seat’ in the society of renouncers. Traditional Bengali Vaishnava texts, open to ‘Sahajiya’ interpretation, follow. The penultimate part of the text consists of a long ‘Tantric’ section, describing esoteric practices in predominantly Vaishnava (but also Sakta-Saiva) terminology and imagery. Song extracts featuring Bartaman-panthi philosophy also figure. The fact that this is fundamentally Raj’s composition is revealed by the inclusion of personal asides and names, including references to Rajesvar, as well as the degree of subsequent alterations to the text. Text A reveals typical Bartaman-panthi characteristics in its persistent displacement of conventional Vaishnava referents (mythical-historical places and personages, mantras, the guru, and so on), by situating them in the human body. It was twice (p.233) continued after being brought to an end, and the table of contents only goes up to p. 285. The very last part comprises various mantras, medical remedies, and so on. Part of the text, including the guru lineage (slightly amended), was copied into a bound notebook for the parents of SA.

(3) ‘Text B’

With pages numbered up to 82 (41 sheets) is cryptically entitled: ‘Delusion of mind, and the sublime play of essence (Man bhrānti, svarūp līlā). In common with the beginning of the JC (pp. 1–25 inclusive), it is neatly copied out in blue ink. As its content reveals, this was begun after Raj’s encounter with Rajesvar in Icchapur in 1907, and was completed before the elopement. Text B contains lengthy ruminations in verse, often of a startlingly personal nature, as well as an apparently developing formulation of Bartaman-panthi philosophy, especially as a defence for his controversial decision not to renounce Rajesvar. Opening with praise songs to Rajesvar, Text B continues with details of Raj’s agony at their separation. In a sense, Text B may be considered intermediate to the events of Raj’s life and the worked theory of the songs, in that it contains reactions to events in his life, some of which were subsequently polished and modified for inclusion in his songs.

(4) Songs (‘Raj Krishna’s songs’)

A hundred and thirteen sheets, plus two loose sheets on rhythm (115 sheets in total, nearly 200 songs. Songs 37 and 38 are missing.) Raj’s songs (classified as ‘Baul-songs’) constitute his most public face, since they are almost invariably signed ‘Raj’, ‘Raj Krishna’, ‘Raj Rajesvar’ et cetera. The songs also refer to Rajesvar right from the beginning, and, on the whole, present a fully-formed bartaman or baul ideology. From their content and, in part, from the order of the songs, these too were almost certainly3 begun after Raj’s arrival in Icchapur. From that time, Raj clearly worked zealously on his songs, over a period of decades, eventually (approximately half way through) prefacing the collection with an index of first lines, grouped according to initial letter, and then subdivided, in general, according to numerical order, with songs being added individually or a few at a time. The fact that the numbering and the index entries are in the same ink as the later songs themselves, suggests that Raj usually took his songs on his travels, in various drafts and recensions. Some sheets, especially of later songs, have suffered damage through scuffing, tearing, and moisture, in contrast to most of the rest of the manuscript. This suggests more continual composition and reworking over a longer period than was the case with the other texts (except for the Remedies text). After a long initial section of over forty songs, neatly copied out in blue ink (albeit subsequently edited), the text becomes more variable in the quality (and colour) of paper and inks used, as well as in its writing style. If necessary, Raj inter-leaved fresh copies of individual pages, a process facilitated by the brevity of the songs—most fit on to a single (p.234) page. The text becomes rougher from song no. 122 (or 322) onwards, when the initial digit is, in the first few cases, altered by Raj from 1 to 3, after which the numbers continue in the 300s. Raj’s approach to his writing was meticulous, even pedantic, as revealed by his index, which includes all the letters of the Bengali alphabet, even when no Bengali words, let alone songs, begin with them. This confusion in numbering is therefore probably indicative of major disruption in his life. My supposition is either that two collections were brought together at this point, or that, being separated from his manuscript for a period, Raj had become confused about the numbering, a matter which he later tried to rectify. Towards the very end of the collection, there are also huge gaps in numbering. These are almost certainly indicative of other collections, rather than songs missing from this collection, a hypothesis confirmed by the almost universal absence in the index of any missing songs. The fact that songs by Raj are found in other notebooks, but excluded from this collection, confirms the presence of songs other than those in the present manuscript.

(5) Remedies

For various ailments (30 sheets, unnumbered). This text is in many different inks and types of paper, and was clearly added to over the years, as Raj, and presumably Rajesvar, came across new remedies.

(6) Riddles (hẽyāli)

These are numbered, with solutions to the riddles and an index on separate pages (total 19 sheets). (There is also one riddle on the back of the title page of the JC).

(7) Miscellaneous

Four unnumbered pages (and one blank), the correct placing of which within the manuscript is difficult to ascertain. Two of these have names and (vague) addresses on them, and acrostic poems based on Raj’s name and the Rarh village in which he lived in the latter half of this life (each line beginning with the syllables of these in succession).

To summarize, Raj’s literary endeavours probably began with his renunciation, but changed course (and genre) with his encounter with Rajesvar on the path of Bartaman. Although the early period in Nadia was clearly a time of great creativity for Raj, composition of the JC was halted, only to be resumed, in desultory fashion, after a long gap. Instead Raj’s creativity was diverted on to Text B and his songs, the typical Bartaman-panthi medium. The latter continued to be written throughout his subsequent travels, long after his arrival in Jalsagar and perhaps for the rest of his life. Text B may be regarded as a transition or an intermediate text between the JC and the publicly oriented Songs.


(1.) One of the wooden covers of the manuscript has etched on it ‘Rāj Rājeśvar Kṛṣṇa’. Below is written in roman letters, ‘Raj Rajaswar Krishna’. The roman version ‘Rajaswar’ instead of ‘Rajeswar’ may be attributable to Raj’s English, but one cannot rule out the possibility that he was punning here. For example, raja means ‘menstruation’ and ‘swar’ could refer to flow (as in sarā, to flow (out)). Alongside this etched portion is written ‘union (milan) 27th Māgh 1318’ [1912 CE]—the date of the lovers’ elopement (confirmed in a song by Hem). Above the etched portion another date is written: ‘1314 śeṣ Agrahāon’ [December 1907 CE]. According to Satis’s autobiographical sketch, Raj arrived in Icchapur itself in the month of Kartik, 1314 [October/November 1907]. It is tempting to speculate that this December date, a month or so afterwards, marks a significant stage in Raj’s relationship with Rajeswar, perhaps their first meeting. See Illustration 1.3. (Unfortunately only the etched text is clearly visible in the reproduction).

(2.) On p. 280 is written: ‘The end. Writer and owner, Sri Raj Krishna, wandering mendicant (Samāpta: likhak-mālik-śrī rāj kṛṣṇa paribrājak).

(3.) Although general correspondence between song numbers and their order of inclusion in the collection is clear, that between composition and inclusion is less certain.