A former yoga teacher, Deborah came to Bangladesh in February 2016 to research the Baul King Fakir Lalon Shah’s philosophy of life and became enamoured with it

Deborah Jannat, a young Frenchwoman, has been living at the shrine of Fakir Lalon Shah in Kushtia for two years after being smitten by his life and works.

An accomplished French-to-English translator with a master’s degree in philosophy, Deborah has gone as far as to change her former French surname, which she refuses to use anymore. 

A former yoga teacher, Deborah came to Bangladesh in February 2016 to research the Baul King Fakir Lalon Shah’s philosophy of life and became enamoured with it. 

Taking lessons from her guru Baul Fakir Nahir Shah – whose tutelage she accepted, she has found serenity in the Baul lifestyle. She currently lives in Kushtia’s Daulatpur upazila, and despite having gone back to France multiple times, returned to her newfound lifestyle out of her sheer love for it. 

This reporter met the woman at the three-day ceremony to commemorate Lalon Shah’s 128th death anniversary that is being held at Lalon Academy in the Chheuria area of Kushtia’s Kumarkhali upazila. 

“I became devoted to Lalon Shah after I came here in 2016,” Deborah said.

“When I went under the tutelage of my guru, I didn’t know how to speak in Bangla. However, the philosophy and discipline of the lifestyle did not require me to know any language. One can only understand this miraculous, karmic philosophy if one lives the lifestyle and spends time with those who do,” she said.

According to Deborah, people were more important to Lalon Shah than religion or caste. In line with his philosophy, one has to look for the right path in order to gain God’s favour. 

“I came here to get to know more about Fakir Lalon Shah. I wish to stay here as Guru Nahir Shah’s pupil until I die,” she said.

Deborah has even married fellow Nahir Shah’s pupil via court registry at the guru’s command, stating that she did so because family is society, and family is a home. 

When asked if she would ever go back to France, she said: “I will not go back, as I have found my peace in this country and this philosophy.”

According to Fakir Nahir Shah, a protégé of Darbesh Loban Shah alias Abdur Rob Shah, the Frenchwoman came to Bangladesh after looking for the truth in 15 other countries. “I was introduced to her by a journalist, who said Deborah wanted to know more about Lalon Shah. She then became my pupil for two weeks, during which she learned extensively about the Baul King.

“Afterwards, she pledged her life to Lalon’s philosophy, and I told her to learn Bengali in order to fully understand its tenets. After she learned the language, we had a dialogue, and I instilled my knowledge of the philosophy into her,” Fakir Nahir Shah, a 40-year veteran of the philosophy, said.

Celebrating the 128th death anniversary of Lalon Shah

A three-day long cultural program to mark the 128th death anniversary of Fakir Lalon Shah, the most prominent figure of country’s Baul tradition, has been organized by Kushtia district administration and Lalon Academy.

The program includes a Lalon Mela (Lalon fair), discussion and rendition of songs by artistes from the academy and Bauls from across the country at Chheuria of Kumarkhali upazila in Kushtia. The celebrations have sent the city into a frenzy of festivity.

Speakers at the event said Lalon’s spirituality and philosophy is being researched and practiced around the world. He was never one to support any single community, but sang about life and humanity for the betterment of people without any kind of discrimination. 

The speeches are followed by a concert of Lalon songs.

Fakir Lalon Shah, considered an icon of Bengali culture, was born in Jhenidah. While the date of his birth is debated, he died in Chheuria of Kushtia’s Kumarkhali upazila on October 16, 1890