Votaries of this sect of Sufism in Iran, dating back to the 8th-9th centuries, were fond of music and participated in secret devotional practices. Like other Sufis, they also entered the South Asian subcontinent and spread out in various directions.
It is also suggested that the term derives from the Sanskrit words vatul (mad, devoid of senses) and vyakul (wild, bewildered) which Bauls are often considered.
There are two classes of Bauls: ascetic Bauls who reject family life and Bauls who live with their families.
Ascetic Bauls renounce family life and society and survive on alms. Women, dedicated to the service of ascetics, are known as sevadasis (seva, service dasi, maidservant).
In 1982-83 the number rose to 905; in 2000, they numbered about 5,000.
The word is found in the Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura as well as in the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja.
With such a liberal interpretation of love, it is only natural that Baul devotional music transcends religion and some of the most famous baul composers, such as Lalon Fokir, criticised the superficiality of religious divisions: Everyone asks: "Lalan, what's your religion in this world? But do you bear the sign of your religion when you come or when you go?
amar praner manush achhe prane tai here taye shokol khane Achhe she noyōn-taray, alōk-dharay, tai na haraye-- ogo tai dekhi taye Jethay shethay taka-i ami je dik-pane The man of my heart dwells inside me. In my every sight, in the sparkle of light Oh, I can never lose him-- Here, there and everywhere, Wherever I turn, he is right there!
) are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal, which includes the country of Bangladesh and the Indian State of West Bengal.
Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition.