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Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims.Although Bauls comprise only a small fraction of the Bengali population, their influence on the culture of Bengal is considerable.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.

The madness of the Baul may be compared to the frenzy or intoxication of the Sufi diwana.

The music of the Bauls, Baul Sangeet, is a particular type of folk song.

Its lyrics carry influences of the Hindu bhakti movements and the suphi, a form of Sufi song exemplified by the songs of Kabir.

Some scholars maintain that it is not clear when the word took its sectarian significance, as opposed to being a synonym for the word madcap, agitated.

The beginning of the Baul movement was attributed to Birbhadra, the son of the Vaishnavite saint Nityananda, or to the 8th century Persian minstrels called Ba'al. Whatever their origin, Baul thought has mixed elements of Tantra, Sufi Islam, Vaishnavism and Buddhism.

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