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The origin of Bauls is not known exactly, but the word "Baul" has appeared in Bengali texts as old as the 15th century.
The word is found in the Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura as well as in the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja.
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).
They have no fixed dwelling place, but move from one akhda to another. A male Baul can have one or more sevadasis, who are associated with him in the act of devotion.
Bauls are an extension of the Sahajiya philosophy, which in turn derives from the Nath tradition.
Whatever their origin, Baul thought has mixed elements of Tantra, Sufi Islam, Vaishnavism and Buddhism.Bauls concentrate much of their mystic energies on the four body fluids, on the nine-doors (openings of the body), on prakriti as "nature" or "primal motive force", and on breath Sadhana.The music of the Bauls, Baul Sangeet, is a particular type of folk song.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.