This paper explores the ways in which Bengali Bāul-Fakirs are imagined and celebrated by affluent audiences, for whom they form a powerful, if contested, sign of Bengali cultural heritage and identity. I argue that as Bāul-Fakirs become increasingly important symbols in affluent Bengalis’ constructions of identity, it is increasingly difficult for individuals to live up to idealized notions of what it means to be Bāul-Fakir. More broadly, I argue that the celebration or ennobling of a low-status “folk tradition” by the affluent classes can be ultimately disempowering to the poor and working-class individual practitioners of that tradition.

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