They are thought to have been influenced by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas, as well as Tantric Vaishnava schools like the Vaishnava-Sahajiya.
Some scholars find traces of these thoughts in the ancient practices of Yoga as well as the Charyapadas, which are Buddhist hymns that are the first known example of written Bengali.
Like the ba'al who rejects family life and all ties and roams the desert, singing in search of his beloved, the Baul too wanders about searching for his maner manus (the ideal being).
The madness of the Baul may be compared to the frenzy or intoxication of the Sufi diwana.
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).
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Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition.
Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims.
Like the Sufi, the Baul searches for the divine beloved and finds him housed in the human body.
Bauls call the beloved sain (lord), murshid (guide), or guru (preceptor), and it is in his search that they go 'mad'.
The origin of Bauls is not known exactly, but the word "Baul" has appeared in Bengali texts as old as the 15th century.