In literature and popular imagination, Bauls of India and Bangladesh are characterized as musical mystics: orange-clad nomads of both Hindu and Muslim backgrounds. They wander the countryside and entertain with their passionate singing and unusual behavior; they are especially well-known for their evocative songs, which challenge the caste system and sectarianism prevalent in South Asia. Although Bauls claim to value women over men, little is known about the views and experiences of Baul women. Based on ethnographic research in both the predominantly Hindu context of West Bengal (India) and the Muslim country of Bangladesh, this book explores the everyday lives of Baul women. Knight examines the contradictory expectations regarding Baul women-on the one hand the ideal of a group unencumbered by societal restraints and concerns, and on the other the real constrains of feminine respectability that seemingly curtail women's mobility and public performances. Knight demonstrates that Baul women respond to these conflicting expectations in various ways, sometimes adopting and other times subverting local gendered norms to craft a meaningful life.
More so than their male counterparts, Baul women feel encumbered by norms. Rather than seeing Baul women's normative behavior as indicative of their conformity to gendered roles (and, therefore, failure as Bauls), Knight argues that these women creatively draw on societal expectations to transcend their social limits and create new paths.