Song Keepers from the Vast Desert Trail

Folk musicians from four Rajasthani tribes bring fresh duets and ancient compositions at the Annual Festival of Sacred Music held in Thanjavur

Published: 04th April 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 04th April 2015 12:25 PM   |  A+A-

Annual Festival

Singer Bhanwri Devi croons to a melancholy Mora Saawara under a red ghoonghat (veil) on the windy banks of the Cauvery. She opens the doors to a thousand rhapsodies of the desert. She is joined by the Manganiyar and the Langa singers, folk musicians from two Rajasthani tribes. Their songs are woven around tales of joy, grief and separation.

The seventh edition of the Annual Festival of Sacred Music organised held at Thiruvaiyaru, Thanjavur, brought together four tribes of musicians from Rajasthan recently. It featured folk instrumentals, songs and Sufi renditions presented by 45 artistes of the Manganiyar, Langa, Bhopa and Jogi communities from 26 districts of Rajasthan.

Harmonium, Dhol and Kamayacha, a choir of Manganiyars, dedicated a cheerful Holi Ayo Re. It was followed by the devotional composition Jaago Mohan Pyaare, song invoking Lord Krishna. “Though the artistes are Muslims, most of their songs are drawn from the Hindu traditions and festivals,” says Vinod Joshi, community director  of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation that organised the festival. Holi and Diwali for the Manganiyars are meant for singing festive songs at their Rajput Jajman’s (patron) house all day long and returning home with sweets, money and rewards like goat, cattle and camels.

“The desire to learn music comes naturally to us as hunger and thirst. It is not  something forced upon us, but something we grow up with, love and then pursue for a livelihood. My son is only five, even smaller than a Kamayacha, but you should see how he strives to play it,” says Bare Khan, Kamayacha player who learnt the art from his father Ustad Sakar Khan, a Padma Shri awardee. He now runs a school that teaches Kamayacha to aspiring musicians in Hamera village of Jaisalmer.

The Langas, patronised by Sindhi-Sipahis, a community of Muslim Rajputs, are identified with their instrument—the Sindhi-Sarangi. Barring a few subtle differences, the songs of most of these tribes are almost identical—written in praises of ancient kings or celebrating seasons, festivals and occasions revolving round a jajman’s (patron) life, from birth, wedding, conception to death.

“This one is a wedding song, eulogising the mare ridden by the bridegroom,” says Hari Dutt Kalra, music choreographer of the group, as a group of the Suraiya Langas bellow out a song beginning with ‘Ghodi’. “If this surprises you, we even have songs composed on the anklet of the bridegroom’s camel,” says Hakim Khan, a Manganiyar singer.

The Sufi musicians of these tribes have their repertoire built on the works of Bulle Shah, Meera Bai, Kabir, Shah Latif, Baba Farid with the music based on raags Tilang, Marwa, Khamaj, Hindol and Bhairavi. The instruments vary. But the event’s choreography blends them all into a well-synchronised form, while presenting audience to some rare sounds and melodies unheard of. The Kamayacha and Sindhi Sarangi duet, the fleeting tunes of the Algoja, a twin flute, the sweeter notes of the Surinda, a rare stringed instrument of the Langas and Bhapang, a single-string percussion instrument of the Jogi community were the fresh sounds. “Though every tribe has its unique style, songs and instruments, we strive to unite them on virtue of their similarities,” says music arranger Ishwar Dutt Mathur.


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