Bodhi Series – Folk Music of Rajasthan (Part I)

With its cultural diversity, ethnicity and traditions, Rajasthan is one of the most mystically intriguing territories of the Indian sub-continent. A land which carries a history of emperors and warriors in the forefront has a beautiful background of music, arts and architecture. Its a very colourful state with vibrant people and a dynamic culture. In this first part of my write-up, I would just like to introduce some basic ideas of Rajasthani folk music to the readers.

Music is something which is very closely related to life and its struggles. Especially, folk music is just the phonetics getting created through human efforts of completing some work against the laws of nature. For instance if a group of people have to push a huge boulder on an uphill slope against gravity, while pushing the boulder, some sound will be generated by those people. That is the essence and origin of folk music. That is the phonetics of life and civilazation. ‘Music therefore articulates the organization of society. It may do so by dint of its role in ritual or by transforming labor into a communal, rather than individual, activity’, Philip Bohlman says in his book ‘The study of folk music and the Modern world’. Similarly the origin of music in this state too has its roots embedded in human life and its multi-dimensional complexities.

The wandering minstrels of Rajasthan (especially west) play a variety of instruments which are indigenous and have very unique sounds. Some play alone, some play in groups and spread different forms of Rajasthani folk music across the globe. Here is a link to one of most unique and authentic forms of Rajasthani folk music.

Among all the groups, two that are very well recognised and most prominent are the Langas and the Manganiyars. They are sufi muslims who practise and perform music and arts in their own innovative ways. They have transcended the barriers of religion and perform songs on life and its struggles. The struggles of living in the desert areas and the struggles of surviving extreme weather conditions.

The word ‘Manganiyar’ means ‘to beg’, ‘to ask for something’. To permanently be in the state of ultimate Fakiri. So along with songs on the daily chores, the Manganiyars have a lot of songs which are devotional. The Langas are sub divided into two categories. The groups who play the stringed instruments like the ‘Sarengi’, ‘Kamaicha’, ‘Rawanhattha’, are called ‘Sarengiya Langas’ and the groups who play the wind instruments like the ‘Surnayi’, ‘Satara’, ‘Murali’, are called ‘Surnaiya Langas’. I will discuss more in detail in Part 2 of this series on the Music and culture of Rajasthan. Please find the link to a very popular sequence of ‘Sonar Kella’, A Satyajit Ray film where the director applied the tune of a Rajasthani folk song played using authentic Rajasthani folk instruments (Kamaicha, Kadhtal)

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