Mesmerising melodies of The Manganiyars

Their music is mesmerising, complex, engaging and secular. It appeals, lures and touches the soul with in-depth rhythms. Flowing smooth, it bypasses all sets of laws to become a legacy in its own domain. Yes, it’s none other than the enchanting music of the Manganiyars, ruling hearts of millions of music lovers across the world.

The bylanes of obscure villages situated around Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Barmer in Rajasthan echo with mesmerising melodies. The singers here are well-adept in the art of splitting their notes in a fraction of a second; shifting their tempo as fast as a gust of wind and are also successful in keeping their tone divine.

With the passage of time, their melodies have become a tradition, earnestly being followed by each and every household existing here. These melodies have successfully crossed the barriers of boundaries, and have managed to earn enormous fame on global platform. They have emerged as a musical tradition, which years back, had soaked the rhythmic waves emanating and emerging from Persia and Punjab over last many centuries.

Making a mark across the world, the Manganiyars’ music has touched new horizons to become world-famous.

Manganiyars

WHO ARE THE MANGANIYARS?

Basically, the Manganiyars is a community of Muslim court musicians. They once had their royal patrons which seem to have lost their presence now from the erstwhile pages of history. However, the music of this community has become eternal, spreading its melodies across the globe, transcending all borders.

The history chapters reveal that the Manganiyars used to perform in houses of their patrons in different functions such as marriage, death and birth ceremonies. In return of their performances, they used to ask for alms. Many of them still continue this tradition.

The Manganiyar community reflects the perfect communal bonhomie for generations. Their lifestyle and dressing reflect the Ganga- Jamuna culture. You can find many Shankar Khans and Krishna Khans in this village. Their past many generations have been linked to both Muslim and Hindu families for their livelihood and have been following the tradition of singing and composing music for their jajmaans (patrons).

Their speciality comprises describing about their jajmaans’ illustrious history which remains full of honour and pride. They also hold expertise in describing about jajmaan’s genealogy with the support of other artists and this art is known as ‘Shubhraj’.

Such is the ability of these artists that they recite all the names of the last few generations of the jajmaans within the space of a single breath. It’s not just names but also the description of their achievements, which they can narrate in seconds. And it was in exchange of the expertise that they were rewarded handsomely in the form of grain, wheat, goat, camel, sheep, horse or cash.

THE LANGAS

The reference of the Manganiyars is incomplete without the mention of the Langas community which can be defined as the musical cousins of the Manganiyars. The word Langa means ‘song giver’. This group comprises poets, singers, and musicians from Barmer. This community has their forte in Sufi singing. They are versatile players of the Sindhi sarangi and algoza (double flute), and perform at events such as births and weddings, exclusively for their patrons.

THE DIFFERENCE

While the Manganiyar performers traditionally invoke the Hindu God Krishna and seek his blessings before beginning their recital, the Langas sing Sufi songs. The Manganiyars once were musicians of the Rajput courts, and accompanied their chiefs to war and provided them with entertainment before and after the battles.

However, Langas have been expert in playing the Sindhi sarangi. This instrument is made up of four main wires, with more than twenty vibrating sympathetic strings which help to create its distinctive haunting tones. Their patrons, unlike the Manganiyars, are Muslims.

THE TRANSITION

There was a time when Manganiyars were obdurate traditionalists and were reluctant to go on stage. In the wide and desolate country of Sind and north-west Rajasthan, Manganiyars had survived on the patronage of wealthy merchants in caravan towns. They evoked the right mood with songs of the desert. Their patrons assured them an annuity and hence they survived till the fifties. With changing economy, their patrons’ fortunes began to wane, and then came Prof. Komal Kothari who revolutionised the music of the Manganiyars.

Prof. Komal Kothari was the first to record the Manganiyars for a radio programme. He inspired them to come out with their talent on stage. He was also awarded with Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan for his exceptional work in the field of music.

In 1962, the first ever recording of Langa music took place. And again, in 1963, a Manganiyar troupe performed in Delhi, for the first time on stage. In 1967, Kothari travelled to Sweden with a troupe of Langas for the first ever performance outside India. Soon the Indian Council of Cultural Research (ICCR) got into the act. Acclaim, interest, invitations and recognition followed thick and fast. By the time India staged the popular show ‘Festivals of India’ all over the world in the mid-eighties, Manganiyars and Langas had become the darlings of audiences drawn to India. Today, Rajasthan’s tourism industry is driven quite substantially by these charismatic performers.

THEIR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

Khamaycha is the most significant instrument of Manganiyar community. It is made up of mango wood and exists more like an ancient niche amongst string instruments linked with Manganiyar community since ages. It has a big, round and hollow part on one end of it and is covered with leather. With 17 strings in total, it has three special strings while the remaining 14 strings are made up of steel. Further they have a bow and when these three strings are touched with this bow, it produces soul-stirring music. Their other instruments are dholak and khartaal. Dholak has its two ends covered with leather. This leather is tightened by using loops of rope.

Their other instrument khartaal has four pieces made up of wood. It produces melodious musical sounds by making special movements of hands. Playing khartaal evokes a delightful combination of rhythm and the musical notes. Even its name khartaal means khar and taal where ‘khar’ means hand and ‘taal’ means rhythm. And hence, it means ‘rhythm of hands’. Artistes hold them in both their hands and create complex percussion sounds.

CHALLENGES OF THE MANGANIYARS

As their might rises to fame with each passing day in the global arena, the Manganiyar community battles with their existence in their home turf.

This age-old legacy requires support so that the new-age generation does not lose interest in this music

Text: Archana Sharma

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