Their music transcends time and space. Heirs to a rich oral tradition, these balladeers from the Thar deserts of Rajasthan sing of everyday events and emotions. Perhaps that is the reason why they are able to strike a chord with their listeners. Or is it the music that is redolent with the essence and the resonance of the deserts? As the beats of the khartal fills the venue, the Manganiyars transport the audience to their homes in the deserts.
“Sangeeth to hamare khoon mein hain” (Music is in our blood), says Deen Mohammad, a Manganiyar from the hot arid deserts of Rajasthan.
For, music is a way of life for many like him and other members of Thar Lok Kala Sansthan. They mesmerised students and audiences in the city with their timeless music. The group from Bhinad in Barmer district of Rajasthan is an ensemble of folk artistes from Rajasthan who are travelling across Kerala under the auspices of SPIC MACAY. While the musicians take the stage wearing dhoti and kameez and colourful turbans, dancers float on the stage in their heavily embroidered ghagra, choli and dupatta, decked with jewellery, with nimble steps and swaying of their bodies, even as they do precarious balancing acts.
As they wind up their itinerary in the city with a bunch of programmes today, the artistes are all smiles. “We think South India gives more patronage to our music than any other region. We connect so well with the people here because you know music and give us due respect, irrespective of the fact that you don’t know our language. Nevertheless we performed at many venues that had Hindi-speaking listeners in the group and that really lifted our performance. They were in awe of our instruments, our dancers…,” says Deen, secretary of the organisation, after a performance at Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Valiamala.
With various organisations in Rajasthan rooting to promote its intrinsic cultural landscape, the dance and music have crossed borders, thanks to the efforts of late Komal Kothari, a patron of Rajasthani folk dance and music.
Now the artistes are invited to high profile weddings and mega events. Some of them are collaborating with renowned musicians in India and abroad and have worked in movies as well. “I have worked with A.R. Rahman, Sivamani and Ghulam Ali. And then I also played at Abhishek Bachchan – Aishwarya Rai wedding…,” says Jassu Khan, who plays the khartal.
They are thrilled that some singers of the community are now heard on a bigger platform. Swaroop Khan, a Manganiyar, who participated in the reality show Indian Idol, sang in PK and young singer Moti Khan recently made it to the top 13 of the current season of Indian Idol Junior. “We all are happy that people from our community are now heard all over,” says Deen, who plays the kamaicha, a bowed lute.
However, there are discordant notes in their life. Many in the community remain uneducated and are dependent on music to earn a living. “We have been requesting the government to start a school exclusively to promote our music and dance. We don’t want this to be limited to our region. There are over a 1,000 songs in our repertoire that are orally passed down to the generations. It will take months and months to record them. We hope somebody document our rich treasure of songs and bhajans so that they stand the test of time,” says Deen.