Melodies exploring the connection of Soul and God
“Let me lose myself in this golden city,
Amongst the golden sand dunes,
And the melody of the folk tunes,
To be intoxicated with the spirit of music”
In India, real talent is found in the dingy by-lanes, in the Old cities, and in this case, it’s hidden in this medieval city of Jaisalmer, and its golden sand dunes.
The artist, Bagga Khan, fondly known as Bagge, belongs to the famous Manganiyar community of Rajasthan. Manganiyars are Muslim communities in Sindh and Rajasthan areas and are famous for their classical folk music. They are the groups of hereditary professional musicians, whose music has been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations. In 1978, Jodhpur-based musician Komal Kothari provided the Manganiars with institutional support, allowing them to sing outside the state for the first time. Currently, several Manganiar groups tour internationally. Bagga Khan(49) has been in Jaisalmer ever since he was 20 and members of his community were have been singers in the royal court since centuries. Their music genre mainly comprises of Bhajans and Sufi songs, which are based on verses composed by various mystics like Meerabai and Kabir.
Played on simple instruments like “Tandura” (a five-stringed instrument resembling Veena) and Harmonium, Bagga Khan’s songs speak about humanity and love. Most of these songs are composed in “Chautaal” or a 4 beat cycle. According to Bagge Khan, they experiment with various ragas like “Bhairavi”, “Surth”, “Jog” without losing out on the essence and spirit of the song.
As Bagge Khan quotes the famous poet Bulle Shah “Love is of two types, one is the unending love for Allah and one is the love which we share with each other”. And this love can be best expressed through music, as Shakespeare said: “If music is the food for love, Play on”.
While explaining why music is the most powerful thing in the world, Bagge Khan says that even the highest King, will bow down to the power of music and shake his head with the rhythmic melody of a song. The whole conversation with Bagge Khan reflected his passion towards folk music, which has been a tradition in his family since centuries, and his group members wish that their future generations also carry forward this tradition. So far, Bagge Khan has performed in many places in India and abroad but cites Kolkata as his favourite city to perform in India, and Paris if we talk about the western counterparts. These performances are the main source of income for him and his family.
“Maan khero laavo leeje, mili nahi baaram-baar”
Life as a human is precious and one should use it to the fullest, as “life as a human” is granted only once.
As Bagga Khan and his group start singing, they lose themselves in a trance, a trait, which is often seen in passionate and skilled artists. Music, as Bagga Khan says, is a devotion. And one who has the knowledge of “shabd” (wisdom) by Guruji, can attain every possible thing in this universe. Bagga Khan’s eyes are filled with passion and love for his art, and he believes that humanity is worthless without humanity, he firmly believes that God gives you a “life as a human” only once. He and his group members take pride in their cultural heritage and would like their upcoming generations to carry on their traditions. While music is the primary source of livelihood for him, Bagga Khan also speaks that there should be an emphasis on technical education for the young generation, owing to the depleting demand of these folk artists.
Even though Bagga Khan is a Muslim, he has been singing devotional bhajans dedicated to Hindu Gods since a very young age. His music is beyond religious boundaries and the possibilities are unfathomable.
As Bagga Khan tunes his “Tandura”, a five-stringed instrument closely resembling veena, he is joined by his group members, Thane Khan on Harmonium, Mushtaque Khan on Dholak, and Prabhu ram and Dev Ram as accompanying vocalists. Music is a coherent factor which binds them together, and their songs speak volumes about human compassion, living and a spiritual way of life.
“Paapi milijo pachaas, nuguru miljo mate”
Fifty sinners are better than a person without a mentor (or a person who is headstrong).
Bagga Khan’s songs have a special emphasis on the possession of knowledge or “shabd” provided by the “Guruji” (God). In one particular song, based on Kabir’s couplets, Bagga Khan talks about how fifty sinners are better than a person who does not have a mentor or a guru. The relationship between a God and his disciple is a tender one nourished through sharing and spreading the knowledge wisely, and one should keep doing deeds which are as pure as diamonds and emeralds.
Even though Bagga Khan and his group member’s lives hasn’t been very smooth, yet, there is always an expression of contentment on their faces. Such content and satisfaction come through the pursuit of true passion and their devotion to their art. Their music group is invited to sing by the Royal families on all auspicious occasions in their palaces, ranging from childbirth to marriage. Bagga Khan and his group have set a milestone in the realm of classical folk music in India, and moreover, they are an ideal example of how music is free from the boundaries of caste, creed, culture and religion. Music is something which connects the soul to mind and recognises Godliness in every living being.
These golden grains of Jaisalmer and are interspersed with musical talent in every nook and corner, amongst the other aspects of the social fabric of the city as well as the “Living fort” of Jaisalmer.