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Rajasthan

Kailash Khan and Group

UNDYING PASSION FOR MUSIC

 

Passion, they say is a great energizer. We are wired in such a way that many times passion and purpose comes together. Kailash Khan is a young folk music artiste. The 25-year-old is passionate and proud to be identified by this genre. His undying passion for the Rajasthani folk music is a contrast of what people his age prefer.

Kailash khan and others in his group are manganiyar. Muslims themselves, their patrons are largely Hindu  Rajputs. They are renowned as highly skilled folk musicians of the Thar desert. Their songs are passed on from generation to generation as a form of an oral history of the desert. In his own words,” The culture of Rajasthan has been recorded through songs. When we are playing folk music, we are telling stories, stories that speak to the human conditions, stories that tell us who we are, stories riddled with anecdotes of love with all its complexities and simplicities. These stories define us as a community. They help us relate to each other.” It is said that on occasion in the Rajput family is ever complete without a Manganiyar. Be it birth, marriage, family festivity, the manganiyars would help evoke the right mood with songs that have a flair of Rajasthan and many specially composed songs to praise the patron and his family.

Influenced by family traditions and his elders, Kailash khan has been singing since he was a child. He formed his group six years ago. The six group members are from his family itself. They have adapted themselves to play all kinds of instruments. Harmonium, khartaal, Bhapang, Dholak find common use in their performances. Kailash Khan plays the Harmonium which he learnt and developed an affinity towards while he was in school.

He takes pride in the fact that he is related to Daapu Ji- the revered Khamaicha player who is today a sensation and an inspiration among Rajasthani folk musicians. Showing the same dedication and commitment, he aspires to take folk music and the values they represent to a bigger platform. Through his hard work, he has been able to get his group to perform in many notable Indian states and events. Punjab, Mumbai, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat are a few to name. Within Rajasthan, he has displayed his talent in Udaipur and Jaisalmer. He is nostalgic as he recalls his first performance in Ghuri Resort in Jaisalmer. He believes that their network grew as a result of performing for guests at those resorts. People after listening to him would ask him to sing at their family events and this is when he decided to form his own group. 

Like any other professional singer he has an generous understanding of ragas. Khamaj Raga is immensely used in their music. He says that tradition calls for the beginning of every performance in khamaj raga. When asked about how he learn songs, old and new, his answer is simple. To them, he says, the need to write and then learn songs was never required. Music is so deeply ingrained in their lives that just as little as listening to their elders sing once or twice is enough for them to follow up. However, he feels that technology today has found purpose and use in all fields and as an aspiring artist he doesn’t shy away from deviating from the traditional methods of learning music and using tech and social media to his benefit. They appreciate the fact that technology has made it easy for them to expand their repertoire in folk music.

Besides singing the traditional old folk songs, this young artist has penned down a few songs of his own and composed rhythms and tunes for others. He claims that there are few songs that only he can sing in his community. Reciting Shiv Tandav,  which is a Hindu hymn that describes God Shiva’s power and beauty, is one of his speciality. This is satisfying to observe that though they are Muslims, many of their songs are in praise of Hindu deities where the performer traditionally invokes the Gods and seek their blessing before the recital.

Despite everything, he exclaims that more needs to be done to attract youth towards traditional music. According to him, the youth are the key in the preservation of folk music. This calls for creating space for young talented Rajasthani musicians to keep old-age traditions fresh, but also relevant through music. Although many children come to him to learn music, he feels that the rush towards modernity is dwindling their interest. With more people looking up to Bollywood and western music, their audience and patronage are slacking. With most of his family members being solely into music, they want to build their art into something more sustainable.

Kailash khan envisions a bright future for his group. “ money is not an incentive, I want to take my traditions forward. We want people to see what we do and like it enough. That will truly be encouraging.”

We can’t agree more on the fact that their culture is very rich but some people are clueless about it. This is the time to know deeply about Indian culture through different mediums that are sustainable. Through loving and showing pride in it, the world will come to know of it too.

Kalla Khan and Group

TREASURE OF FOLK MUSIC AMIDST SEA OF SAND

 

Kalla Khan is from a small village called Bishala in Barmer Rajasthan. From manganiyar community. Also known as mirasi,mahaguniyar or mir. Prevalent in western Rajasthan, Jaisalmer, Bikaner. Royal families are their important patron. They feel that the rajputs or yajmaans as they refer them are the main reason that their folk culture has thrived. Sing for them on important occasions like birth, marriage, old age etc, kesariya balam, , songs from birth till death. New generation less interested in fm, they are busy in business, charts new root for themselves… because youngsters prefer new songs their style of siniging id an amalgamation of the old and new song.

About manganiyar traditional instrument is khamaicha. Going by what elders and locals say the instrument is 500 years old and originated in Pakistan before gaining importance in Ahmadabad(ws made inn these two states). Has not been made since the last 10 generations. But Komal Kothari wanted to teach folk to children , they made new kamaicha, to be given to these children so that they could learn. However, ladies of the community preffered harmonium as their instrument in public events.

He has a family of a mother, 7 brothers, children learning music from him. It is commonly claimed that the music of rajasthan is so imbibed in one’s characteristic that even the crying nof the infants is musical. He contendedly mentions that children as young as 4 or five years old are learning  and doing well in it (taking interest).

Jaha dikha bas chah tu hi

Bas raam ka naam hai

The one who has rhythm in his soul is near to god. Their culture is dependent on yajmaans. But want that it should not vanish.. feels like the younger generation is only acquainted with 25% of the music that this culture has to offer (yangrashaili, dhoda, bhaavan- traditional) . wants them to focus on studies but also cultivate respect for them and learn ithe t.  

Kabir kuan ek hai, panihari anek

Bartan sabke nyaare nyaare

Banda pani sab me ek

Follows all religions. Feels that the value of the soul is above mere traditions and norms that religions bind us in. ‘ I am a muslim. My name is fakir khan. But look at me. People say that I am a Rajput. Even though I perform at their events, I peform in mandirs , at the dargah, they sing about Shiva, Krishna, Mira. Makes bhajan as well.   

Has issues with organizers many a times as they embezzle money. He believes that there should be no mediator in between Guru shishya parampara. He wants signing schools in india so that children can learn music without compromising with their studies.

Chagna Ram and Group

THE MUSIC INGRAINED IN THE LIFE OF RAJASTHAN

 

The vibrancy of Rajasthan is never completely discovered until you immerse yourself in its centuries-old folk music. Of the different communities that are involved in the practice of taking the heritage of folk music forward, the Meghwals find a special mention for popularizing religious folk songs throughout the country. Every piece of their music resembles and respects the essence of the desert land. Our session with Chagna Ram confirmed this fact.

Chagna Ram is from Hadwa, a village 75 km from Barmer. People in the harsh scantily-populated desert areas of Western Rajasthan have very little leisure for merry-making. For Chagna Ram and his group members, music is a respite, a means of making life more pleasant. They are professional performers and being from Meghwal families, their skills are handed down from generation to generation. Chagna Ram cultivated a desire to learn music after listening to his father and elder brother sing at events and functions. His elder brother was well known in the music circuit in and outside Rajasthan. A matka player, he had performed in Holland apart from entertaining the royal patrons in important cities of Rajasthan. Inspired, Chagna Ram too began his journey in the field of music.

hari binjar høye kar betro

 baalak kini bayır

 vaari raama

 sanwariya binaa

 dayalu bina

 kaun bandhawe dheer

Today his group consisting of 6 members, some of whom are from different communities. They sing devotional as well as festive songs. Songs by the saint-poets like Kabir and Meerabai are part of the folk repertoire. They are sung all night during special occasions (all night soirees spent singing devotional songs) which are held as thanksgiving to a particular deity. The resonant singing of the Rajasthani folk is accompanied by music from simple instruments like the Matka, dholki, tandoora (a five-stringed instrument), khartaal, bhapang and morchang that usually give a beat or a drone to offset the poetry. Together they have performed in Jaipur, Kota and other areas near their village. Besides they have been able to cultivate new audiences in various other Indian states like Punjab, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Dehradun, Maharashtra. Fairs and festivals bring an even greater riot of colour and music into their lives. They also perform at events organized by Rajasthan Tourism.

Although music comes naturally to these Meghwals of Western Rajasthan, it cannot be stressed enough that Indian Folk music is filled with complexity and to truly master a skill one requires many years of study and discipline. In order to understand the fundamental techniques and feel their resonance with oneself, the teacher to student (guru- shishya) relationship is of paramount importance. Becoming immersed in raga theory and practice, a student learns primarily through oral means by listening and learning the tradition passed down from his or her guru. Chagna Ram gives credit of his knowledge to his guru Taga Ram. Be it accompanying his guru to singing events or helping him build his ashram, all the stories and memories from those days are still fresh in his mind. He expressed astonishment and delight when told about Taga Ram’s journey with Anahad Foundation.

kashi nagar se vipar bulaye

likh likh bheje cheer

jug rachayo kabir

sansar achha kaam kiya jivedan deke

All the skills and style that he acquired from his guru now enables him to create beautifully balanced exhibitions of ragas. Raga, literally interpreted as “that which colours the mind,” is the fundamental structure within Indian Folk Music. The composition is the face of the raga, defining its essence by bringing together all of its movements, parts and subtleties. But when is a particular raag used? Chagna Ram explains that a specific raag kind is used according to the time of the day because the power of the raga composition lies in its ability to evoke emotion that captivates listeners. Hence, he adds, there are two sets of ragas, the morning and the evening, each divided by the effects they have on the human senses.

On the surface, the Rajasthani folk music circle seems peaceful enough, a perfect blend of melodies. Look closer and you will see the rifts. With little resources at hand, Chagna Ram with his group has to face the challenges of cultural marginalization and urbanization. He fears that due to lack of recognition, their art form will eventually die out. In such circumstances, he understands the role a digital platform plays in an artist’s life. It is an effective method, he believes, to reach a wider audience, a new audience who would otherwise be sitting in front of their tv sets and encourage them to take interest in folk music.

Bhera Ram and Group

SOLACE OF FOLK MUSIC

 

Khojat guru re hamara

Khoj kare re jono gur kar mana re

Nahi to re murkh pasara

Re sadhu bhai

There was an era when rituals reigned supreme when folk music in Rajasthan was both a source of ecstasy and spirituality. Even today it is as awe-inspiring as ever, but with society changing dynamically and rushing towards modernity, people are left with little leisure time to engage in such entertainments. As a result, the threat of losing our musical heritage looms large.

Bhera Ram is a 58 years old singer from Barmer. Singer by occupation, he supplements his livelihood by farming. He is a storehouse of knowledge as music is concerned. Though he mostly sings bhajans, the repertoire of songs known to him is vast and exquisite. Heli bhajan, pyare, hondura are a few to list. Inspired by his father and grandfather, he has been singing since 30 years.

“There has never been an institute for folk music,” he adds. “It has always been something passed from father to son and sustained by people’s interest.” He explains that much less traditional music is being played these days and one of the reasons, he believes, is increased urbanisation. As a result, the younger generation is showing less interest in folk music. People are moving into towns, away from the villages, away from the goatherds and the way of life that sustained traditional music. Such a fall-off has a direct impact on families such as his, who make their living singing at events.

kahat kabir suno bhai sadhu re 

boliya kabir suno bhai sadhu re

Creativity is not confined to poetry or fiction. It is a quality that surfaces everywhere. Singers like him throng all hues of life. But to further the cause of Indian history and heritage, it is important to evoke similar feelings and affinity to folk music among the youth of the land. According to him, only someone who listens with his inner mind gains the knowledge and the ability to take the art forward.

Ak Achambo dekhiyo re santo kuve me lagi aag

Ak Achambo dekhiyo re santo kuve me lagi aag 

Sens pani to gale gaya

Sens pani to gale gaya 

Machhiyo re gota khaye 

Zara sa dekhana re

Navo me nadiyo doobi jaye

As the group begins to sing, everyone is captivated by their edifying spirituality. The accompanying musicians seated beside him spare no efforts to make the entire performance a delightful experience. The music emanated by the different instruments is followed by steady long, repetitive swarms that turn the entire evening into an experience like never before. Not only are the lyrics appropriate to the occasion, the time theory of the ragas is strictly maintained. This has a meditative quality and creates an ethereal ambience.

Bhera Ram’s aim is to take his music to a bigger platform. He says that music must manifest a new world on stage, taking material from this world and transforming it to re-tell the heavenly glorious saga of the emergence of the cosmos. Bhera Ram and his group were a true discovery. Sadly there are not many practitioners of this rich vibrant highly specific tradition amongst the inheritors of the tradition any more.

Thakra Ram and Group

TRADITIONS INSPIRING MUSIC

 

Rajasthan’s folk music is a living heritage. It is an expression of the people of the land. Unfortunately, the rush towards modernity in India threatens to bury this music and all that it represents. But those who seek it out strive to rekindle it and its audience.

Thakra Ram belongs to the Bhil community in Rajasthan. The word Bhil means bow and the Bhils are known as mountain tribals with bows and arrows. The stories of their exceptional archery talent are recounted in native narratives, with focus on Bhil warrior legends. In the history of Rajasthan, Bhil people are depicted as important warriors and many Rajput rulers showed faith in them, including instances during battles with Marathas and Mughals.

Bhils in Rajasthan are known for their musical rendition of the only surviving ancient traditional folk art form, Phad painting that depicts the epic of Pabuji, the Rathore Rajput chief. Bhopas are bards and also priests who are traditional narrators of this art form. The epic tale unfolds over a whole night. They recite the ancient story of the life of a god named Pabuji in front of a huge hand-painted scroll. It’s like a mobile temple. In villages of Rajasthan, Pabuji was considered an ascetic and hence his blessings were sought for veterinary services provided by his disciples, the Bhopas. The Bhopa’s singing is accompanied by two male dancers who perform in a drag. The attitude toward cross-dressing is quite different from what one would imagine. They say that those who dress up to display their artistic talent perform with sincerity and wholeheartedness. “My artistry is important to keep me in touch with my culture.” They are not restricted by traditions. Instead, traditions inspire them.

Devi Haalerio

Goddess, we call you to come and bless us

Maarhi Halerio

Oh our great Goddess 

dhoop devi halerio

Incense sticks have been lit to welcome you

aai maarhi haalerio

oh our great goddess, come and bless us  

aai maaji haalerio

 oh our great goddess, come and bless us

Thakra Ram is 60 years old and has been singing since childhood. His dedication and reverence for his art are exemplary. Encouraged by Komal Kothari of Rajasthan, he enrolled into the Rupan Sanstha and thence began his career in folk music. As his skills and talent grew he got various opportunities to perform internationally in countries like Russia, Africa, Italy, Hong Kong. After gaining popularity through his international ventures, people and organizations throughout India started calling him to perform at events. However, after Komal Kothari’s death, there was a vacuum. There was nobody in Rajasthan who could work with similar sincerity to help musicians revive and take pride in folk music. This is the reason why Thakra Ram’s own children today seem reluctant to learn traditional music and to take it up as a serious profession. Nonetheless, he has taught about 20-25 people and all he asks from his students is that they perform with earnestness. Ironically, he argues that going to other countries to perform makes them value local music more. It has yet another effect: the attention they receive gives them a sense of identity.

As unique and amusing as their entire performance is, it is their musical instrument, ravanhatha, that intrigues us the most. It is an ancient bowed, stringed instrument, that is considered to be an ancestor of the violin. In Indian and Sri Lankan tradition, it is believed that the ravanhatha originated during the time of the legendary king Ravana, after whom the instrument is supposedly named. According to Thakra Ram, it was lord Lakshman who brought it to India after Lord Ram killed Ravana. The ravanhatha is symbolic of Ravanas’ death. The coconut shell represents Ravan’s head and the wooden neck an arrow.

The big question is, can a Bhopa like him earn his living through this? Sadly not. There is a need to connect folk music with a bigger audience and music aficionados. Efforts have to be made to bring forward folk musicians and  singers and help them make a living from music, so that they don’t have to join the drift of the town.

Garbh kıya gaure jaaye 

The Bull is full with pride and arrogance for it’s strength

gale deengraaa paayaaa

But even the strong Bull has been tamed and captured to pull the cart 

dhan mayaa dhan dhartiii

the earth is richest in strength and it cannot let anyone live in its own illusion 

galiyaaa dhan maya dhan dhartiiii

The bull’s arrogance has melted away

When we asked him about what keeps him motivated, Thakra Ram replies that preserving folk music is synonymous with preserving the art of story-telling. The culture of Rajasthan has been recorded through songs and it must live on forever. He is disappointed by the fact that most people do not confer much value to it.

“What God has given you, it is important to pass that on to your children. Someone once said that one who listens with his inner mind gains knowledge which leads to release from the cycle of birth and death.”

Old traditions are like an echo of India. Folk culture is like a tree that needs nourishment at its roots. We must all ensure that the roots of the tree go deeper and deeper and the tree will be able to grow on its own.

Maga Khan and Group

TALE OF THE MUSIC BEYOND TIME

 

Mangu Khan is from a small village known as Bhadres in the district of Barmer, Rajasthan. He is lives at a place which is surrounded by 20  sand dunes. Mangu is merely 30 years old. He is a Manganiyaar and like every Manganiyaar, in Rajasthan, he is following the age-old traditions of the precious folk musical culture. To earn for a living Mangu does various shows arranged by the government, he also increases the grave of the Rajput weddings and occasions, many times he is being called up by event managers who get him shows across the country.

One thing that makes Mangu very different from rest of the Manganiyaar is that he is very much aware of lack of education and willingly wishes to do something about it. He wants to see progress in Rajasthani culture and art. He wants to eradicate the evil problems like that of lack of education from Rajasthan. He feels heartbroken that due to lack of education there won’t be much songwriting in future and slowly the folk music will die. These progressive thoughts never kept him away from completing his education, rather he was so motivated towards completing his studies that he did MA NET from the university. He realized that the artists in Rajasthan are lacking in their education, so help and support them in every way possible he established the Panihaari Folk Sansthaan back in 2010. Mangu also teaches authentic Rajasthani music to small children from various nearby villages. He trains them for national as well as international level competitions. Mangu aims at reviving old folk music amongst youngsters.

Mangu could have become a lecturer in a government college and could have had a very easy life. But his aim in life led him to his roots and he followed it for folk music. He realises that it is very important to deal with the event managers are they can be very ruthless in terms of behaviour and fairness with the artists. Although he is very optimistic about Anahad’s efforts. Mangu is very much aware of the virtual world of internet and has always been keen to make a website for himself but could never get one because of a hefty amount that web designers used to ask. He with his conscious efforts has made good contact with the Rajasthan tourism and cultural department zones.

His group follows him with his efforts of making their community and society a better world. They have been emphasising for 6 years on their mission to the upliftment of the folk music culture in Rajasthan.

Upon asking about the music they laugh and tell that when a Manganiyar cries, he cries in raag. They stated that at times it is difficult when they visit any outside city from Rajasthan as people wish to hear more of Bollywood than authentic folk. They sing all kind of authentic folk songs whether it is about any Royal wedding, for Gods and Goddess. The music that they sing is always in Marwari language. Their whole family sings, even their wife but as per their traditions, they can’t sing in front of the male population, therefore, they sing only for the female population.

The groups wish to take their children to a higher level with the help of local organisations. Mangu wants to take forward the legacy of Koma dada (Komal Kothari) whom he considers his idol. He wants to uplift the Manganiyaar community just like his Komal dada. And then he concludes with his song:

Gulla Ram and Group

SAILING THROUGH ‘SAMSARA IN THE LIFEBOAT OF’SATSANG’

 

The glory and power of Satsanga, is fathomless. It rejuvenates the heart, mind and soul with immense positivity. There is an abundance of ‘Bhajan Mandalis’ in Rajasthan, with each group exhibiting its flair and uniqueness with a different style. Likewise, there is a legion of folk deities in the region too. Worshipping any of them results in reaching out to the same cause, to enlighten human beings and lead them to the path of devotion.

Gulla Ram and his group of six other fellow musicians are no less than the perfect blend of sincerity, discipline and dedication. Their group’s forte is to perform spiritual and devotional hymns or ‘bhajans’. Gulla Ram is settled in a small hamlet in Bishala village, near Barmer, Rajasthan. He and his group members hail from the Meghwal community of  Rajasthan. A renowned clan, they claim to have descended from Rishi Megh, a sage who is known to have the potential to bring rain from the dark clouds with the help of his prayers. The word Meghwar is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘megh’, meaning clouds and rain, and ‘war’, meaning a group, son and child. Literally, then, the words Meghwal and Meghwar refer to the people who belong to ‘Meghwar’ lineage.

Gulla Ram and his family members earn their bread primarily through farming, and some minor labour work at the time of off-season. Performing ‘bhajans’ at Jamma-jagrans is not a very lucrative option for Gulla Ram’s group, as there are no standardized rates for their performances anywhere. Despite immense talent, they have never got an opportunity to perform outside of Barmer. But their unexplored virtuosity still manifests itself in the form of their passion for music. Each member in Gulla Ram’s group feels that devotion is very important in life. ‘Satsanga bhaav’ empowers one to get rid of all the troubles in life. The vedas even state that one can break the vicious circle of life and death, and attain Nirvana if one is engrossed in devotion while treading the path to seek Absolute Truth.

The most laborious person from the group is Gulla Ram’s grandson, Bharat. Devotional music is deeply embedded in their family tradition. Bharat inherited this art from his father, who, according to his community was an exceptionally talented musician. But unfortunately, he passed away two years ago. His father’s demise was a turning point in his life. He realized how important it is for musicians to record and document their art. For instance, the old folk songs and hymns tend to alter with time as they are not present anywhere in written format. This can have dire consequences and can be disrespectful to the creator of the song. For an artist, recording is a memoir of his original creations, an evidence of his hard work, an account of his passion for music.

Bharat firmly believes that there ought to be balanced in life. He fully acknowledges the role of education in one’s life. He himself as a child used to commit two hours daily to his studies and two hours to his musical training. He is making his own children follow the same set of values in their lives. He wants artists to be educated so that they are aware of their rights and are well acquainted with their art and it’s origins.

Gulla Ram gets disheartened to see deserving artists unemployed. Just for the sake of money, talented musicians have to take up other jobs to avoid financial instability, and they tend to forget the real purpose of their music. He is fully aware of how desperately musicians like him need a bigger platform to share their music.

The gist of the hymns is to learn wisdom from the saints. They are our saviours. One should follow their advice, and thereby one shall be guided to his destined goal. We can relate to the unnecessary activities as wanderings in the desert of Samsara. There are a few oases in this desert and they are the saints. One ought to drink deep from them and proceed to the source, the original home, which is the Absolute Truth. Once the ship is steered fearlessly in the ocean of Samsara, one can transcend to the other shore of immortal life.

Kehra Ram and Group

THE MELODIOUS MEGHWALS FROM SANPA

 

Kehra Raam is a 62 years old ‘young’ musician living in the Sanpa village of Barmer, Rajasthan. The team met Kehra Ram in Barmer and was pleased to see the happy and content faces of Kehra Ram and his fellow musicians in the scorching heat and soaring temperatures of Rajasthan. He has been into Meghwal folk music since a very tender age, and says ‘Even a newborn child in Rajasthan cries in Sur’ since birth’. His grandson’s innocent laugh enthusiastically gave a nod to Kehra Ram’s statement.

He has a large family of 9 people: his mother, son Ganga Ram, wife Gayidev, along with other members. Kehra Ram is associated with the Meghwal tribe of Rajasthan, which comes under the scheduled caste. He enlightened the team about how Baba Ramdevji has always looked after the Meghwal tribe, as a guiding angel. Kehra Ram was not able to complete his education because of financial instability, but always had a deep interest in music: he learnt songs from old books and memorised some after listening from others in his own family and community. His group members are usually family members or people from his community.

Kehra Ram’s interest in music heightened primarily because of his father and uncle, who inspired him to explore the avenues of religious folk music. He sings bhajans and plays tandoora, which is a folk instrument similar to Veena. The tandoora is more popularly known as the Chautara or Nissan and is a commonly played, five-stringed drone instrument. It accompanies devotional music and is a variation on the Ektaara which is one of the oldest string instruments. Tandoora is made from wood and its base is usually constructed out of the dried gourd. It is strewn with four strings that can be tuned to different pitches to the convenience of the player and the instrument is played with two fingers. The Manganiyar Meghwal, Nath Jogi and Meerasi Bhajan Mandali (devotional singing groups) in parts of Rajasthan commonly use this instrument.

Kehra Ramji has studied till the fifth standard. He used to work as a labourer earlier. He learnt hymns because of the tradition, and to some extent also because of his own inclination towards religious and devotional music and worship of Ramdevji. Kehra Ram has been performing for the past 36 years and has been deeply involved in the music. His never-ending quest to learn new instruments is simply commendable. Besides tandoora, he can play harmonium and dholak.

Kehra Ram, sometimes, plays Rajasthani folk music, but not much because according to him, he, as a Meghwal, tends to get shy while singing the regional folk songs. He finds more comfort in devotional music dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses, and how we, as human beings, should tread the path leading to the ‘Absolute Truth’.

Kehra Ram along with his group members usually performs Lok Devta’s bhajans for ‘Satsang’, and as per the tradition followed by Meghwals, distributes ‘prasaad’ after the auspicious ceremony of completion of the ‘Satsanga’. The word ‘Satsanga’ is the combination of the two words ‘Sat’ and ‘Sanga.’ ‘Sat’ means existence absolute, which is Brahman. ‘Sat’ is the essential nature of Brahman which is permanent in things that change, which is the only reality that upholds the world of appearance.

The glow and power of ‘Satsanga’, association with the wise, saints, Yogis, Sannyasins and Mahatmas is indescribable. Even a moment’s company is quite sufficient to overhaul the old vicious Samskaras of the worldly people. The magnetic aura, the spiritual vibration, and the powerful currents of developed adepts produce a tremendous influence on the minds of worldlings.

ghayal jo mai ghumti firu re

I have been injured

sarangi mare koye

Because I have lost all purpose and happiness

These lines from Kehra Ram’s bhajan about Meerabai talk about her misery, her desperation and her pursuit of Lord Krishna, and how her life is devoid of happiness and meaning. Meerabai feels that everything is worthless without the light of the Lord.

With his immense devotion and determination coupled with ‘Bhakti Bhaav’, Kehra Ram stands out of the other hymn singers with his own style of singing.

Dana Singh and Group

An Amalgamation of Folk and Culture

 

The mere mention of Rajasthan brings to the fore royalty, culture, forts and its melodious folk songs. Each region in the state has its own folk entertainment. Of considerable significance are the devotional songs and the communities who render them. Dan Singh is a name that finds special mention in the music circuit of Barmer. Highly revered by his contemporaries, he is known for singing bhajans and other devotional Rajasthani folk music.

Dan Singh is from a small village in Barmer. Belonging to the Rajput community of Rajasthan, his music skills owe much to the influence of his uncle and tutor. As a young boy, listening to his uncle perform cultivated an aspiration in him to learn and popularize devotional music. Today he sings devotional folk music with a wide repertoire. Mira’s bhajan, Kabir’s couplets, excerpts from the life of Banna Nath ji are some noted elements in his music. Such is his devotion to music that even a tiresome job of an electrician could not keep him away from his art for long. “ I was fortunate to find a few people in my office with similar music interest as mine. We would get together and sing during leisure hours,” he recalls fondly.

As he takes his position next to his fellow musicians, the benign smile on his face and the feeble fingers tuning the strings of his tandoora can trick his listeners into thinking that the 82 years old Dan Singh has lost his charm but it doesn’t take him long to prove them wrong. With a single alaap, he can enchant music lovers to no end. When questioned about what keeps him motivated, ‘ Only a person with the desire to learn in his heart can truly master the nuances of music’, he answers with a smile. He wishes to foster a sense of respect for the traditional folk music and has succeeded immensely within his community to achieve the same through his passion and dedication. His co-artists who are from different age groups and have expertise over various instruments look up to him as a source of motivation and aspire to be like him in the future. For them, singing alongside Dan Singh ji is like the biggest accomplishment of his life.

At present, Dan Singh’s group has five members, who together play on various occasions in temples and on auspicious occasions. With most of the members belonging to the Rajput community, they stand out in the music circuit of Rajasthan that largely consists of  Manganiyars and Langas. Together they have performed all over in Rajasthan and some other noted Indian cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Their musical compositions find the prominent use of Solath, Dhamaal, Malhaar among other ragas. They have expertise over various percussion instruments like dholak. However, the most intriguing among them all is the Tandoora. It is five-stringed drone instrument. It is a variation of Ektara which is one of the oldest string instrument.

Dan Singh beautifully explains that singing Bhajans for him is a way of keeping his soul pure. He further goes on to say that devotional music has the power to keep one from deviating from the path of righteousness. Through his Bhajans, he believes his express purpose if to explain the essence of love for God to himself and the audience.

Resonating with his beliefs are the following verses from his bhajan:

Manva Bhulo Jaave Re

Oh Human, you are forgetting me

Bhulo tu jaave re

Forgetting me, says the almighty

Ya  sadguru dev samjhave, raste kyun nahin aave

The Guru is explaining to him, to be back on track

Par nandiya mein bak bak bole

The ignorant human speaks incessantly, belittling others

Jeebh thakave re

You exhaust yourself unnecessarily?

Ye hari ko naam leve kyon garu naa lave re

You should devote yourself to the almighty

A delight to hear, there is no two ways about the fact that Dan Singh is unparalleled in his musical prowess. But what makes him mesmerizing is the simplicity with which he expresses his joy, happiness and contentedness through his songs. One can only but be inspired by his life and commitment to devotional music.

Hassan Khan And Group

Melodic tales of the Royals

“Amar raho Jaisan-nath
Girdhar ke pyare laal
Sheesh par teehare chaaje
Dwaar par teehare baaje
Ghanan ghanan ghanan ghor
Indra ke nagare”

Be immortal, Oh King of Jaisalmer,

Beloved of Giridhar

Your throne is made of sheesham,

And clouds shower their thundering sounds at your door

Like they do in Indra’s abode

The magical words written in praise of the royal rulers of Jaisalmer, beautifully interwoven with the use of metaphors pertaining to the land of Jaisalmer, form the crux of Hassan and Akbar Khan’s music. Each time before a coronation ceremony, these artists were commissioned to prepare songs especially for that occasion, a song dedicated to the upcoming Maharaja, the heir of the royal family. These royal families have helped these musicians in their upliftment since generations, and like all other musicians in Jaisalmer, music is a tradition in their family too.

These musicians are mainly darbar artists who have been singing for the royal families for 9 generations, and their songs are based on Raagas from Hindustani classical music. They do experiment with variations in terms of taal and raagas at times. The main instruments used for their singing are harmonium, khartaal(Castanet, 4 pieces of wood, played by hand),Ghadaa(earthen pot), and dholak for keeping time. Akbar Khan and Hassan Khan describe their musical ‘Gharaana’ as ‘Alamkhaana’ a titular head of hereditary caste Manganiyar and are professional singers and musicians who traditionally perform to their Jajman (Patrons) Rajput families. As per Akbar Khan, there are several royal ‘Alamkhaanas’ in Rajasthan, namely Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Bhuj in Gujarat, but the most prominent one amongst them is Jaisalmer, also called ‘Jaisan’ in the local Marwari dialect.

These artists are singers as well as composers and have been composing songs for the royal families for generations. As Hassan Khan recalls with envy that most of these traditional folk songs were sung by women and described their longing to be with their men. But men long to be with their women too, as love is mutual. According to them, Jaisalmer is famous for its stone, sweets and its beautiful women. The women in Jaisalmer are enchanting and seem to weave a magic on their men.

When asked about the importance of music in their lives, Akbar Khan says “Music for them is like a protein for happiness”. It’s a divine art, used for story-telling. Their songs are sung in praise of the city, its Maharajas, as well as Hindu Gods and Allah alike, once again giving us a lesson in communal harmony and teaching us that Music is not confined to the boundaries of caste and religion.

“Man sarovar, madh pak
paras bhat supher

You are as huge as mansarovar,
And as beautiful as a paras stone

Miley hamsa chug maangna re…
To maanak Jaisalmer re..

The folk singers of Jaisalmer are like Swans(hamsa)

Who sustain their lives on pearls (A hamsa, as per mythology, eats only pearls-moti)”

These musicians are the lifeline of Jaisalmer. It seems that music is imbibed in these stones, arches and majestic ramparts of the Jaisalmer Fort. Each bastion is still embedded with these melodies which will last for a lifetime. Every grain of this vast Jaisalmer desert echoes of tunes sung and transmitted verbally to their children and grandchildren. This hereditary music is transferred by their forefathers and these musicians seek to transmit this knowledge to their children. So far, they have performed and toured in numerous places in India like Calcutta and Mumbai.

As per Akbar Khan, the disciples move ahead and the “gurus” stay behind, and there is no ‘Gharaana’ which is comparable to Jaisalmer in terms of sheer melodic grandeur. He firmly believes that the gen-next should regularly interact with the veterans, learn the true meaning of the songs that they have been reciting for centuries and keep the Guru-Shishya (Teacher-Disciple) system alive.

Over the years, traditions have changed and the demand for folk music has become less, and even many members of their extended families don’t learn this art. According to them, to encourage this art, training centres could be set up or a separate department can be devoted to musical learning in schools. They are even willing to volunteer in music schools if they are well paid and earn enough to sustain their families. ‘The privileged should help the poor’, as Akbar Khan puts it. For this, public participation is very important, but sadly, folk music is losing its importance over time. The “Dharohar” or the musical foundation is endangered. They also acknowledge the importance of basic technical education which is important to sustain oneself in these competitive times. To harness this musical knowledge for the upcoming generations, a drastic change in the paradigm is needed.

From songs ranging to marriage, coronation and childbirth, these musicians have contributed to the music literature of Jaisalmer greatly, and have surely set a milestone in folk music. These musical compositions celebrate the majestic aura of Jaisalmer in a truly poetic manner which appeals to everyone. Their journeys have been full of ups and downs, but their voices will surely echo in Jaisalmer for centuries. As the poet Percy Shelley quotes it:

“Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory —
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.”

Their legacy will continue to haunt Jaisalmer long after they are gone, and their songs will still be sung on every auspicious occasion. This musical heritage deserves to be noticed more and should be promoted in a holistic manner. Recognition is necessary for resilience, and to promote resilience and self-reliance in these communities, we must realize the true importance of this musical aspect of the intangible cultural heritage of Jaisalmer.

Miley hamsa chug maangna re…
To maanak Jaisalmer re..