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Rajasthan

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.

Mota Ram and Group

Colourful Shades of Music

 

It is yet another blistering hot day in the town of Barmer, not far from the border with Pakistan. Mota Ram and his group members can be seen adjusting and tuning their instruments as they get ready to enthral their listeners with their music that has a unique flair of Rajasthan. Almost all of India’s cultural inheritance, since the Vedic era, believes that folk music transforms not only the artists but also its audience.

Folk music has been close to nature; more so because the Indian subcontinent always enjoyed abundant riches showered by Mother Nature and held her in awe. As a result, Prayers were composed. Over time they became an integral part of all rituals.

Mota Ram was born in a small village of Barmer named Bishala. Like most folk musicians of Rajasthan, he had an early start in the field of folk music. However, his journey was not an easy one. As a child he faced difficulties in adapting to various instruments. He recalls how even synchronizing a simple instrument like manjira with the rhythm would get awkward for him. Interest in music and his curiosity kept him steadfast, and with practice he got better to the point where he now has mastery over playing multiple instruments. Elders in his family triggered his interest in music. Encouraged by them he would go and attend small events in his community and at times also participate. It has been over sixteen years since he developed his interest in music into a livelihood.

Belonging to the Meghwal community, he sings devotional folk songs or bhajans. To him, singing bhajans is a way to tread the path to righteousness. They impart joy and provide respite to the mind. But he firmly believes that to gain the most out of bhajans or devotional songs one must cultivate the right attitude. One must know and accept in his mind that all our power comes from God. Prayers born of positive thoughts create positive vibrations. The kind of vibrations that prayer radiates depends on the kind of thoughts of the person praying. In all, it can be argued that it is a practical way of maintaining harmony in society.

A common theme in his songs is that of Guru-Shishya Parampara. In India Guru-Shishya Parampara or the relationship between teacher and his student is more than just a mere way of transmitting knowledge. A life itself is shared, a whole range of values and perception and an unswerving vision is transmitted. The essence of this relationship is love. Moreover, hard work and dedication are important parameters in this relationship.

Mota Ram also talks about the relationship that the Meghwal community of singers shares with their patrons. Meghwals also known as Rikhiya are the most beloved devotees of Lord Ramdev. According to the legend, it is believed that because they are dear to Lord Ramdev, he has blessed them with perpetual prosperity and abundance. This is the reason why people invite them to their events to commence all important occasions. If the disciple is happy, God will be elated.

He readily admits that despite the abundance of talented singers and an elite patronage, the situation of Rajasthani folk music is direr. They believe authentic music can survive if a large-enough audience is made aware of it. “The music is good. There are enough people to sustain it, but we need to make those people aware of it.”

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.

Taazaram and Group

THE VALOUR OF PABU JI RATHOD

 

A tale of the bravery of the famous legend Pabuji Rathod, presented by the old and the young, in the form of music and dance is an altogether different caravan. Taaza Ram belongs to the Bheel community which is widely comprised of bow men of Rajasthan or the tribals of Mewar. He plays a unique indigenous instrument Raavan-hatta, which he designs and carves on his own with coconut shells and horse hair. This instrument and ‘Pabuji ki Phad’ are the USPs of the Bheel community.

padhaaro jagdamba maata

Goddess Jagdamba, we request you to come

Jogmaya aale

Godess Jogmaaya, come and bless us!

pukaare apko bhopaa

The Bhopa summons you

Jogmaya aale

Godess Jogmaaya, come and bless us!

With a myriad of folk deities being worshipped as a ritual of narrating Pabuji ki Phad, every composition calls to praise and invoke different Gods and Goddesses. The most striking feature of the cult of Pabuji is its principal ritual. Singer-priests (bhopos) of Pābūjī perform a liturgical epic telling of the life, death, and avenging of their hero-god; these performances take place at night, typically in front of a paṛ, a long narrative cloth-painting simultaneously depicting the events of the story and serving as a portable temple to the deity.

The team discovered Lalla Ram Ji just out of sheer coincidence while heading to Bishala. He is an old and impoverished folk musician and belongs to a very poor household in the village. Lalla Ram lives with his wife and children grandchildren has learnt this unique art form from his father and uncle.

He has been performing this ritual for the past thirty-four years. Rajput people invite them for performing on auspicious occasions and even as a means of entertainment. Lalla Ram and his group also give performances on jaagrans. Taaza Ram Ji also works as a farmer and is sometimes compelled to do labour work as well at the time offseason. The season time is a couple of months of July, August. As a child, he was greatly fascinated by the bravery and valour of Pabuji Rathod. It is a renowned legend that Pabuji’s head was cut off when he had gone to rescue the cows from the invaders, but even then he had not stopped fighting. So he decided to carry forward his family heritage of recital of ‘Pabuji ki Phad’. He was also enchanted by the musical melodies produced by Raavan-hatta. So he came to know about a famous Raava-hatta player named Ruparam from Bhadka village. He then learnt to present this religious art form from his Guruji. He also made sure that his children learn to perform this art form.

Pabuji Ki Phad is a religious scroll painting of folk deities, which is used for a musical rendition of the only surviving ancient traditional folk art form, Phad painting in the world of the epic of Pabuji, the Rathod Rajput chief. Bhopas of Pabusar are the bards and also priests who are the traditional narrators of this art form. In villages of Rajasthan, Pabuji was considered an ascetic and hence his blessings were sought for veterinary services provided by his disciples, the Bhopas. This art form is popular in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Pabuji is also known as “the Ascetic Deity of Sand Desert”.

The three basic features associated with this art form are: the epic story of Pabuji, the Rathod chief of Rajasthan in the 14th century, who is extolled as an incarnation of Hindu God, and worshipped by the Rabari tribals of Rajasthan; the Phad or Par, which is a long scroll painting (or sewn) made on cloth, with the martial heroics of Pabuji richly displayed for worship; and the bard priests, known as the Bhopas (who belong to the cult of Pabhuji) of the nomadic tribe of Nayakas and specialists in narrating the story of the Pabuji in their sartorial best through the medium of the Phads used as a portable temple, all over the desert lands of the Thar in Rajasthan.

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 chanted narration is in colloquial Rajasthani dialect. Bhopa is the main singer (narrator) who does it with an accompaniment of a musical instrument, called the ravanhattha (a desert zither or a spike fiddle with eighteen strings but without frets), which he crafts by himself.

Punmaram and Group

INSTRUMENTAL EUPHORIA: SOLITUDE OF THE RHYTHMS OF PAAVA

 

In our quest to explore the folk melodies of Rajasthan, we were overwhelmed to discover the hidden gems from a variety of communities, with each group exhibiting a unique flair in the realm of folk music. This venture took us a grinding twenty miles away from Barmer, to a remote village called Bishala. Fortunately, Lord Indra was kind enough that day, and we were welcomed with grey clouds and a cool breeze in the midst of the desert. Parched hills surrounding us on one side, and on the other, sheep grazing dry grass which seemed like green spots on a brown canvas. What a sight it was! In the middle of this aesthetic frame sat a 85-year-old man on a string cot, his eyes sparkling with fulfilment as he looked at his beloved instrument paava.

It was remarkable to see Punma Ram play paava with such ease since usually, a man his age surrenders to the inevitable loss of youth, but Punma Ram, looking so peaceful, made us all bounce along with his transitions in breaths seeming no less than that of a roller coaster. Listening to the tunes of his paava, one is catapulted back in time and can envision Punma Ram as a kid, wandering around with the shepherds and their flock, swinging to the euphonious chimes of paava and rejoicing about the simple gifts of life.

Paava, also referred to as Alghoza, is a pair of wind instruments made of wood. It is widely played by the Punjabi, Sindhi, Kutchi, Rajasthani and Baloch folk musicians. It consists of two inter-joined beak flutes: one for melody, and the second one for drone. A continuous flow of air is required as the player blows into the two flutes simultaneously. The quick grasping of breath on each beat creates a buoyant, swinging rhythm. This wooden instrument initially consisted of two flute pipes of the same length but over time, one of them was shortened for sound purposes. The instrument can be scaled to any tune using beeswax.

Punma Ram was born and brought up in Bishala and was barely 10 years old when he learnt to play paava from the shepherds. When he was a child, the shepherds in his village used to play this instrument while taking the sheep for grazing outside. Punma Ram was deeply influenced by this wind instrument and developed a great deal of interest in it. Gradually, he started mastering the art of playing hit, and now it has been embedded into his subconscious mind. He humbly stated that everytime he holds paava, he is unaware of the music that follows. While some tunes are from the bygone years of his adolescence, some spontaneously come to his mind at the moment.

He carves the wood for making his paava himself, using Sheesham or sometimes Rohida tree. The finishing touch is usually given by a professional who sits in the main village. Punma Ram feels that carving one’s own instrument is not an easy thing, it usually takes forty to fifty days to make an unfinished pair of paava. Often, tourists have asked Punma Ram to teach them to play but only a handful of them have patiently stuck to learning it, because of the difficulty encountered in doing so. Punma Ram and Padma Ram have never performed outside Bishala, they only perform in the neighbourhood for marriage occasions or other festivities. The pure and authentic art of paava playing still survives untouched, but the world is unaware of its soothing rhythms.

Punma Ram along with his nephew Padma Ram are the only two paava players left in the region of and around Barmer. This is alarming because none of their descendants has learnt this dying art. Their children have taken up jobs in small sectors and find comfort in their own lives. They have no interest in learning this art, primarily because it is cumbersome to learn, and requires selfless devotion to pursue it.

Punma Ram’s only child is his daughter, who has married off years ago and is settled in a neighbouring village. She seldom visits him. Punma Ram now lives alone in a thatched hut with almost no amenities of any sort. But his priceless art makes his entire settlement rich with soothing harmonious melodies.

 

Kishan Kumar and Group

SPIRITUALITY IN MUSIC

 

Music is regarded as one of the triumphs of human creativity. Plato once said that music “is a more potent instrument than any other form of education”. Good music has the power to affect you academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. One is left with little doubt about this when he listens to Kishan Kumar. Kishan Kumar’s music is akin to magic.

50 years old and coming from a village named Matya Ka Tala in Barmer, Kishan Kumar belongs to the Meghwal community. He sings Bhajans with exemplary perfection. Being the eldest person in his family he is like the storehouse of all the songs and melodies that have been in their family.

Saamre ka naam re hazaar

The Lord has thousand names

kaise likhu kekuptari

By which name should I call you?

koi kahn kanha ji

Some call him Kanha Ji

koi kahe kisan ji

Some call him ‘Kishan’ Ji

koi kahe nand heera laal

Some call him ‘Nand heera laal’

kaise likhu kekuptari

Almighty, how should I call you?

Each bhajan he sings is a way for him to know God better. The themes of his bhajans range from contemplative to hopeful, triumphant to struggling, but all are meant to create a connection between him and God. He learnt music from his guru Dhori Mina. One can easily see his dedication to his art and the effort he has put into it when he recalls how he used to learn music as a child. ‘My guru gave me a book. Though I am not very educated, I would sit for hours and make myself learn those verses written in the book and practice them over and over again’ he reminisces. At the age of 12, his interest developed in music by going to the Satsangs and other events, some of which lasted all night. He listened keenly to the singers and tried memorizing their songs, imbibing their values and today at the age of 50, he even composes a few bhajans about Lord Ramdev and sings them in his own way. He wishes to inspire others to take his legacy of music forward, enabling the transfer of knowledge and tradition from one generation to another.

Kishan Kumar’s group consist of 6-7 members. Strikingly what makes them different is the fact that unlike other Meghwal groups in the region, his group is a consolidation of artists from other communities. They make use of a variety of instruments in their songs like veena, ghara, janja and thali. He plays the veena with the proficiency of a well-trained musician. Another element of their performance that makes them stand out is the Thali Nritya, a dance executed with thali (plates) held in hand, which this group performs. Such is the aura of the entire performance that it can easily pull crowds in. Together with his group Kishan Kumar has performed in villages like Chotan, Djorimana, Bijriyad and in temples in Barmer. Even if the desire to perform for a larger audience in states other than Rajasthan still seems far-fetched, nonetheless lack of opportunities do not discourage them. However, he still feels that their contribution to their land and culture needs to be valued more. He is confident that if given a chance people will understand the power and value of their music and will be able to connect to it.

chhoti chhoti gayiyan chhote chhote gwaal 

Amongst small cows and little shepherds

chhoto so mero madan gopal 

There is, my beloved little Krishna

As he begins to sing with others he does not mind the scorching weather nor complains about anything. One can see him go into a trance as he shuts his eyes and gets totally involved in what he is singing. As far as the listeners are concerned, they seem charged up.

He tells that every group has its own speciality, his only contempt, however, is for those who sing devotional songs but do not connect to the divine power spiritually. He has an understanding that many people take up this profession to meet their materialistic demands. He believes that this depreciates their talent.

We humans are equal. But even when we are built equal, our minds are different. Different minds have different strengths. For Kishan Kumar, strength lies in focusing on his music and he uses the gift he has been given to inspire people.  For him, his music is a doorway to enlightenment and he wishes that people would derive a greater sense of purpose from it.

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.