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Kootal Khan and Group

Kootal Khan – Melodies at ‘Mama’s Resort and Camp’


Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends;

Unless some dull and favourable hand

Will whisper music to my weary spirit.

As much as Jaisalmer is filled with the golden sand, it’s also filled with traditional folk melodies, which echo stories of generations, imbibed with these melodies.

Kootal Khan’s family has been into music since generations, and he, himself has been learning music ever since he remembers. The eyes of this 35-year-old singer from the Manganiyar community of Rajasthan light up as he starts speaking about his music with all the passion.

Kootal Khan’s group, interestingly has a female member too, Rekha Sapera, which is very rarely seen in the Manganiyar community. The group also has 5 other members, and all of them are related to each other. Basically, their whole bloodline is musical. Kootal Khan was brought up in a musical environment and has been singing these folk songs since his childhood.

“Saluda thaaro kakuji milave,
Ab ghar aavo lashkariyo raj
Mhaarode aanganiyo aap padhaaro beend raja”

In this particular song, a soon to be wedded woman is requesting her to-be groom to visit her home with the ‘baraat’, she says that her uncle has bought “Saluda”, i.e. all the clothes for the wedding, and is urging him to come to her home and get married. Traditionally, the marriage takes place at the girl’s residence.

Like most of the Manganiyaars, this group songs also has various range of themes like marriage, love, separation, childbirth and the special occasions in a family. Various families in Jaisalmer, have been their patrons for ages, and their economy is dependent on music. Their musical groups are called to perform on these occasions, and this group has performed at various destinations in India and Kootal Khan has also travelled and lived in Washington, California and New York for workshops. He also collaborates with other musical groups from time to time.

September to February is the peak season when most of the occasions like marriage take place, and when they get their most business.

Kootal Khan has learned music from his father and his children are also being trained in music currently. The main instruments used by his group are Khamaicha, Dholak, Harmonium, Morchang, Khadtaal, and Algoza. The main recurring raagas in their songs being Shubh, Kalyan and Bhairav. Like other Manganiyaars, they also believe that traditionally, and as per mythology, there were 6 main raagas, and each raga has 5 wives, making it a total of 36 raagas, which forms the base of their classical music vocabulary. While most raagas are meant to be sung at a particular time, as per the time-theory of music, Raag Bhairavi is considered to be “Sada-suhaagan” (literal meaning, forever married). He considers bhairavi to be one of the most important raags, which can be sung at any time and any occasion.

These ragas used by Kootal Khan also hints of influences from Guru Granth Sahib, According to the Guru Granth the first raga created by the Maker was Bhairav, and raga Bhairav had five raginis of which only the first, raga Bhairavi is known today and performed. The folk songs of Rajasthan have maintained the elements of Indian classical music despite the fact that they are freely composed and sung, knowing no rigid rules.

At times, their audience also demands popular songs, which have been imbibed into Bollywood, and they are more than happy to oblige since they consider that music is essential for enjoyment.

When asked about his future plans, Kootal khan says that he wants his children and the upcoming generations to carry forward this musical tradition while keeping their formal education in a healthy balance.

Kootal Khan’s music is mesmerizing and his deep, baritone voice keeps the mood of the music alive. They combine their love for music and the skill for the same to make musical masterpieces, and timeless harmonies. Interestingly, the lyrics to these songs are quite simple, yet they are capable of evoking heartfelt human emotions.

Nowadays, in order to keep the musical tradition alive, is difficult, since many songs are lost with time, owing to the influx of popular music, therefore recognition of these artists is essential as they form the part of an intangible heritage of Rajasthan. A culture to be nourished, enhanced and shared. Poetic and lyrical melodies echo in this never-ending Thar, and its every sand grain.

“Ab ghar aavo lashkariyo raj
Mhaarode aanganiyo aap padhaaro beend raja”

Gaffur Khan And Group

Splendid Blend of Generations


Carrying forward the age-old legacies of his forefathers, Gaffur Khan is a legend in his field of music. He comes from a family which carries traditions and culture that takes us back to 900 years old scene. He is trying his level best to keep up with the culture and tradition of folk culture which has been taught to him ever since he was a child. Gaffur Khan is a traditional folk singer who sings songs in all kind of ragas and knows songs for all the occasions. He says with pride that his tradition and culture celebrates every moment in a man’s life starting from birth till death. He believes that the tradition of singing folk was started to celebrate life and to communicate the expressions which were not easy to do in those times.

Gaffur has been learning music, especially singing, since he was an eight-year kid. He tells that he was automatically inclined towards the music and therefore left his studies in school just after the class third. He started learning just by hearing his father who also happens to be a well-known singer in his times. Gaffur Khan learnt music with all his dedication and sincerity, resultant, today he is known for his effortless marvellous classical singing folk voice. Today, he is 50 years old in age and out of these 50 he has given been associated with folk music learning ever since he was 5 years old.

Gaffur Khan, apart from singing and being drenched in music takes care of the Water Management Department of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, as a PHED. He works as a Government employee and thus still takes care of his life in music. Gaffur has performed in almost all the states of India and even foreign countries like, London, Paris, the USA, etc.

He says that he knows all the kind of songs whether it is a child’s birth or their death, etc. They have songs for every occasions. On asking him about the roots of the songs, he tells that they had been written by his ancestors. He is from the Yaduvanshi Manganiyaar community and hence starts his performances with religious bhajans like that of Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesh, etc. Gaffur Khan, not only sings folk songs but is more inclined towards classical folk songs. He and his group sings songs ranging from bhajan of Krishna, Ganesha to qalams of Baba Buleh Shah.

Gaffur Khan and his group always had patronages who gave them support with kinds and cash. They sing songs as per their audiences. When he is at a function invited by a Muslim patronage, he sings Baba Buleh Shah’ songs, etc., whereas when he is invited by a Hindu patronage, he sings bhajans of Krishna and Ganesha.

Gaffur and his group has very young talented artists in his group, he being the eldest leads them. He also teaches music to his child and encourages him to join him with music. Even his child is so well trained that he sits in the group and sings well equivalent with the elders.

Rangirang Sufi

Various Colours of Sufi

The entire ambience becomes serene with Sawan Khan in the midst of his singing, narrating the story, pauses to sing a few bars in his full-throated voice and then smiles as he takes you through the twists and turns of the story. The mesmerising, uplifting voice of Sawan Khan takes you on a troll to the journey with his songs which are defined usually as expressions of the longing to be close to the divine. Sawan Khan recalls the time when he was 8 years old and used to accompany his father, who taught him harmonium. The same he did with his son and grandson, but what he worries the most is that what one misses is a concrete effort to educate listeners about this wonderful genre as, without that, things may well remain at a standstill.

The roots of Sufi can largely be found in Persia, parts of the Arabic world, Pakistan and India. The qawwali and kaafi are the most popular styles of Sufi and are associated with poets such as Hafez, Rumi, Amir Khusro, Baba Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Hussein and Khwaja Ghulam Farid. But still, in today’s scenario, the number of Sufi singers is much lesser as that compared to artists in other genres. Sufism, as the mystical dimension music preaches peace, tolerance and pluralism while encouraging a way of deepening one’s relationship with the Creator. Sufi music seeks to unite listeners with the Divine. In the songs of Sawan Khan, you can feel the pain of separation from the Creator at the core of Sufi lyrics and music, and hence the intense longing to dissolve the physical realm and transcend into the spiritual universe with the ambience.

But as a ray of hope, the group has the younger generation learning and taking a keen interest in music. If one goes around the group they can witness both the maestro Sawan Khan and the young but extremely talented Dholak players — Askar Khan and Tareef Khan, Khartal by Shaukat Khan and Anwar Khan, brother of Sawan Khan on backing Vocals perfectly blending with an essence of music.

The young Askar Khan wants to work really hard in his field and make his family proud. He wants to learn so much that he could teach his children and other children in his society the traditional Dholak. Similarly, for Tareef Khan and Shaukat Khan the learning just never goes stop, they feel it helps you grow as a person you are from within and makes it easy to get to know ones’ soul.

Although Sawan Khan has gained a lot of name and fame in comparison to others but even till today if you ask him why he sings at the age of 55, he would simply look at you and smile and say “bass Khuda se ghuftagu ho jaati hai to sukoon milta hai or jab tak wo chah raha hai guftgu yunhi barkarar rahegi. Hum to bass isi mein khush hain jo wo chahta hai (it feels relaxed and contended after talking to the Almighty and till the time he wishes the conversation shall continue. We are happy in what He wants.”

Rajasthan Melody

Music Beyond The Boundaries of Caste


Manganiyaar tribe has been playing in Rajput courts since time immemorial. But what they didn’t know was, that they were inspiring a notion in a young Rajput’s mind — a child who was to become one of Rajasthan’s most inspiring musicians in folk culture. Tagaram ji’s journey so far has been full of both joys and let downs. And in this journey he has had company of the finest of friends in Imam Khan amongst others.

Tagaram is a master Algoza player — a wind instrument, much like an Indianized bagpiper. It started in childhood when as a cattle herder he would spend his days practicing this ancient instrument. As the gales would blow through the barren landscape of Thar Desert, he learned to harness nature and whistle out melodious tunes through his Algoza. Tagaram found his Guru in Ustad Akbar Khan, and a companion in his teacher’s son Imam — a friendship that would last for decades. Akbar Khan was at that time a famous folk musician and his son Imam was a devoted disciple, much like Tagaram who apparently got his hands on his first Algoza when he stole one from his father’s arsenal. In his fifties now, Tagaram is a renowned performer and his group has toured in more than 20 countries, entertaining people as well as taking workshops and sharing his vast knowledge on Rajasthani folk with aspiring musicians the world over. And since the first Desert Festival in 1981 he has been amongst the select few who have played consecutively all these years in this annual celebration.

Interestingly, though, on one hand Tagaram runs a Stone Mining business and on the other hand is a craftsman of the most intricate musical instrument which he makes for himself as well as other who wish to own an authentic Algoza. Interacting with Imam Khan makes you realize that its not just the music that has kept them going; it intrigues him when he sees fellow Folk artists not earning their fair share. Hence he also works as an interpreter and lends a helping hand to performers traveling abroad, in need of necessary documents. “We have seen the world. But there are many who are more deserving than what fortune has bestowed them with; we are a single, global community of artists and I relate with them so we as a group wish to create an environment where no one is denied of basics. No one can play with an empty stomach”, he comments. He also acknowledges the importance of basic education so that no artist can be cheated with, as much as he would like the younglings of their community to carry forward their age-old tradition of Folk.

Imam ji is a forward-thinking gentleman who is open to Folk music and lyrics being modernized but at the same time 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 since centuries and keep the Guru-Shishya (Teacher-Disciple) system alive. With a chortle and a smile peeping through his twisted moustache, he adds “Chela ban ke seekho, Guru ban ke nahi” (Learn like a student, without prejudices and keeping your ego aside).

Dapu Khan and Group

Living Legend of Kamaicha


Sitting atop the Jaisalmer Fort and amongst the last of artists to carry forward the legacy of an instrument as old as time, Dapu Khan ji has been entertaining people from around the world for thirty years.

As one visits him in his native village and wonders what keeps Dapu ji travel a hundred and fifty miles daily, then walk all the way up to the Queen’s Palace, he steps in with a polite voice, “This Khamaicha here! There are very few people left who play this; some of them in Pakistan and a bunch of us here in India. If we stop playing the world will be denied of a wonderful sound.”

Khamaicha is the oldest instrument in the recorded history of Rajasthani folk culture and is regarded as the favourite instrument of Hindu Gods. And sitting all day at the portals of the rampart yet living Fort of Jaisalmer, one may mistake Dapu ji from his humble appearance; but he has played at the White House amongst other prestigious venues and in this journey his biggest support has been his nephews Kailash and Jassu, and his son Ridhu who join him on the stage to create magic.

Born to a family of the ancient Miraasi tribe, Dapu Khan’s family history goes back to a time when Gandharv Kanyas (maidens) used to dance in the courts of Hindu God Indra and as much as the group takes pride in their cultural heritage, the young members of the group Ridhu, Jassu and Kailash are enthusiastic about their Folk and are working towards keeping the light shining and pass on the legacy to the coming generations.

While Dapu ji’s fragile hands set the mood for the group’s performances, young Jassu dons the Dholak and Khartaal to provide a rhythm. In his ten years of playing he has travelled all over India, much like his brother Ridhu who composes his own songs to give a modern touch to this age-old art. Time made them realize formal education will not be of much help, being from the small village in the conflict-ridden land near India-Pakistan LOC and they took no time in joining Dapu Ji in following their family tradition of performing Folk music to entertain people. They’re both still training under Dapu ji, even as they have been performing for more than a decade.

Kailash completes the group with harmonium and vocals and wittingly recalls how he found his freedom when his teacher asked him to perform on the occasion of Independence Day celebrations in his school. Search for work and a source of earning lead him to Pune and eventually Mumbai, but fortune lead him back to his roots in the form of a neglected harmonium in a furniture shop he used to work in.

As the group recalls their times playing together, a smile breaks on their face and they admit the fact that there have been more struggles than laurels. At the same time, they are content with what they have achieved, and the respect they get from people across India and abroad has motivated fellow villagers to send their children to Dapu Khan ji to learn these timeless melodies.

Gazi Khan and Group

A Legend Binding Legacies


The amount of enthusiasm which Gazi Khan expresses when he explains his music is unmatchable, this talented musician is not only good with Khadtaal, but he is good with his words too when he says that music cannot be confined to the boundaries of religion and caste.

Gazi Khan is a living legend and an epitome of perseverance and hard work. In all these decades, during which he has worked in Jaisalmer, this legend has stories to tell from every nook and corner. He loses himself in the trance as he and his group lapse into their rendition of a popular Sufi song “Dama dam mast Kalandar”.

Sadke sadke jhoole jhoole
Mast kalandar

One who has immersed himself totally in divine worship, and in the “Sajda”(bowing one’s heads before God), he is known as Qalandar. He is oblivious to everything else.(Mast)

Sindadi da sevan da Sartaaj kalandar

O, the lord, the friend and the Sire of Sindh and Sehwan, The red robed God-intoxicated Qalandar, The Lord in every breath of mine, glory unto to you!

Ghazi Khan’s musical journey started quite early, at the age of around 4 or 5. He is educated till 8th standard, and after that devoted himself to his musical career. Ghazi Khan Barna hails from a small settlement of 40 houses known as Barna, some 35kms from Jaisalmer. Ghazi Khan is based in Rajasthan since birth and hails from a lineage of Manganiyaar musicians. He has been performing since childhood and went on a tour for 45 days in 1985 to Italy, Holland and France. During the same time, he spent 3 months in Russia for a workshop. As a child, everyone was quite fond of him as he says, and he has performed with various eminent artists from all over the world like Pt. Ravi Shankar, whom he accompanied in 1994 on a tour called “From the Sitar to the Guitar”. After his Japan performance in 1988, the international journeys became a norm for Ghazi Khan, which continued with his subsequent visit to Paris in 1993 for 45 days, where he worked on a collaboration called “Father to Son, Mother to Daughter”, which talked about transferring the musical talent generation through generation. In 2002, he worked with Rajeev Sethi, Architect and designer on Silk Road project, in Washington D.C.

Sethi conceived and designed The Silk Road Festival for the 36th Annual Folk Life Festival of the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Launched in 2001, with an ambitious program of concerts, festivals and outreach activities with a distinguished team of scholars, musicians and artists from around the world, the Silk Road Festival was designed to illuminate the historical contributions of the Silk Road; support innovative collaborations among artists from the East and the West, and re-situate classical music within a broader global context. Silk Road offered an unprecedented opportunity for America to be exposed to the vitality of the pan-Asian entity, still living across many centuries, where the past and the future are never far apart.

Even though Gazi Khan is incredibly fond of singing, he likes to be primarily known as a Khadtaal Player, as he is passionate about it, and often likes a “Jugalbandi” with his counterparts with Khadtaal as his main instrument. Regarding the current musical trends, Gazi Khan says, that he is open to fusion music as long as it’s done sensibly. Gazi Khan says that the credit for his success goes to Komal Kothari, an activist who has played an important role in uplifting the people of Maganiyaar community and providing them with a global platform. Gazi Khan likes to imbibe other cultures and languages when he travels and speaks Hindi, Marwari, English and surprisingly, Russian and Japanese too.

While explaining the nuances of his group’s music, he adds, that they are Islamic in their beliefs, but Hindu in their daily life pattern. He says that music cannot be confined to religious boundaries, and he proudly says that even though his surname is “Khan”, he likes to sing Krishna bhajans.

Gazi Khan has a keen interest in documenting Manganiyaar music in a proper manner and has well researched on the type of Raagas, and Taalas which are used in their songs. Traditional raagas like Sorath and Bhairav should be taught and propagated in a proper manner to the younger generation, he says. He has set up a musical institute named “Pehchaan” which means identity, as he says that the Manganiyaars are still striving for their true identity in the world of music. He cites Nehru Art Centre in London as his inspiration where every room was named on a particular type of Raaga. He teaches music whenever possible and wants to reach out to institutes who have previously recorded or documented Manganiyaar music for obtaining a copy.

Ghazi Khan’s legacy is widespread in the musical community of Jaisalmer and his efforts in preserving and documenting this music are remarkable. Every singer and every musician in Jaisalmer has a unique story, and words are too less to describe the sheer grandeur of their musical poetry.

Jholi khaali
Aaya sawaali
Yaar dewaane, berutwane

All those who are empty handed, and carrying a jholi (satchel=symbolism of empty hands), come to you, in your intoxicated worship, and oblivious to everything else.

Sindadi da sevan da Laal kalandar

O, the lord, the friend and the Sire of Sindh and Sehwan, The red robed God-intoxicated Qalandar, The Lord in every breath of mine, glory unto to you.

Sufi Dhoom

The Mystic Sufi


Words are less to describe the sheer poetry that is Sufism and the music which echoes as far as the sand dunes of Sam or Khuri or the ramparts of the majestic fort. Sakur Khan fondly likes to be known as a Sufi Singer and says that the colour white is symbolic of Sufism, as it is the colour of purity and the ‘ibaadat’ of Allah. Sufism is a phenomenon of mysticism, and Sakur Khan’s songs are truly mystic in nature. As per Sakur Khan, Sufism is his family tradition, and music is a divine worship.

Sakur Khan’s family has been into Sufi musical tradition since ages, and their songs comprise of songs which are a beautiful amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic traditions. Sakur Khan studied till standard 5th, and then took to music because of financial reasons. He comes from a rural area, prone to drought and describes his childhood as difficult due to the lack of basic facilities in his village. Most of Sakur Khan’s “Jajmaan” i.e. patrons are Muslims and royal families, and almost everyone in his family is trained in Sufi genre of music. Sakur Khan’s describes his family tradition as Sufi and says that Sufism is a divine medium of reaching Allah directly.

Sakur Khan’s powerful voice echoes in Nachana Haveli, as he loses himself in trance. He has performed all over India and in over 9 countries abroad including London, Turkey, Dubai and Iran. Apart from these, Sakur has also performed in Pakistan in 2006. Sakur Khan dreams of an ambitious future for the coming generations and wants his children and grandchildren to be educated. Sakur also teaches music to as many as 30 people who learn from him and is now their ‘Ustaad’. (master or teacher).

Bulle Shah is Sakur Khan’s favourite poet and he uses Bulle Shah’s poetry in his songs quite often.

Charkha pukaare ruh hi ruh
Ruh pukaare tu hi tu
Aala ilm padheya nahi
Bulla baneya to kya hua?

A charkha, is a wooden instrument used to spin thread from cotton. An intentional pun is used here as “ruh” means cotton as well as “spirit”, in Hindustani language.

A Charkha spins the thread, but the spirit calls the name of Allah.

So, it doesn’t matter if I am famous as Bulle Shah unless I have the ‘ilm’ or the desire to worship Allah. (Bulle Shah addresses himself as he leaves his signature in this composition).

Sakur Khan wants to pursue music as long as possible and is financially dependent on music. When asked about the traditional costume which he wears, and the dominance of color white in his group’s attire, he says that Sufism believes in purity and love, and they are devoid of materialistic desires, therefore they wear white clothes, and instead of wearing colorful turbans as is seen in the Manganiyaar community, they wear turbans of red color, since red is a symbol of love.

His group’s music is as unique as it is timeless, as it combines the traditions and emotions from both Hinduism and Islam, music has no boundaries of caste, creed or religion, and Sakur Khan’s music is a perfect example of that. In one particular song, rendered from a poem by the famous Sufi Poet, Shah Latif, who composed mainly in the Sindhi language, a girl wishes to leave this material world and desires to become a ‘Jogan’, (female ascetic). In the entire song, she uses various metaphors for describing a Swami, yet retaining the Sindhi-Islamic flavour. It’s interesting, yet worth noting that most of the singers from these Manganiyaar communities are followers of Islam when it comes to religious worship, yet they arHindusus in their day-to-day life.

Khufar jholiyo kulhan mein
Wajnan wayu kann

The swami carries a satchel (jhola), in which he keeps a utensil

When he asks for food.

He keeps walking and roaming till eternity.

(Swamis, in India, generally carry a satchel, and are dressed in simple clothes, they are devoid of material desires and live on “bhiksha”, on people’s generosity)

The swami usually carries a utensil which is known as ‘kista’ in the local language and lives on the food provided by the people which he carries in his ‘kista’. The most mesmerizing thing about this composition is that it’s composed in Raaga Malahari, which is an important Raaga in Hindustani Classical music and is associated with the atmosphere of rains. Yet, this is the beauty of folk music, that one raga can be used to evoke various emotions and to create a variety of moods. According to legend, raga Malhar is so powerful that when sung, it can induce rainfall. It is possible that the rainfall that the legends speak of is, in fact, metaphorical of the state of mind brought about by the recital of the raga.

Rarely does one comes to witness a beautiful palimpsest of different raagas, languages, and emotions together, and Sakur Khan’s powerful vocals enhance the poetic mood of these compositions. A staunch follower of the Sufi genre of music, Sakur Khan wants to retain this genre and wants to practice it till eternity. Sakur Khan concludes with this beautiful poem by Bulle Shah:

Sawaali hun na khaali hun
Aashiq mast jalaali hun
Khaata hun na peeta hun
Marta hun na jeeta hun
Re nashi mawaali hun
Main aashiq mast jalaali hun
Nar hun na madi hun
Na chor fasadi hun
Allah hun ni bulla hun
Maula hun na Mohammed hun
Arabi ji vich Ahmed hun

I don’t ask many questions, nor am I worthless
I am a lost lover (love for Allah)
Neither do I eat, nor do I drink
Neither am I alive, nor am I dead
I am intoxicated with the love, “ibaadat for allah”
Neither am I man, nor a woman
I am not a thief or rioter
I am not Allah or Bulla (the poet himself)
Neither am I Maula, nor am I Mohammed (Maula=Allah, Mohammed=Prophet Mohammed)

Barkhat Khan

A Legend Who Has Echoes of Traditions in His Voice


One can hardly believe that Barkat Khan is 60. When one hears his powerful, resonating voice. Simple, and hardworking, Barkat Khan’s songs are deep-rooted in the Rajasthani folk music. According to Barkat Khan, classical music is derived from folk music but the ‘riyaaz’ is more flexible and there can be many variations to it. Barkat Khan has been singing since the age of 11 and like most of the Manganiyaars, music is imbibed and transferred from one generation to the other in his family. Even though Barkat Khan is not educated, as he says that there were hardly any schools in this region of Jaisalmer when he was a kid, his knowledge about music is unmeasurable and unconquered.

Themes for his songs are mostly devotional bhajans dedicated to Gods like Shiva and Lord Krishna, and he uses a variety of Raagas in his songs, like Bilawal and Shubh. All the group members are well trained in instruments like Dholak, Khadtaal, which are the main percussion instruments and Harmonium for melody.

In one song, adapted from a song by Ustad Tansen, Barkat Khan sings the praise of Lord Shiva and his marriage to his consort, Goddess Parvathi. As someone aptly said “God lies in detail”, and these details, embellishments and poetic use of metaphors in Barkat Khan’s songs are incredible.

Ujri bhabooth ang
Mastang soye gang
His body is smeared with ash, the river Ganga rests on his forehead.
Raate rate naino aankho
Neelkanth dhaaye
One who has red eyes and has a blue throat (as per mythology, Lord Shiva has a blue throat)
Aarso hamare bhaag bhole shambho aaye
We are truly blessed that Lord Shiva has come to our abode.

Barkhat Khan has performed all over India and has also spent a considerable time abroad. He lived in Moscow for 3 months at a circus and has also lived for 4 years in Europe. He has also travelled to the US and says that the payments are good enough to sustain a living. When asked about the current situation of folk music, he says that folk music is endangered these days due to the influx of popular Bollywood songs. Barkhat Khan adds that folk music requires a lot of energy to sing, as the complex raagas like Khamaj, Bhairavi, Sorath require powerful vocals, and which should be produced straight from one’s heart and breath. Barkhat Khan’s father was a poet and a storyteller, who has composed many poems with themes like various stages in the life of a man.

Barkhat Khan is concerned about the future of this folk music and believes that they need good people and patrons for promoting this art, he says that the Government should help them for their upliftment. He wants the future generations to revive this art.

As per him, Manganiyaars are the most humble people on this earth, unlike a king, who can even kill his own brother to usurp his throne, Manganiyaars live by their talent, and they eat, sleep and breathe music.

Mathura ji mein baaje dhol
Gokul mein arak hove
Lord Krishna was born in Mathura where his birth was celebrated, with all the pomp and show,
Later on, he went to Gokul, where he was raised, and Gokul was happy to receive him too.
Dhan Dhan halariyeri maa
Blessings to you, O Mother of Lord Krishna

While the themes in his songs are mostly devotional, but the traditions associated with the songs are very old, and are capable of evoking a huge range of human emotions. In the above couplet, the celebration during the birth of Lord Krishna is described in great detail. Childbirth is a very special occasion in India, and these singers are often invited for such ceremonies. A naming ceremony is one where an official name is provided to the infant, as decided by Joshi, “Joshis” are upper caste Brahmins who are temple priests and are called to bless the newly born, in the Hindu communities of Rajasthan, and their references are often found in Manganiyaar songs.

Barkat Khan believes in conserving and imparting this folk music to the future generations and is really passionate about preserving this folk music in its pure form.

Barkhat Khan Shehnai Group

Reliving the Folk with Shehnai


The mere mention of folk music brings to mind the melodious Rajasthani folk songs. Rajasthani folk music is immensely popular and is appreciated all over the world, but what makes this music so special? The answer is unique primitive-looking musical instruments and, most importantly, the contribution from music “Gharanas.” This brief introduction to Rajasthani folk music will take you through the basics of the melodies and techniques that have captured the hearts of music fans all across the globe. Another intriguing thing is that the Manganiyars and Langas only sing specific ragas at specific times of the day, specific seasons and have different ragas and songs reserved for all occasions such as weddings, births, etc. Apart from locally inspired lyrics to songs that have been passed down through generations, the Rajasthani folk artists also master the art of devotional folk music, with compositions by the likes of Kabirdas, Surdas, Tulsidas and Meerabai. Sufi renditions by the Rajasthani folk artists are a complete pleasure, and Bulleh Shah, Amir Khusro and Latif are amongst the most popular Sufi inspirations.

Barkhat Khan is now 60 years old and is the only man from Manganiyaar community who plays Shehnai. His father, grandfather all have been playing their music for the royal families of Rajasthan. He fondly remembers his grandfather Nune Khan, who has played in almost all the weddings of royal families. Barkhat tells that no wedding procession in the royal family begins without his Shehnai played first. He has travelled and performed almost all over India, but his performance in Goa near the beach and on mountains in Kullu Manali are the ones most memorable for him. He is fond of mountains and loves going for performance which happens on hill stations.

He is the only one to perform Shehnai in Manganiyaar as only Langha play Shehnai when it comes to communities. For Barkhat, an urge started in him when he saw a Langha playing Shehnai in a wedding and decided to learn it. He started learning Shehnai when he was 14 years old and it took him 15 years to master it. Late HH Jaswant Maan Singh HH of Khuri brought him to light out of his village in Khuri. Barkhat then started playing at different venues like hotels, festivals, etc. He has played all over in India but didn’t go outside the country due to fear of aeroplane travel. He can play any track on his Shehnai. He is extremely talented. The Shehnai that he plays is different from the one that is played in classical music. He plays small Shehnai which is mostly played and built in Pakistan, in fact, the Shehnai that he plays was bought from Pakistan. His father Fathe Khan used to write poetries and further Barkhat khan has converted them into songs as well. He is the one to start the tradition of playing Shenahi in his community with Pempe Khan joining him. After so many years of staying in India and playing all over the country, he now wishes to go outside India and play on the International grounds.

Barkhat Khan and group is one such group which a wonderful and extremely talented group member. The group has seasoned older artists like Taalab Khan on Dhol, Maalu Khan with Khartaal, Sawai Khan on Dholak, Hakam Khan on Harmonium. The group together when sings create a mesmerizing atmosphere amongst the audience and leave them to spellbind after their performances. The seasoned artists in the group are responsible for the teaching and guidance of the younger artists present in the group. The group sings mostly authentic original songs of their traditional heritage which has been passed on from their forefathers to them which each generation. The group performs at various occasions like childbirth, wedding, housewarming, etc. at their patronages’ houses. The group earns their living out of the live performances they give at various different places. Apart from the music they literally don’t have any means through which can earn.

The most interesting thing about this group is their love for fusion. Each one of the member in the group wither plays guitar, drums, or synth. They all look forward to a future where they can play together for a wider audience who can cherish the music that they make and play. However, their love for fusion music a lot but they make sure to keep up their cultural heritage folk music in balance and doesn’t hurt the emotions of their elders in their community. These group of artists don’t dream of going to Bollywood and collect fame, rather they and the world to know Rajasthan and their singing is known by their music. They want to make their country proud and carry forward their legacy from one generation to another. For them all they know is music and they can never get apart from it and thus for them it a not just music it is their way of living their lives. The latest feather in their caps is the amalgamation of their music and instruments with many mainstream musical styles like house music, electro music, etc. All in all, Rajasthani folk music has a history so deep that one article can’t do it justice. This, however, is an attempt to appreciate the melodies of our childhood, of the songs that speak the language of the heart.

Thanu Khan and Group

Sublime of Folk and Culture in the Dunes


Payal geri baaje
Roshulo mehelo mein jaagya

My anklets are tinkling loudly, and the whole palace is awake.

Raaj dheema dheema bolero baalam

Please speak to me in a romantic way.

Paayal geri baaje

My anklets are tinkling loudly

Romance and abandonment are recurring themes in Manganiyaar Music. The various manifestations of these themes are seen in the beautiful Raagas blended into soulful compositions, which are simplistic in language but are complex in their themes. It seems that the music is embedded in each and every grain of this Jaisalmer desert. Often known as “Jaisaan” in the local Marwari dialect, Jaisalmer, in that sense, becomes an essential theme in itself for their music.

Thanu Khan is from Barna village in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. He belongs from the Manganiyaar community of the Rajasthan and hails from a generation of musicians where musical traditions have been transferred through generations. This talented musician started learning Morchang at the age of 8 and has already performed at various venues both in India and abroad. He started performing at Gajendra Singh’s The Mama’s Resort and Camps and started getting noticed. Thereafter, he has travelled almost half the world for his performances. He really takes pride in representing India on a global platform and feels special when people insist on getting their photographs clicked with him and his traditional attire.

One particular thing which is noteworthy in the Manganiyaar community, as many of them describe is that they are Hindu in their pattern, but are Islamic in their religious beliefs. They are indeed, a true representation of communal harmony, and their music is beyond the barriers of religion, culture and caste. Even though he hails from a Muslim Manganiyaar community, he sings bhajans of Krishna. Children here are born with the inherited passion and zeal for music.

Although, the children are not very academically inclined since they are dedicated to music since they are barely 3 or 4 years old, yet, they manage to make sufficient living by pursuing their passion for music. He sings all types of songs whether it is Bollywood, Bhajan, Fusion, Folk, etc. He has given fusion performances with Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and his son Pandit Saleel Bhatt at various shows throughout the world. He has proudly presented his folk music at various international venues.

He sings in all the raga whether it is desh, bhairavi, kalyani, sorath, etc., amongst all the raags his favourite is desh raag. Raga Desh or Raga Des is a Hindustani classical music raga. It is commonly used in songs with a sentimental patriotic feel. Thanu Khan loses himself in the trance as he renders a beautiful melody of a romantic tale in Sorath Raaga.

Oonchi medhi ujri
Maine lumdan ghaat

The high palace is decorated elaborately

Dhanne dholo potiya
Sugun siyareri raat

The king and the queen are asleep in the winter season

dheema dheema bolero baalam
Paayal geri baaje

Please speak to me in a romantic way.

My anklets are tinkling loudly

The classical Raagas used by the Manganiyaars also have some considerable influence from Guru Granth Sahib. Sorath is an India musical raga (musical mode) that appears in the Sikh tradition from northern India and is part of the Sikh holy scripture called Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Every raga has a strict set of rules which govern the number of notes that can be used; which notes can be used; and their interplay that has to be adhered to for the composition of a tune. Raga Sorath appears in the Ragmala as a ragini of Raga Megha; today it belongs to the Khamaj that. As per tradition, there were 6 original Raagas, and each of them had 5 wives known as Raginis, making it a total of 36 Raagas. Sorath belongs to the cold season and is performed in the first quarter of the night. The mood is light and cheerful, with a pleasing sound resembling Raga Desh. Originally, the texts composed to this raga show how the words of the Guru can enlighten the mind, yet here the Raaga is used in an entirely different context, a romantic one!!

All fears vanish and one is filled with bliss.

Another song by Thanu Khan, Ambavadi, set in Raag Shubh, tells the pre-wedding preparations in a house, when everything is decked up and various preparations are being made, to celebrate.

Ambavadi lagavaan baagh
Rang bangle moye

I have planted a mango orchard for you, and have painted my bungalow

Joshidero beto liyo thaare saath
Laganiya likhaao rangmahale ma

Bring a Joshi’s(pandit) son, for writing the alliance and finding an auspicious muhurat.

Ambavadi lagavaan baagh

I have planted a mango orchard for you

From the themes of abandonment, romance and marriage, Manganiyaar music has everything to offer to a music lover. It is particularly interesting how these traditional raagas from the Hindustani Classical system of music are adapted and sung and moulded into various styles of music, which may seem unfathomable, yet, the poetry in their music is what keeps the golden city of Jaisalmer alive, and the musical tradition will live on for years to come.