Edhe Khan and his group of instrumentalists specialize in folk melodies that are meant for auspicious occasions as well as religious and devotional events such as weddings, festivals, and bhajan ceremonies. These musicians belong to the Dagga tribe of the Manganiyar community that resides in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan.
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
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.
Edhe Khan has performed all over India and has also spent a considerable time abroad. 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. Edhe 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. Edhe 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.
Edhe 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
The ties between the Manganiyars and Rajputs are hundreds of years old. The Rajputs would protect the Manganiyaar community during times of wars and invasions which in turn helped in the preservation of the age-old art form and various compositions that originated from it. This community is quite peculiar as all of them belong to the Muslim religion but besides Sufi, they mostly sing praises of Hindu gods and goddesses such as Lord Krishna and Goddess Durga. A lot of the inspiration also originated from the extreme weather conditions of the desert as well as the dunes.
The whole community is basically a musical family that has continued its tradition from uncountable generations and Edhe Khan is just the latest one in a long line of musicians who start learning how to sing and play music before they start going to school. At such an early age they master traditional instruments such as Dholak, Kamaicha, Morchang, and Khartaal. Unfortunately, due to a lack of financial support from the government as well as a lack of awareness about the form of music they like to present, most of them have to engage in other occupations. For instance, Edhe Khan himself has worked as a carpenter during the early days of his career in the field of music.
They understand a lot of the theory that goes into producing classical music such as the ragas and talas. They are most fond of singing the Des Raga which involves the usage of all seven notes in a song. As a group, they have performed in a lot of places, especially in multiple districts of Rajasthan. Their most memorable performance, in their own perception, was in Lucknow. They want to continue to showcase their art form and perform their music in order to expand their horizons and promote the culture of Rajasthan and the Manganiyars.