Rajasthan’s folk music has long been dictated by gender roles, where initially women were restricted from dancing and singing. Over time, there have been revolutions initiated by several women challenging these norms. One such woman in today’s times is Mamta Sapera, a 20-year-old musical prodigy breaking down barriers with her passion for playing instruments typically reserved for men. She defies conventions and challenges stereotypes by playing instruments such as the Khartal, Bhapang, and Morchang.
Khartal is an ancient instrument mainly used in devotional / folk songs. It has derived its name from Sanskrit words ‘kara’ meaning hand and ‘tala’ meaning clapping. This wooden clapper is a Ghana Vadya which has discs or plates that produce a clinking sound when clapped together.
Bhapang is a membranophone that is made of a long, narrow wooden tube with a goatskin membrane stretched over one end. It is played by striking the membrane with the palm of the hand and plucking the string with the fingers of the other hand. The bhapang can produce a variety of sounds, from low, rumbling bass notes to high, piercing treble notes.
Morchang or morsing is an instrument similar to the Jew’s harp, mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, and in Sindh, Pakistan. The morchang is played by holding it between the teeth and plucking the tongue with the fingers of the right hand. The left hand is used to cover the mouth of the instrument to change the pitch.
These musical instruments accompany folk songs and dances in Rajasthan and are popular among some of the major ethnic groups in Rajasthan. While documenting Mamta and her group, we had the privilege of witnessing a mesmerizing folk song performance, which was followed by an enchanting jugalbandi that showcased the Khartal, Bhapang and Dholak in harmonious collaboration.
Mamta’s journey into the world of music began at the age of eight when she discovered her love for Kalbelia dance, known for its lightning-fast moves. But her musical ambitions didn’t stop there. Her curiosity was piqued when she noticed her brother playing the Morchang. Intrigued, she expressed her desire to learn it, but her brother’s response was: “It’s not for girls; you won’t be able to do it.” Undeterred by the initial resistance, Mamta Sapera took this as a challenge and decided to teach herself the Khartal and Morchang instruments by watching the performances of Langas and Manganiyaars.
Nevertheless, Mamta hailed from a musical background. She had three elder brothers, one a singer, and the other two proficient in playing the Dholak and Khartal. Her mother, Rajshree Sapera, was herself a Kalbelia Dancer. Her father, Puran Nath, who has been very supportive to her throughout, gifted her a Morchang as a birthday present. After that, one after the other, she kept on learning new instruments and never stopped.
Mamta’s dreams go beyond personal achievement. She aspires to open a studio for women from the Kalbelia community and others facing family or societal pressures that hinder them from pursuing their musical dreams. Her impact reaches far beyond the music. Mamta Sapera is an inspiration to young girls and boys alike, proving that dreams can be chased regardless of societal expectations. She’s not just playing instruments; she’s playing the tune of change in the musical world of Rajasthan.