Sawai Khan had always aspired to be a musician and was mostly tutored at home. Like all other members of Manganiyaar community, his family has been singing for the royal families since generations. Sawai Khan’s inspiration has been his uncle, Nazeer Khan and he wants this art to pervade into the future generations. He has been singing since the age of 8. Simple, humble and not very talkative, Sawai Khan explains about his music with a sense of calm, and with a composed articulated manner.
Sawai Khan leads an experienced group of musicians who have been learning music from a very young age. They come from the background of the Manganiyar tribe who have been residents of the Barmer and Jaisalmer regions of the state of Rajasthan. The music is an indispensable element of the culture of this tribe. Most people from this community take up music as their primary source of income. These people are deeply passionate about their music and are purely involved in the art forms that have been passed onto them by their ancestors.
Sawai Khan himself is an expert at playing various traditional instruments, especially Harmonium. He has more than two decades of experience in learning and playing the instrument. His musical group consists of percussion specialists like Mushtaq and Rasool Khan who play Dholak as well as Devu and Satar Khan’s skills lie in playing the Khartal.
Together these musicians have sung and compiled numerous folk songs over the years. They have performed at a number of events around the state of Rajasthan and have made multiple appearances in different cities of the country. Sawai Khan’s group considers the Bhati family, who is a royal Rajput family residing in the region, as their patrons and regularly perform at the celebratory events organized in the family.
Sawai Khan himself is deeply knowledgeable about classical music and its components such as the ragas. He has gained this knowledge with the help of his father and passes it on to his children as their guru. He loves to sing the ‘Subh’ raga, which is supposed to be sung in the morning. His talents and abilities show the true meaning of brilliance and dexterity. Using these abilities and a display of various emotions through his music, Sawai Khan wants to make an impact on to the Manganiyar community’s presence in the world of music.
As he talks about the Alamkhana history, Sawai Khan explains, that there are four sub-castes even amongst Manganiyaars, namely, “Bhand”: Jesters in the royal courts, “Nagarchi”: People who play the ‘Nagada’, a sort of large drum, ‘Dagga’ people who played the dholak, and ‘Chandani’. His group has performed many times in the royal courts and the songs are customized for the Maharajas. Unlike other groups who combine classical and folk raagas, his group is only into pure folk music, and follow the traditional system of 6 main Raagas, and 30 raaginis. (wives of raagas, as per mythology). At times, singing styles like Dadra are improvised on the spot.
One of his main principles has been to always lend a helping hand to others, as he believes that God watches over all of us. Sawai khan is a song composer too, and through his songs, he pays a tribute to women and their “Shringaar”, which literally means ornamentation, or the way the women deck up themselves to please their husbands. One can almost feel the pain of these women who dutifully abide by their husbands’ whims and fancies, yet, their love for them is unending, and their devotion towards them never dies, just like the music of Jaisalmer.
Such is the music of Jaisalmer, embedded in its golden sand dunes and engraved in every stone of the majestic living fort-city. Manganiyaar communities like that of Sawai Khan have kept their tradition alive through all these years through Guru-Shishya parampara, (teacher disciple tradition). They have been entertaining the royal families since generations and their contribution to musical history is as vast as the Thar desert itself. The elegant use of poetry and numerous metaphors is what makes them different. Every nook and corner of Jaisalmer is filled with several Sawai Khans who are trying to carve a niche with their individual uniqueness. This group has young and passionate folk musicians who are always keen to learn new aspects of their musical heritage.
The music is infinite, and the possibilities of his melodies are endless. Music itself is so vast that it cannot be confined to a textbook and standardized, as there are no set standards to learning music which is imbibed in his blood through generations. India is known for its colors and various layers of culture, and the culture of Jaisalmer is rich enough with harmonious melodies promulgating in unforgettable renditions. As Jawahar Lal Nehru says, “India is like a palimpsest”, with layers and layers of thoughts and reverie inscribed on it. Such is this music of Manganiyaars, which have layers and layers of voices, history, folklore, love and melodies. This land of Jaisalmer, which is so rich in history, music plays a vital role in shaping their livelihood, and their life in Jaisalmer. This is the music, the culture which deserves to be preserved since it’s a part of the intangible heritage, and a vital part of the socio-economic fabric of Jaisalmer.