As the day ends in the beautiful burst of colours of twilight, the sky and sand of desert turning gold. In the silence of the sea of sand, you can faintly notice tunes and melodies riding on the gentle cool breeze. Some haunting, some cheerful, some traditional, some folksy but all of them beautiful. Follow the siren sound of music and you will be led to Mehfils in the sand, resplendent in tasteful opulence and sometimes even the humble homes of Dhanis, either places rich with hospitality and warm welcome. At Manvar, the quintessential luxury resort in Jodhpur, one can experience the wonders of music, Mehfils and the warmth of regular folks of Rajasthani Dhanis.
As you sit enamoured at the venue of your choice, immersed in the music, divine and playful at once, you could be easily amazed at the complexity of the orchestra and arrangement with so many instruments, each different from the other, perfected over centuries to capture the very essence of the desert. The music of Rajasthan is ubiquitous with every nook and cranny infused with it. Walk along the shaded avenues of majestic forts, in the winding bylanes of old cities, you will be audience to a troupe or sometimes even a lone singer with his Ravanhatha blissfully playing and singing for himself.
As Richard Feynman would saying having knowledge of something and its inner working increases the perception of beauty both functional and aesthetic. So let us take a short whirlwind tour to understand a few of these ancient musical instruments of Rajasthan, where possible, relate their story and talk about the people behind these instruments and music that has endeared Rajasthan to everyone who passes by. At Manvar, our luxury resort in Rajasthan near Jodhpur, our patrons find the musical mehfils with the Manganiyars and Langas singing and the beautiful Kalbeliya women dancing as the highlight of their stay, many times inspiring them to return to just indulge in the melange.
Two communities dominate the Rajasthan traditional music scene. The soulful and full-throated singers of Langas and Manganiars have, for generations, charged the cool breeze of the twilight desert with lore sung inspired from everything Rajasthan - epic battles, larger than life heroes, inseparable lovers that resonate with all our aspirations if not experiences.
By heritage, tradition and possibly hereditarily too, music imbues in every Langa and Manganiyar, a pulse for music that is taken to great heights through pedagogy and practice. Historically supported by wealthy aristocrats and rich landlords for generations, both Langas and Manganiyars sing in the same dialect with variations in styles and stories, obviously influenced by the patrons. Although both Manganiyars and Langs hail from the Muslim community, they sing praises of Hindu deities in the courts of Hindu kings and emperors, forming an important part of festival celebrations of Diwali, Holi among others. The cultural curiosity of Manganiyars invoking the blessings of Lord Krishna at the beginning of every recital is well known. The troupe that frequents Manvar Resort in Jodhpur too follows this. Manganiyars have been court musicians traditionally, accompanying chiefs on wars for providing entertainment between war and in the event of a death of an important member, singing at their vigil.
Langas are a more recent convert to Islam, having converted from Hinduism in the 17th century. A superlative group of poets, singers and musicians originally from the Barmer region of Rajasthan, Langas derive their name from ‘song giver’ in the local dialect. The Sufi influences inhibited Langas from using percussion instruments, yet they are above par with the usage of Sindhi Sarangi, Algoza (double flute) which prop their haunting melodies and powerful voices. The services of Langas are sought during events such as births, weddings. Traditionally Langas were tied with a family and would exclusively sing at the houses of the same family on such occasions. But such patronage has eroded over time and the Langas are contracted by many families, events, fairs, and even hospitality ventures like Manvar Resort near Jodhpur.
Through time, music and musicians have reinvented themselves, doing everything necessary to survive and thrive, yet bringing untold joy and revelry the moment the first note is struck. In an upcoming article, we will explore the musical instruments that form the perfect orchestra creating heavenly music as an accompaniment to the full-throated soulful songs.