You have seen them on stage or the
telly. Five or six unmistakably Indian men in colourful oversized turbans.
A couple of rugged middle aged vocalists among them, ranging high and low.
A drummer with a toothy grin. Maybe a wizened old man plying his bow on
the strings of a kamayacha. An impish young boy or two clacking away on
pairs of khartals held in each palm. One of the singers is squeezing an
harmonium and belting away. The other vocalist waits for a cue to join the
ride. The drummer rouses his dholak. The boys rise on their knees and arc
and weave their arms as they clack on. The old man plies his bow quietly.
The colour of their costumes, the sounds of the desert, the passion in
their voices and the animation of the boys makes it more than a concert.
It is gripping theatre, as audiences world-wide have come to realise. To
send a Manganiyar group on stage is at once to evoke India itself.
[ Langas, that are referred to as
we go, are musical cousins to Manganiyars. Their art is identical except
that Langas are accompanied by a saranghi instead of the
kamayacha. Both are string instruments, but the saranghi has more strings
and so, is richer is
range demanding greater training and virtuosity from the vocalist.]
Minstrels of the desert:
Strangely, for artistes who so
visibly enjoy their act, Manganiyars were obdurate traditionalists and
reluctant to go on stage. In the wide and desolate country of Sind and
north west Rajasthan, Manganiyars have for centuries survived on the
patronage of wealthy merchants in caravan towns. At times of birth,
marriage or any family festivity, the Manganiyar troupe would be in
attendance evoking the right mood with songs of the desert and many
specially composed by them in praise of the patron and his family. As they
owed allegiance to the same patron's family for generations, it's no
surprise that they were also keepers of the family tree! They would weave
into their songs, ancestors' enterprise, heroism, character, pedigree, and
-without fail- generosity! Little incidents of the past were embellished
with imagination and poetry. The patron assured them an annuity and so
survived the Manganiyars' world till the fifties.
There is another eye-opening aspect
to the Manganiyars. While their patrons were invariably Hindus, they were
always Muslims, though with a twist. They were indeed devoted to Islam but
without any rigidity. There were, until recently Shankar Khans and Krishna
Khans among them .
The story of how, in the changing
economy of India, as their patrons' fortunes began to wane, the Manganiyar
craft found new support, cannot be told without getting to know Prof.
"It will rob my
Born in Jodhpur, in 1929, Komal
Kothari studied in Udaipur. In 1953, he started a magazine called 'Prerna'
along with a close friend of many years, Vijay Dandetha. Prerna set itself
the task of discovering and transcribing a new folk song every month. His family's
nationalist leanings and Kothari's love of music and fine arts amalgamated
into an interest in another genre of Rajasthani folk songs. These were
songs created between 1800 and 1942 , by common folk of Rajasthan that focused
on anti-British sentiments. That opened his eyes to the richness of
creativity that lay undiscovered .
After several adventures in
Shantiniketan, ghost-writing and fine arts journalism Kothari, in 1958
found himself at Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Academy.
And there began a 40 year long
obsession to record for posterity, many of the dying strands of folk
singing. The obsession continues.
In 1960, he ran into Antar Khan, a
Manganiyar in the street. Kothari knew the Manganiyar culture was under
pressure. Why not bring them to the notice of the world through
recordings? He led Khan to his office to sing for him.
"I was preparing my vintage
tape recorder to record him," says Kothari. "It took a few
minutes. When I turned around, he was gone. I went to the door and looked
out. There he was, sprinting away. I chased him and caught up after some
effort. Turned out, he feared the machine will swallow his voice away
forever, if he sang in front of it!"
Beginning a growing archive:
During the next two years, Kothari
made several trips to Jaisalmer, which is Manganiyar country. He explained
the technology of recording and assuaged their anxieties. He lectured them
on the promise of world wide publicity and a new livelihood for them.
Then in 1962, the first ever
recording of Langa music took place!
And again, in 1963, a Manganiyar
troupe performed in Delhi, for the first time on stage.
But Kothari wanted to take them
farther afield and show-case them for global audiences.
Intense all night rehearsals ran
between 1965 and 1970. Kothari and a small band of dedicated culture
activists worked on their stage craft, repertoire, programme planning etc.
In 1967, Kothari traveled to Sweden
with a troupe of Langass for the first ever performance outside India.
Soon the Indian Council of Cultural Research [ICCR] got into the act.
Acclaim, interest, invitations and recognition followed thick and fast. By
the time India staged the popular Festivals of India all over the world in
the mid eighties, Manganiyars and Langass had become the darlings of
audiences drawn to India. Today, Rajasthan's tourism industry is driven
quite substantially by these charismatic performers.
Komal Kothari himself has come to
be loved by them as their godfather. But he has moved on to his original
obsession: record folk music for posterity.
Rupayan and the Work!:
In 1964 Kothari had started
'Rupayan' in Jodhpur to co-ordinate archival recordings. Collaborating
with scholars from Sweden, Australia, UK and France he has carried on the
"The idea of creating such an
archive was indeed that of Deben Bhattacharya, an Indian music scholar,
settled in Paris," says Prof. Kothari. "Now in his eighties, his
vision was global in scale. Mine is restricted to Rajasthan. Deben's wife
is Swedish and that is how the interest spread to Sweden. But one of the
dynamos of the project was Genevieve Dournon who was with Musee les Homme
in Paris in the sixties. She raised the funds, created awareness and
brought people together."
Prof. Komal Kothari is a handsome
man in his seventies working out of a modest home in Jodhpur. He still
travels extensively and isn't slowing down yet. But there is a air of
reflective awe in his observations.
"I am amazed at how these
simple folks have mastered their instruments, codified their craft and
marketed themselves over the centuries," he says. "And now,
despite their initial reluctance, they have quite rapidly adapted to the
new potential. They seek markets, travel the world, deliver professional
performances and handle success with great suavity. I laugh when I hear of
backwardness of India's unlettered masses."
And then, after a time, he whispers
meditatively: "It seems the relevance of every art form changes with
What he does not add is that he has
given, to the Manganiyars and Langas a new relevance in our times.
- Komal Kothari
- Rupayan Sansthan
- Paota- b/2 Road
- Jodhpur - 342 010
- Phone: 545350
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org