Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent. A country that has sung the valour of mighty kings, chanted the bhaktiof Sufi saints and has crooned the saga of a rich cultural heritage, enjoys the privilege of having the oldest and the longest living cultural civilisation of more than 1,000 years. Songs dating back to the times of Kabir, Guru Nanak, Rahim, Mirabai, Tulsidas and Amir Khusro have travelled down generation to generation, and have amalgamated beautifully with the transitions that have occurred in the means of storytelling over the years.
The instruments have changed, the singers have changed, the lyrics have changed but the stories remained unaltered, which helped largely in the preservation of India’s cultural diversity. When everyone started pondering over the danger of this land losing its charm and essence with the possibility of extinction of these folklores, one’s heart soothes and mind gets surrounded with peace as the walls of the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, established by the mighty Rao Jodha in 1460, reverberated the traditional Rajasthani tunes being performed at the Jodhpur RIFF 2017.
The festival witnessed rare Rajasthani and international folk music running late into the night and stretching to the wee hours. Yes, the festival did celebrate the longlost or unheard forms of music but also unearthed undiscovered and untold connections between the songs and the life of the members of the community performing them.
Every song had its own story. Some stories narrated the life ofthe Bheels of Banswara in Rajasthan while others tried to draw attention to the Ramta Jogisof Pathoda village in Alwar district of the arid state. The hidden meanings behind the sursandbolsof the songs were actually a depiction of a way of living in itself.
Various folk music communities in Rajasthan sing in praise of their local deities and for healing. For instance, the Meghwal andKamad sing in praise of their Guru Baba Ramdev, Bhopa-Bhopi sing stories of Pabuji(folk deity of camels) for healing camels and Nayak(or Bhil) ofShekhawati sing in praise of Gogaji (folk deity of snakes). Devotees believe that the guru of Gogaji, Shri Gorakhnathji, gave a boon to this community to heal snake bites.
Traditionally, the Derun performers dance near the injured person and sing songs in praise of Goga with their charismatic instrumentation and music. They believe that by doing it in the right spirit and at the right time, the venom can be prevented from spreading through the injured person’s body.
In the following excerpts, one finds how songs or folklores can give a deep insight into the lives of many communities representing various traditions:
The Bhils of Banswara
The Banswara Bhil hail from southern Rajasthan and are linked to the indigenous people of Central India. An important aspect of the Bhil people is their folk songs, dances and their instruments, particularly the koudi, dholthaali and the kundroo. For a layperson, their songs are distinctive in that they often don’t have any refrain or an “antara” (2nd verse) and additional syllables like “hun” and “hurra” add a rhythmic element.
And their music is varied, including gatha (ballads), lori (lullabies), devotional, ritual and love songs sung in dvipadi (two-line verses), tripadi (threeline verses) and chatuspadi (fourline verses). Malini Kale, a writer, scholar and social worker with considerable expertise on Bhil tribal music, introducing the culture and music of the Bhil community, said, “The Bhils are considered as the purest ones.
It is believed that the Brahmins, the upper caste, could drink water either with their own hand or if fetched by the Bhils. It is not known to everybody that in the epic Ramayana, Lord Rama tasted ‘joothe bers(eaten berries)’ given to him by Shabri, who was a member of the Bhil tribal community. Now the belief is that if Lord Rama could eat food given to him by a Bhil, why can’t the others?” Banswara was established in the 15th century.
The tribes were attacked by the kings and driven into the jungles. The members were later employed by the Rajput kings. The Bhils are known to perform Ghumra, danced in groups that go round carrying swords in one hand and bamboo sticks on the other. Majority of these traditional dance forms are performed in groups and one may find it difficult to spot a lone Bhil performer as the members believe fear of attack from alien community, thus preferring to stay together in unity.
“Na,na thaki mota kida kueren salya sasariye,” sings Minakshi Kale and explains, “The songs are a depiction of various emotions, which one faces in the journey of life. There are songs of festivals, marriages, births and deaths. In the song which I’ve mentioned, a mother is using the metaphor of a mango seed and compares it with her daughter. T
he mother feels that the way a flower turns into a beautiful fruit in the same manner a child is nurtured in the womb of a mother.” The Bhils are famously known to perform Gair, a dance form performed with the help of swords and bamboo sticks and dancing in a circle.
The Ramta Jogis of Pathoda
“Bhapang bhapang sab kare bhapang apne haath…bha se bhole Pa se pandit Ga se Gorakhnath,Gorakh ke Augarh hue, Augarh ke Ismail Nathwa ke hum aulaad hai,suno humari baat,” sings Babunath Jogi while introducing himself as the Ramta Jogi from Govindgarh. Babunath Jogi is an Aughar Nath Jogifrom Pathoda village in Alwar district of Rajasthan, and hails from a family of professional musicians. There are a variety of Jogi communities in Rajasthan ~ Jogi Kalbelyia, Aughar Jogi and Mev Jogi to name a few.
Aughar Jogishave a very unique lyrical style of singing tunes, in cyclical patterns. They use the jogiya sarangi, shankh,singi,matka and bhapang as accompanying instruments. Babunath is the lone singer in his village, singing the stories from the epic lives of Shiva, Gopichand, Raja Bharthari and other folk heroes. The ballad of Ranjha (of the popular love ballad Heer-Ranjha, said to have mystical significance), Kabirvani and songs of Surdas and Gorakhnath are also sung by this veteran vocalist.
Babunath Jogi lives the philosophy that he sings about, an embodiment of the concept of “Ramtajogi”, a saint always on the move with little or no material possessions, who has denounced worldly pleasures and thinks of himself as a traveller in pursuit of the eternal truth. Babunath started training under his father at a young age and later got training from his Guru Gissanath.
He loves to sing thematic episodes from the lives of known deities and his favourites include Lord Krishna (Krishna Leela) and Lord Shiva (wedding episodes). He has performed all over India and abroad but now, due to advancing age, he prefers not to travel outside Rajasthan. The Jogis are worshippers of Gorakhnath and dance to the tunes of musical instruments like Ghada, Jogiya Sarangi, Bhapang, Dheru and Dholak.
Their songs are believed to have magical powers, which can cure snake bites thus they are performed overnight. The Jogis believe that it is with their deep faith in Baba Goakhnath that they have been curing many such snake bite victims since a long time.
Manganiyars of Barmer
Bhikha Khan, accompanied by Multan Khan Manganiyar, are brothers from Dedariyar village in Barmer district. They were trained in the traditional music by their father Juntha Khan, who was a highly-respected and well-known member of the Manganiyar community. Explaining the song, “Banko Ghodo”, veteran Bhikha Khan explains, “The village is all set in festive mood to welcome the beautiful bride as the groom is now ready to leave for the bride’s house.
The song in a way is a description of how the bridegroom has been dressed up, increasing his charm. His family members have also decorated the horse, which will carry the bridegroom to the bride’s house. Thus Banko Ghodo is a scenic and beautiful narration of a marriage set-up in the villages of Rajasthan.”
At 74, Bhikha is a custodian, master and among the senior-most members of the community, who can still share and speak about the depth and width of their community’s musical traditions.
He is master of folk renditions in Khamaj, Suhab, Sourath,Bhairavi,Todi, Bilawal,Megh Malhar and Jog. He is also known for Jangda, Dyodha, Bhawan and Sourtha styles of singing, unique to the Manganiyars. The major attraction of the Manganiyar folk singing is their instrument Khamaycha, which is unique in itself. In its present form, the Kamaycha has 17 strings and is played with a bow.
A typical Kamaycha is made of mango wood, its rounded resonator, or tumba, is covered with goatskin. The playing strings (3-4) are made of goat intestine ~ roda and joda ~ while the other 14 resonance strings are made of steel, called jhara.
The Kamaycha is different from its Iranian counterpart called Kamanche (a spiked fiddle with a smaller body and no resonance strings). The Kamaycha’s bow is prepared from Khejari wood and horse tail hair. Occasionally, small bells (ghungroo) are attached to the bow to produce a rhythmic jingle along with the notes. There are very few left who have the expertise in playing a Khamaycha to its fullest. With only 10,000- 15,000 Manganiyars left, the community is still battling to mark its existence on a larger panorama.
The tunes of Khamaycha in the hands of Bhika and Multan Khan will reverberate in the atmosphere of Jodhpur for many upcoming decades for sure but the fear still lingers whether another maestro would ever be able to carry this legacy forward.