Rajasthani folk show brought Sufi sounds to the city

“Mari re mangetar nathniwali,” echoes the voice of Ghazi Khan, while young Indra matches it with her swift Kalbelia movements. Another Rajasthani folk song follows, “Chirmi ra dala char, mein vari jaun”, and this time she spins like a top in the Ghoomer style, balancing a fire pot on her head. The packed auditorium roars with applause. And when the heavy dholak beats take over, the audience fall silent to “Baba Bulleshah ke do kalam” and “Dama dum mast qalandar” in praise of Malik (God).

For Ustad Zamil Khan's troupe, last Friday marked the first performance in town. For the students, it was a firsthand experience of Sufi music and folk dance. Rajasthani folk show, organized by SPICMACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth) and Thiagarajar College of Engineering, made the day memorable for over 400 students.

The men came dressed in colourful five-metre-long turbans, stitched dhotis and Badgaon jutis, and the eight performers in the team showed a strong presence. They belong to the Muslim Manganiyar tribe and come from the Barmer district of Rajasthan. “Singing Sufi songs is our traditional occupation and the art is passed on over generations,” says Ghazi Khan, lead singer. “Our children usually start learning the music as ten-year-olds and we give performances during happy occasions like marriage and festivals.”

The musicians in the troupe have performed in France, Italy, Spain, Egypt and Portugal, and they are among the few Sufi singing Manganiyars in Rajasthan. “There are hardly any awards and recognitions for folk arts in our country, while there are many for classical music and dance,” rues Ghazi Khan. “Folk music of Rajasthan is unique, as we use indigenous instruments. Every tribe has a typical instrument of their own.”

Dada Khan describes the khartal that he plays, castanets made of teak and sheesham wood. “The four wooden pieces are not attached like the cymbals and hence playing a khartal needs skill. It is used by tribes in the Barmer and Jaisalmer regions.”

Showing a stringed instrument called ‘kamaicha' that resembles a tampura, Bhauru Khan proudly says, “This kamaicha is 700 years old. It belongs to our family and still is in good condition. Made of mango wood and covered with deer skin, it has five iron strings and is a symbol of our community.” The dholak, a hollow drum covered with animal skin, and the morchand are also used in Sufi music. “Morchand is a mouth organ, shaped like a peacock, and is played by shepherds in the desert,” says Ghazi Khan.

While most Sufi songs are in Urdu, the Rajasthani folk songs are in local dialects like Marwari. “Though we are Muslims, we also sing Meera bhajans,” says Ghazi Khan, “and the Kalbelia Hindu tribes dance for our songs. Art transcends differences.”

Indra, who has learnt the Kalbelia dance from her mother, acknowledges, “We worship snakes and are from Pali district. Kalbelia is a snake dance and for the swift movements you need a flexible body.”

Chari Nritya or Ghoomer is another form of Kalbelia but involves more rotating or spinning movements. The dancer usually balances a bhawai (set of seven pots) or a fire pot on her head. “The black dress with patchwork also symbolizes the snake, while the jewellery is handmade with thread and beads,” adds Indra. She dances the Ghoomer as Ghazi starts his song, “Kaliya khood padiyo mela me…” The dholak beats once again and the applause continues