Why Manganiyars love the Kamaicha

The instrument lends vibrancy to their music

Updated - March 16, 2018 09:27 am IST

Published - February 15, 2018 04:06 pm IST

 Folk instrument kamaicha

Folk instrument kamaicha

We were once at IIT Jodhpur for the International Workshop on Art, Culture and Heritage to present a paper on ‘Synthesizing Creative Spaces - From the Aesthetic to the Scientific’. During that time, we were taken on a tour of the city and visited the Mandore Fort, Mandore gardens that houses the government museum, the Hall of Heroes, and the temple of 33 crore gods, apart from the Ravan temple (in Mandore) — believed to be the birth place of Mandodari, the queen consort of King Ravana. At the fort, we were welcomed by the Manganiyars, who are Rajasthani folk musicians.

The bowed instrument they played is called Kamaicha that is synonymous with the Manganiyar community. Heard more in the Jaisalmer-Barmer region, it accompanies solo or group performances of singing and dancing. By playing the open strings, the instrument can also produce a drone effect. Sometimes during solo performances, the Kamaicha artiste sings and plays the instrument.

Songs for occasions

During a song, the interludes are performed on the Kamaicha. The Manganiyars sing and play songs for specific occasions such as weddings or births, apart from accompanying stories of renowned heroes and lovers. These folk melodies have been passed on from generation to generation. Devotional songs and Sufi music are also part of their repertoire now.

Though the Manganiars are Muslim musicians by birth, yet their lifestyle reflects the Hindu culture. They celebrate Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi. Many of the songs they render are in praise of the various Hindu deities.

The old records state that the Manganiyars are also referred to as the Merasi. Apparently, the Merasis played the Kamaicha to entertain the royals for many generations and were musicians at the Rajput courts.

Kamaicha belongs to the category of the chorodophones. Its body is carved from a single piece of wood belonging to a seasoned mango tree. The basic structure is first carved out by the master craftsman.

The round, big belly is the resonator, spherical in shape. It produces a warm tone and is covered with goat skin. This extends to the neck and the fingerboard. An ivory strip is fixed over the wood of the neck to protect it from getting worn out due to the sliding of the left hand fingers. In the fingerboard, which is fretless, are embedded pearl studs in the shape of flowers as an embellishment.

Kamaicha consists of 17 strings, of which three are the main ones. They are prepared from the goat's intestine called Roda and Joda. The other 14 strings are called Jhara, out of which five are made of copper while the rest are made of steel wire. The main strings are thicker compared to the sympathetic strings. These strings pass over a thin bridge, which is long and made from the sheesham wood. The strings are tied to the pegs. The sympathetic strings are placed along with the main ones. The performer produces the rhythmic effects on these strings. The pitch of the string is sometimes changed by rubbing the finger nails against the string. Occasionally the strings are pulled too. Three fingers of the left hand - the index, middle and the ring fingers - play the notes and the finger nails are used for sliding.

The stick portion of the bow is made from the Khejari wood and the hair from the tail of the horse. The bow is concave in shape. The thumb, index and the middle fingers of the right hand hold the stick portion of the bow while the ring finger goes inside the stick. Mainly, the long bows are used to perform than the short bow strokes. The instrument is kept upright and played.

Kamaicha plays a crucial role in the vibrant music of the Manganiyars.

The writers are well-known Carnatic musicians of Chennai

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