Considered the repository of the Thar region’s rich history and traditional knowledge, the ballads, folklore and songs of the Langa-Manganiyar artistes are being preserved through an initiative for documentation and digitisation. The project is aimed at saving the rapidly disappearing narrative traditions of these communities.
The Jodhpur-based Rupayan Sansthan, established by eminent folklorist, the late Komal Kothari, and writer Vijaydan Detha, has extended support to the initiative taken by the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) in the research project.
The Langas and Manganiyars are hereditary communities of Muslim musicians residing mostly in western Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and Barmer districts and in Pakistan’s Tharparkar and Sanghar districts in Sindh. The iconic and internationally acclaimed folk artistes have, however, been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic that stopped their performances in India and abroad and poses a challenge to the very survival of the popular art form.
The music of the two marginalised communities, who were supported by wealthy landlords and merchants before Independence, forms a vital part of Thar desert’s cultural landscape. Apart from the pandemic, this vital heritage is also facing a threat from changes in patronage and increased urbanisation in these districts.
The Rupayan Sansthan has a collection of 20,000 hours of audio recordings of Langa-Manganiyar performances in analogue form. The recordings, dating from 1980 to 2003, comprise a wide range of heroic ballads, romantic epic tales and the Sufi spiritual stories, Sansthan's secretary Kuldeep Kothari told The Hindu on Saturday. The performances are in multiple languages and dialects including Marwari, Sindhi, Saraiki, Dhatti and Thareli.
In addition to digitisation of the cassette collection at Rupayan Sansthan as part of the project, the researchers have been travelling to the remote villages in Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts to record the performances of Langas and Manganiyars.
Mr. Kothari said the preservation of oral traditions would encourage the local communities' involvement in the efforts to nurture audiences and protect the history of the desert region. The romantic tales revolving around legendary lovers such as Umar-Marvi, Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Moomal-Rana and Sorath-Rao Khangar have traditionally captivated audiences.
“Our emphasis in the collaboration with the AIIS is on the preservation of katha, gatha, varta (tales, epics, talk) forms. The material derived from recordings will be made available for research and utilised for training of younger generation of performers,” Mr. Kothari said.
Training for future
In another initiative, Shafi Mohammed Langa is training young underprivileged boys from the musician communities at the School of Folk Music, set up by the Rupayan Sansthan. Stating that the nuances of ragas and presentation with proper expression and diction were being taught to children, Mr Langa said the school would gradually emerge as a resource centre for western Rajasthan’s folk music.
Famous Barmer-based vocalist Anwar Khan, a recipient of Padma Shri in 2020, said though the artistes had received financial assistance from the State government during the lockdown, they needed a greater support for survival because of their global performances having been halted in the pandemic. “We have a strong faith in the traditional patronage system. The folk music will survive despite all challenges,” he said.
After the closure of tourist sites and hotels during the pandemic, which deprived the musicians of their livelihood, civil society groups and research institutions in the State joined hands last year to help out the Langa-Manganiyar artistes. A social media campaign, titled Maru Mani (jewels of desert), was launched to hold virtual events on safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage.
The folk musicians were also provided with guidance for creating multimedia content of their performances with the use of smartphones to leverage the social media platforms. Besides, a crowdfunding platform was created for community mobilisation to get financial support for them.