The vast unending expanse of burning hot sand that makes up the Thar Desert of Rajasthan hosts one of the most vibrant and evocative music cultures of the world. The heady, hypnotic combination of rhythm and melodies sung and played by the Langas and Manganiars are part of the eternal appeal of this mysterious and wondrous land.
The soulful, full throated voices of these two music communities have filled the cool air of the desert night for centuries in a tradition that reflects all aspects of Rajasthani life. Songs for every occasion, mood and moment; stories of legendary battles, heroes and lovers engender a spirit of identity, expressed through music that provides relief from the inhospitable land of heat and dust storms.
The Langas and Manganiars are groups of hereditary professional musicians, whose music has been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations. Both sing in the same dialect, but their styles and repertoires differ, shaped by the tastes of their patrons. The monarchs of the courts of Rajput and Jaipur maintained large music and dance troupes an in an environment where the arts were allowed to flourish. Though both communities are made up of Muslim musicians, many of their songs are in praise of Hindu deities and celebrate Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi. The Manganiar performers traditionally invoke the Hindu God Krishna and seek his blessings before beginning their recital. At one time, the Manganiars were musicians of the Rajput courts, accompanying their chiefs to war and providing them with entertainment before and after the battles and in the event of his death, would perform at the rulers vigil day and night until the mourning was over.
Langa literally means song giver. An accomplished group of poets, singers, and musicians from the Barmer district of Rajasthan, the Langas seem to have converted from Hinduism to Islam in the 17th century. Traditionally, Sufi influences prevented them from using percussion instruments, however, the Langas are versatile players of the Sindhi Sarangi and the Algoza (double flute), which accompany and echo their formidable and magical voices. They perform at events like births, and weddings, exclusively for their patrons (Yajman), who are cattle breeders, farmers, and landowners. The Langa musicians are regarded by their patrons as 'kings'.
The Sindhi Sarangi used by the Langas, is made up of four main wires, with more than twenty vibrating sympathetic strings which help to create its distinctive haunting tones. The bowing of these instruments is a skilful exercise, often supported by the sound of the 'ghungroos' or ankle bells that are tied to the bow to make the beat more prominent.
The word Manganiyar means those who ask for alms. On different occasions they would go to patrons houses and sing appropriate songs and in turn would be rewarded. The Manganiyar community is divided into two parts, one whose patrons are Hindus and the other who have Muslim patrons. The Hindu patrons mostly belong to Bhati and Rathore communities of Rajputs while the Muslim patrons are Sindhi Muslims.
Even though the Manganiyars are Sunni Muslims by birth, their lifestyle and the way of dressing up reflect the Hindu or the Ganga-Jamana culture. They present a perfect example of communal bonhomie as for generations they have been closely linked to both Muslim and Hindu families for their livelihood. Since generations the tradition of singing and composing for occasions is going strong. Singing at their jajmaans house on various occasions is their traditional profession. Describing their jajmaans illustrious history which is full of honor and pride, is their specialty. The description of jajmaans Genealogy with the support of artists is known as Shubhraj. Such is the ability of these people that they could recite all the names of the last few generations of the jajmaans within the space of a single breath. This also includes the description of their achievements. In exchange of the above, the manganiyars were rewarded handsomely in the form of grain, wheat, goat, camel, sheep, horse or cash.
Khamaycha is the most significant instrument of Manganiyar community. It is like an ancient niche amongst string instruments which is linked with Manganiyar community since ages. Khamaycha is made up of mango wood. The big, round, hollow part on one end of it is covered with goat skin. This instrument has 17 strings out of which three special strings are made from goats intestine and the rest of the 14 strings are made up of steel. When they touch those three special strings with their special bow made from the horse hair, it produces some soul stirring music.
Other than Khamaycha the instruments that they play are Dholak and Khartaal. Dholak is a hollow drum tapering at both ends. Both the ends are covered with leather (animal skin). They use loops of rope to tighten the animal skin at the two ends. Sometimes they use traditional Dhol also.
Khartaal produces melodious musical sounds with the special movements of the hands. The four pieces of Khartaal are made up of Sheesham wood. When the Manganiyar artist plays Khartaal, it evokes a delightful combination of rhythm and the musical notes. Khartaal. The word mean Khar and Taal. Khar means hand and Taal means Rhythm. Rhythm of Hands. Khartaal is a kind of castanets, made of teak wood, and the artistes hold them in both hands and perform with tremendous ease. A young man Karthal play holding it in his hands was a thrill to watch for the way he created complex percussion sounds, while his partner was playing the dholak.
The dholak is a classical North Indian, Pakisthani and Nepalese hand drum. A dholak may have traditional lacing or turnbuckle tuning. The dholak has a simple membrane and a handle on the right-hand side. The left-hand membrane has a special coating on the inner surface. This coating is a mixture of tar, clay and sand (dholak masala) which lowers the pitch and provides a well-defined tone. The wood used for the membrane is usually made of teak wood, also known as "sheesham" wood. The process of hollowing out the drum is the determination of the sound and quality of the dholak A dholak has 2 heads a small part for the high pitch, and the large part is for the low pitch and it's pitched depending on size and tuning sounding like a bongo in playing mode.