India’s Northwestern region of Rajasthan, diverse in climate, culture, and geography, has long been famed for its varied musicality. The Jaipur-Atrauli and Mewati gharanas of Hindustani khayal singing originated there, and the area is home to innumerable shades of folk too. Here we take a quick glance at two famous Rajasthani folk lineages – the Langas and the Manganiyars.
Langa devotional music
The Langas are a group of Muslim communities spread across Indian Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Punjab, as well as the Pakistani regions of Sindh and Balochistan. They turn to music to elevate worship into an act of transcendence, while also imbuing many other aspects of community life with vivid rhythmic energies – including weddings, gatherings, funeral wakes, and much else besides.
The two main traditions take distinct sonic approaches. The ‘Sonia Langha’ tradition primarily play wind instruments, including the satara (double flute), murali (side-blown flute), and surnai (seven-holed reed pipe) – while the ‘Sarengia Langha’ focus more on the bowed sarangi, a classically-renowned instrument with likely origins in Rajasthani folk lutes. See some of these wind instruments in action in the video below, in footage recorded by ethnomusicologist Judit Abraham in 2011. In her description: “A matki dance…music by bin instrument (similar to pungi, a wind folk instrument), accompanied by matka (a vessel for rhythm), at Langas in the Thar desert”.
Manganiyar cross-cultural fusions
While the Langa lineage has tended to focus in on the specifically Muslim aspects of their heritage, the Manganiyars are world-renowned for their open-ended musico-spiritual explorations, drawing from the ideas, sounds, and words of many different cultures.
Though traditionally Muslims too, they regularly perform Hindu devotional poetry, as well as great historical epics – some of which even stretch back far enough to feature Alexander the Great as a side character. Their music is summoned via a range of instruments, including the 17-string bowed kamaicha (known in Persia as the kamancheh), karatala castanets, and the double-headed dholak drum.
This creates an unmistakeable sonic blend – in the words of one writer, Manganiyar song “has both a classical folk and Sufi touch to it…[this] makes Manganiar melodies easily detectable. Another prime feature…is the frequent and swift change in notes, which gives compositions a ‘wavy’ touch”. Many songs address themes of nature – according to one singer, “we have no use for technology…our songs are dipped in honey, whether they are about trees and plants, sun and moon or decorated horses and elephants. Our music brings us close to mother earth.”