We have nothing to do with religion Barkat Khan Manganiyar

We caught up with the legendary Rajasthani folk artist on the nuances of the Jangda, Sufism, and performing at Sunder Nursery
Barkat Khan Manganiyar at the Classic Bagh Festival
Barkat Khan Manganiyar at the Classic Bagh Festival

The folk music of Rajasthan has always occupied a special place in the arts of connoisseurs of performed arts everywhere. Be it the plaintive strains of the Langas and the Manganiyars or highly regarded styles such as maand and panihari, nothing rends the heart so quickly as an earthy desert melody beseeching the listener to arrive in the des, does.

A few days ago, as I sat, transfixed by the stirring Jangdas of Barkat Khan Manganiyar and troupe at the Classic Bagh Festival held at Delhi's Sunder Nursery, a familiar tenderness washed over me. As the performance came to a close, I quickly bolted off to the entrance, where the crew of the turbaned, almost mythical-seeming men would converge after the performance.

"The Jangda basically depends on the element of theka in classical music. It isn't just any other style&mdashone has to put in a lot of strength to sing it," Khan explained with a&nbspmassive bow-draw gesture. I'd marched into the conversation with working but inadequate knowledge of the Jangda, which is a style of Rajasthani geet sung exclusively in dingal&mdasha language style developed for poetry recitation in the sandy, wild west of present-day Rajasthan by the ethnic Charan community to inspire Rajput troops to valour in war.

"It involves deft use of murki and taan. Jangdas can be, as the name suggests, about jang (war) and then they can be about festivity, wedding and such subjects it all depends on the dhang, the style in which you sing it," Khan added, corroborating the primary information I had about the fusion of folk and classical sensibilities within this style of music.

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True indeed. The day's performance had been all about love, celebration and devotion. Among the several songs the four men sang was the riveting and yet grounding Shiv Shobha in Raag Bilaval, an ode to Shiva&mdasha joyous melody celebrating his and Parvati's wedding and holy matrimony. The Manganiyars and the Langas are widely known to be Muslims who sing divine tributes and praises to Hindu deities, and Barkat Khan scoffed in his own polite way at the communal-difference question placard that I was about to gingerly hold up before him.

"Nahin, nahin, nahin... We are all Muslims, yes, but we sing praises of Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva, Kabir. We are Sufis and have nothing to do with religion, caste or community. We are followers of Baba Bulleh Shah and go wherever we are invited. Our only concern is that the bulbul and us, both should be happy," he said with a smile.

Khan is a regular visitor to Delhi but he was at the Sunder Nursery, the latest cynosure of nature-loving residents of Delhi, for the first time. "We keep performing at the Nizamuddin Dargah nearby, but it's our first visit and performance here, and the place feels beautiful. We would have mingled more with the surroundings but the fear of the virus has kept us on edge," he told me.

Barkat Khan's troupe&mdashwhich has Dara Khan, his son Feroze Khan Manganiyar and Ghewar Khan Manganiyar&mdashare known for their songs about Lord Shiva, Mirabai, Banna-Banni songs and other tunes in the sringara rasa, and it was a mix of all of that that the group was asked to perform at the one-day festival after a whole year without performances befitting their stature and accomplishments.These musicians are custodians of the last remaining dregs of authentic roots music that not many others have the skill and qualification to do justice to.

"We also sing the kataari, which is in veer rasa, a song about Amar Singh (a 17th-century nobleman and warrior affiliated with the royal house of Marwar)," Khan said, breaking into the song with the flair of a war poet. "We believe in universal values and disavow the concepts of caste and religion. Our patrons used to be the Rajput Bhatis and even today, we depend on them that way."

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