Strums and Beats of Desert Music

Look at the amazing traditional and iconic musical instruments of the Langa and Manganiyar musicians of western Rajasthan.

Desert musical instrumentsBanglanatak

Langa and Manganiyar, musicians have an amazing range of traditional musical instruments that are unique to these communities. 

As seen in this picture, these instruments include chordophonic (string instrument), aerophonic (wind instrument), and percussion instruments. Many of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists as they get trained to play these instruments from their childhood.

The master musicians playing Kamaicha by Hakkam Khan, Hakkim Khan and Luna KhanBanglanatak

Kamaicha - identity instrument of the Manganiyars

Most of the instruments are common for both Langas and Manganiyars, except a few. The iconic and identity instrument of the Manganiyars is kamaicha. It is considered to be one of the oldest folk instruments of this area but unfortunately faces the risk of being a lost tradition. 

The three Manganiyar Gurus are seen here...

Hakam Khan of Sanawada village in Jaisalmer,

Hakkim Khan of Harwa village in Sheo, Barmer,

Luna Khan of Harwa village in Sheo, Barmer.

Traditional turban and KamaichaBanglanatak

Kamaicha is a string instrument made of mango wood and covered with goat skin. The instrument is 27" long, 14" wide, and 7" deep. Kamaicha has a warm and nomadic tone representing the desert culture.  

It has three main gut strings and 11-13 sympathetic metal strings, and is played with a bow. The main strings are tuned in Sa Pa Sa, i.e., root fifth & root. 

The bow is made of horse-hair. The bridge, locally called 'ghori', is made of sheesham wood. 


Listen to the sound of kamaicha played by Bhungra Khan of Bisu Kalla village, Barmer.

Kamaciha masters of Hamira (2020) by Firoz Khan, Rafiq Khan. Ghewar Khan, Dare Khan (L-R)Banglanatak

Kamaicha is a difficult instrument to learn and play and only a few are believed to have mastered it. Hamira village in Jaisalmer, the place of famous kamaicha artist Late Padmashri Sakar Khan, is the most well-known and traditional centre of kamaicha playing and making. 

Here, the sons and grand son of Shri Sakar Khan, who are the masters of kamaicha today, are featured (left to right) - Rafiq Khan, Ghewar Khan, Dare Khan.

Hamira village of KamaichaBanglanatak

Ghewar Khan - master kamaicha player at Hamira speaking about his training as a child.

Late Padmashri Sakar Khan (2020) by Sakar KhanBanglanatak

Sound of Train in Kamaicha

Seen here is a photograph of Late Padmashri Sakar Khan.
A story goes that when the first train came to Jaisalmer in 1967, the District Collector had asked Padmashri Sakar Khan to replicate the sound of trains in his kamaicha, as a playful challenge. 

Sakar Khan who had never heard sounds of train went to the railway station to watch it. Next day, he surprised the District Collector with a fantastic rendition of the sound of train. 

He had become famous for this piece, and today Ghewar Khan, his son, continues this legacy. 

Noore Khan Langa playing Sindhi Sarangi at Sur Jahan 2020 Kolkata (2020) by Noore Khan LangaBanglanatak

Sindhi Sarangi - identity instrument of the Langas

The identity instrument of the Langas is Sindhi Sarangi, a string instrument that is played by the Sarangia Langas.  It is found not only in Rajasthan but in Punjab and many parts of Pakistan, especially in the Sindh area. 

Sindhi SarangiBanglanatak

Listen to a duet of Sindhi sarangi played by brothers Asin Khan Langa and Samsu Khan Langa - a famous duo from Barnawa Jageer village, Barmer. 

Murli and Shehnai (2020)Banglanatak

Other Indigenous Instruments of Langas

The Surnaia Langas also play aerophonic instruments like shehnai, murli, and algoza. Murli also known as pungi is a wind instrument made of a unique combination of wood and wood-apple shell. 

Surnaiya Langas playing MurliBanglanatak

Murli Instrumental

Listen to the sound of murli here.

Murli and Shehnai (2020)Banglanatak

Shehnai is a tubular instrument that gradually broadens towards the lower end. It usually has between six and nine holes and employs one set of quadruple reeds, making it a quadruple reed woodwind.

Jamal Khan playing ShehnaiBanglanatak


Listen to the sound of shehnai here.

Algoza (2020)Banglanatak


Algoza, played by the Langas is a double flute with 7 and 9 holes, made out of wood from Ker tree, played by a single flautist. One of these two flutes is used for melody while the second for drone. It is also used by folk musicians of Kutch, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. 

Manganiyars at Janra (2020) by Thane Khan, Mishry Khan and groupBanglanatak

The other unique instruments played by both communities include...

khartal, where four pieces of sheesham wood are used as a percussion instrument,

morchang, a metal percussion similar to Jew's harp and also played in South India.  

Dhol, a wooden percussion instrument, and tandura, a string instrument played by them are common instruments found in many other parts of India. Dhol is considered to be an auspicious and thus an essential instrument. 

Gafur KhanBanglanatak

Listen to Gafur Khan - the famous khartal player from Jhampli Kala village of Sheo, Barmer. 


Listen to morchang played by Kalyan Khan from Janra village, Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer Fort (2020)Banglanatak

Ray's 'Sonar Kella'

Satyajit Ray made Rajasthan, especially Jaisalmer known to the world through his multi award winning movie 'Sonar Kella' based on the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer. In this movie, in addition to vocal, he used the sounds of the quintessential kamaicha and khartal as early as in 1974!

Learn more about the music traditions of desert musicians of western Rajasthan here.

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