Desert Music: Soul of Western Rajasthan

Learn about the tunes and tales of the traditional folk musicians of Barmer, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner.

By Banglanatak

Stretches of sand dunes at Barna (2020)Banglanatak

The Land of Folk Music

Thousands of folk musicians live in the Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, and Bikaner districts of western Rajasthan.

The Sam Sand Dunes (2020)Banglanatak

Western Rajasthan, characterised by desert landscape, is home to rich centuries old folk music traditions.

Traditional hut of Barnawa Jageer (2020)Banglanatak

The indigenous desert musician communities include the Langas, Manganiyars, and Mirs. They live in small hamlets making these areas unique hubs of folk musicians, many of whom are legends and have travelled the world! 

Introducing the Langa and Manganiyar Music Traditions

Langas and Manganiyars believe that music is fundamental to their 'being' and way of life.

Manganiyars presenting song infront of their Jajmans at JanraBanglanatak

The Jajmani System of the Langas and Manganiyars

Traditionally the Langas and Manganiyars sing for their patron families, often for ten to twelve generations. This jajmani system is their main source of sustenance and they earn in cash or kind (money, grains, land, gold, horses, etc.) by singing at their social events.  

Langas presenting song at Lakhe Ki Dhani infront of their Jajmans and other villagersBanglanatak

Shubhraj
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Musicians as Genealogists

The musicians are also traditional genealogists for the jajmans. This genealogical record-keeping through songs is entirely an oral tradition. The Shubhraj sung by the communities makes references to the whole of the patrons’ families, praising their glorious past and praying for their well-being in the future. 


Listen to a Shubraj here.  

Manganiyars in Music (2020) by Firoz Khan, Manjur Khan, Latif Khan, Dewa Khan, Jamil Khan, Dada Khan, Bhungra Khan, Deu Khan, Roshan Khan, Nehal Khan, Bhunger Khan(L-R)Banglanatak

Ragas in Folk Music of Rajasthan

Both Langa and Manganiyar songs are mostly based on raga (melodic structure). Specific ragas pertain to different times of the day. In their theory, songs of a particular raga must begin with a couplet or duha

RagasBanglanatak

Ragas in Folk Music of Rajasthan

Duha in Rajasthani means the introductory part of the song which is non-metered but based on the same raga as the song. Listen to the Gurus narrating a duha and explaining their ragas

Famous Manganiyar group Divana led by Padmashri Anwar Khan Manganiyar performing at Folk Safar, Kolkata by Firoz Khan, Ghewar Khan, Mehruddin Khan Langa, Gazi Khan Barna, Barkat Khan, Roshan KhanBanglanatak

Songs of the Langas & Manganiyars

These musician communities have a vast repertoire of songs on lifecycle, seasons, daily living, epics, ballads, folklores, gods and goddesses, Pirs and Fakirs, sufiyana kalams, bhajans and qawwalis.

Clouds over the dunesBanglanatak

Barsalo
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Songs of Monsoon

Monsoons in the desert are welcomed through music and romantic songs. The rainy season is locally known as Barsalo

Listen to a Barsalo song here by Sattar Khan from Lakhe ki Dhani, Barmer.

Famous Manganiyar group Divana led by Padmashri Anwar Khan Manganiyar performing at Folk Safar, Kolkata by Firoz Khan, Ghewar Khan, Mehruddin Khan Langa, Gazi Khan Barna, Barkat Khan, Roshan KhanBanglanatak

Though some of the social practices and styles differ between Langas and Manganiyars, they mostly sing the same songs. 


Beyond their services to the jajmans which have dwindled over the years, many of them have been touring the world to attend festivals and events regularly.

Padmashri Anwar Khan Manganiyar performing at Folk Safar Kolkata by Anwar Khan ManganiyarBanglanatak

Marriage Song
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Songs of Lifecycle

One of the most important themes of these musicians include different passages of life - birth, youth, marriage, etc which are customarily celebrated by the jajmans through music of the Langas and Manganiyars. 

Listen to a marriage song here by Padmashri Anwar Khan Manganiyar.

Karni Mata Temple of Jhaphli KalaBanglanatak

Karni Mata Bhajan
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Songs of Worship

There are many songs on local gods and goddesses. This is a temple of one such local deity known as Karni Mata. This temple is located in Bikaner. 

Listen to a bhajan by Gafur Khan Manganiyar of Jhanpli Kala, Barmer.

Gadisar Lake at Jaisalmer (2020)Banglanatak

Krishna Bhajan
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Songs on Divinities

Though the musicians mostly practice Islam, beautiful songs on Hindu gods and goddesses constitute a large part of their repertoire. 

Listen to a Krishna bhajan here by Kasam Khan Langa from Phalodi, Jodhpur. 

Dhola Maru in puppetryBanglanatak

Ballad Dhola Maru
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Ballads

Songs narrating various popular folk tales of this region is one of the most favourite collections of these musicians. Ballads often used to be sung in royal courts. 

Listen to the popular ballad on Dhola Maru, by Sardar Khan Langa from Lakhe ki Dhani, Barmer. It narrates a love story of princess Maru and prince Dhola.      

Safi Mohammad performing at the desert of Dedasari (2020) by Safi MohammadBanglanatak

Sufi
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Sufi Songs

These musicians have an amazing repertoire of Sufi music to connect with the divine. Listen to a Sufi song here by Safi Mohammad from Phalodi, Jodhpur.

Lord Shiva and Goddess ParvatiBanglanatak

Gangaur
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Songs of Festivals

Gangaur festival is very colourful and one of the most important folk festivals of Rajasthan. It is the celebration of spring, harvest, marital fidelity, and childbearing. 

Listen to the song by Padmashri Anwar Khan Manganiyar.

Shiva Bhajan at Kiradu Temple

The Kiradu temples are a group of ruined Hindu temples located in the Barmer district of Rajasthan. It is believed that this group of 108 temples were built between the 11th-12th centuries by the Chalukya Kings, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. 

Padmashri Anwar Khan sings Shiva bhajan here.

Langa Gurus of Barnawa Jageer and Lakhe Ki Dhani (2020) by Nek Mohammad, Mehruddin Langa, Bundu Khan, Kader Khan, Bacchu Khan, Askar Khan, Sadiq Khan, Sardar KhanBanglanatak

The Stalwarts of Langa Music

The major hubs of the Langas are Barnawa Jageer and Lakhe ki Dhani at Barmer. According to oral history, this settlement is about 450-500 years old. It is currently inhabited by more than 200 Langa musicians making it one of the largest folk musician hubs of the world and the ‘Mecca’ of Langa Music.

Nimbura by Gazi Khan HarwaBanglanatak

Songs used by Bollywood

Many popular Bollywood songs owe their origin to the folk traditions of these singers. Listen to the legendary singer Gazi Khan from Harwa, Barmer singing "Nimbuda", which is one of his most famous pieces.

Short glimpse of Barnawa Jageer - the largest hub of Langas.


Habib Khan Langa and his group performing at Lakhe Ki Dhani (2020) by Habib Khan Langa and his groupBanglanatak

Categories of the Langas

Traditionally the Langas have two categories - Sarangia Langas who play the sarangi, and Surnaiya Langas who play the shehnai.  The jajmans of the Sarangia Langas are Sindhi Sipahis and that of Surnaiya Langas are Meher Muslims. Presently they sing for all, as well as in festivals.

Manganiyars singing at Bisu Kalla, Sheo (2020) by Deu Khan, Bhungra KhanBanglanatak

About the Manganiyars

The Manganiyars also have two types of singers - those who sing exclusively for Hindu families and those who sing for both Hindu and Muslim patrons.

This image is of Bisu Kalla village of Barmer, a rich hub of Manganiyar music.

Manganiyar history of migrationBanglanatak

Popular History of Manganiyars

One of the popular histories of the founding of Manganiyar community dates back to the birth of Hazrat Mohammed in 570 AD. 

In that prophet's house, Bibi Fatema offered a necklace (haar) to a Mirasi named Mangan. From this time onwards they were called the 'Manganhar' and the community is now known as Manganiyar. 

In 712 AD, their migration to Rajasthan was connected with the invasion of Sindh by Md. Bin Qasim.

The natural habitat of Manganiyars (2020) by Manganiyar artistsBanglanatak

About the Manganiyars

More than 1000 Manganiyar artists live in  villages scattered across Jaisalmer and Sheo Tehsil in Barmer. They are strongly connected to their respective patron families. 

Manganiyars in Jaisalmer


Mir Basu Khan and his groupBanglanatak

Introducing the Mirs

Mirs are also traditional communities of professional musicians of north western Rajasthan, who are Muslim Mirasis (entertainers). Bikaner is the main hub of Mir musicians, who live in its remote villages. 

Mirs (derived from the word Mir-I-Alam, meaning ‘My Knowledge’) mainly sing Sufi and qawwali songs. Unlike Manganiyars and Langas their music tradition is languishing due to low awareness in the outer world.

Stretches of sand dunes at Barna (2020)Banglanatak

Mir Farida
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Song by Mir Basu Khan

Mirs sing devotional songs or Arifana kalams, Sufi kalams and qawwalis in Saraiki and Urdu languages. The songs with a mystic inner meaning in Sufism are called Arifana. Sufi kalam is the easier form of Arifana kalam. 

With time they imbibed bhajans, Rajasthani folklores and songs on various family occasions for  their jajmans who are Muslims as well as Hindus. 

Musical Instruments of Langas and Manganiyars

Their amazing array of indigenous musical instruments along with a rich musical repertoire reinforce the sheer talent, dedication, and very high skills of the performers. 

Sunset at Janra,Jaisalmer (2020)Banglanatak

Visit these Musical Hubs!

The beautiful, natural and simple habitats of these musicians along with their mesmerising music create an awe inspiring experience. One can visit these villages to meet and know the legends, masters, young artists of these communities, and listen to their melodies and songs. 





Learn more about the desert music instruments in this story, Strums and Beats of Desert Music.
Meet the music progenies of the Langas and Manganiyars here!

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