Manganiars & Langas: Folk Music Communities That Strum Magic

Forts, Food & Folk Music - the shortest yet most holistic description one can try giving of Rajasthan. The reason I say this is that no words can ever do justice to the rich heritage and culture of this desert state. However, I shall do my best to describe the vibrant and evocative folk music of the state by two communities.

Langas and Manganiars are communities of hereditary professional musicians whose music is an integral part of Rajasthan’s history. Through generations, both these communities of Muslim musicians have been supported by wealthy landlords and aristocrats. Their patron’s taste of music has led to differences in the style and repertoire of Langas and Manganiars, even though they sing in the same dialect.

Manganiars often performed in the courts of the Rajput rulers and maybe that’s why their music is heavily influenced by Hindu culture and mythology. Traditionally they always invoke Lord Krishna and seek his blessings before the beginning of any recital. References of festivals like Diwali and Holi can also be found in their songs. At the time of war, they would also accompany these rulers to entertain them with their music.

The word ‘Manganiars’ literally translates to ‘those who ask for alms’. So these musicians have also performed at their patron’s house (usually wealthy landlords) and got rewarded monetarily. There’s a saying by a famous Manganiar performer Rukma Bai,

“When a Manganiar baby cries, it’s in the tune of a raga!”

Complementing Manganiars are the Langa community, who are known to be the ‘giver of songs’. They are a group of poets, singers, and musicians whose origins date back to the Barmer district of Rajasthan. The community seemed to have converted from Hinduism to Islam in the 17th Century. Their patrons or Yajmans are mostly cattle breeders, farmers, and landowners and these musicians perform at auspicious events like weddings and births.

The musical instruments used by Manganiars and Langars are pretty similar- harmonium, dholak (double-headed barrel drum), kartal (wooden clappers), and morchan (jaws harp). But Manganiars are the masters of Khamaycha & Langas are of Sindhi Sarangi, both different types of stringed instruments.

Musicality wise these two groups might differ, but both of them believe that their music is their spirituality. Music for them runs in their blood. Thus, eternalizing their hypotonic rhythms and melodies in the hearts of their audience and in the pages of history.