BARSALO  (the booklet)
Monsoon songs

The state of Rajasthan – second largest of the Indian Union – covers over 342,000 square km, diagonally divided by the Aravallis mountain range. This natural screen prevents the fertilising monsoon rains from travelling north-eastwards to the Thar desert where drought is rife. Only rarely does rain irrigate this arid world – stretching as far as the Valley of the Indus in Pakistan - during the monsoon season in July and August. But it is enough to fill the wells and storm reservoirs and revive nature. Enough to ensure the survival of animals and men alike for a whole year.

Rajasthan literally means “country of kings”. It is par excellence a land of epics and traditions many of which survive today thanks notably to the various communities of bards and professional musicians who perpetuate a plentiful and varied repertoire. Each of these communities is differentiated by its origin, social status, repertoire and the musical instruments they use, as well as by territorial distribution. In the heart of the Thar desert, in the districts of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner, one mainly encounters the Manghaniyar. The other great community of professional musicians of Rajasthan, the Langa, settled further south and east, between Barmer and Jodhpur. Until the abolition of the feudal system, when India became independent in 1947, the Manghaniyar – Muslims – were tied by a sort of ancestral contract ( jajmani ) to a Hindu land owner of the superior Rajput caste. Their conversion to Islam seems to date back to the 16th and 17 th centuries and the handle “Khan” (lord), proudly attached to family names, is a witness to their religious belonging in the same way as the handle “Singh” (lion) identifies the Rajput (Hindus) and the Sikhs. These Muslims have adopted the coloured turbans ( pagri ) and the baggy trousers ( dhoti ) of the Hindus…

In feudal India, professional musicians were at the service of a land owner who partially supported them. In return, they took on all the necessary musical services for both his household and the village community. Today, these musicians are paid a fee per performance directly by their employers, mainly the villagers. They are called upon to perform at weddings, births, religious celebrations, funerals or simply for entertainment. Today, certain Manghaniyar play for regional radio stations and for tourists passing through Jaisalmer, or even play abroad.

There has been a simplification of the repertoire due, in part at least, to the fact that these new audiences prefer more rhythmic and shorter pieces. Some instruments have also been more successful than others. Thus, percussion instruments (easier and faster to learn), such as the dholak (double skinned drum) and the khartal (a sort of castanet), are gradually replacing the shindi sârangî and the kamayacha hurdy-gurdy which are less and less played these days. The kamayacha hurdy-gurdy, played with a bow, is carved from a single piece of wood and has a short handle decorated with inlay. Its hemispherical resonance chamber ( tabli ) is covered with a taut goat skin. The instrument has three melodic strings of gut and seven to nine sympathetic strings in metal, which are played with the bow or plucked. This instrument is only played by the Manghaniyar community. But when the present kamayacha players disappear, that’s to say in a decade or two, its deep tones will disappear from the popular patrimony… Already, there are no more instrument makers who build these unique instruments. On the other hand, new instruments are appearing. For example, the harmonium ( serpeti ) is now very widespread throughout the whole of India.

Of the strong relationship which bonded the Manganiyar – literally “those who stretch out their hand” – to their “bosses”, there remains a rich repertoire recounting several centuries worth of the Rajput’s feats of arms and matters of the heart. This oral tradition also describes many cultural characteristics which are unfortunately gradually falling into disuse, even oblivion.

The Manghaniyar repertoire is divided into “big songs” ( mota geet ), “little songs” ( chota geet ) and religious songs ( hargs ). The whole is focused mainly around themes of daily life and, the main concern in the desert being water, the Manghaniyar devote to it a good deal of their repertoire. On the other hand, as it is improper for women to sing in public, the professional musicians have taken over their repertoire and indiscriminately sing their stories of knocked over jugs ( panihari ) and their love laments… The “little songs”, composed of a series of verses separated by a chorus, generally come from this feminine repertoire and that of the nomads. The “big songs” include the epics and the heroic ballads to the glory of the Rajputs as well as the personal compositions of the Manghaniyar. But the distinction between a mota geet and a chota geet is not always obvious as these songs are continually modified or differently interpreted according to the musician, the place and the time. Moreover, today, the long improvised introductions ( duhâ ) that characterise the “big songs” also precede most “little songs”, according to the musicians’ whim or to warm up their voice…

These recordings were made during the monsoon, in August 2002, in Khuri, a village located approximately fifty kilometres from the town of Jaisalmer.

CD tracks
  1. Ghirmir, ghirmir méuda  -  "Fall, rain, fall..."
    The introduction (
    duha), sung in two parts, compares the beauty of a water carrier (panihari – see track 5) to the moon. In the song, the singers marvel at the elegance of a jogi (a woman from the caste of snake charmers) who cannot go to sleep because her husband is absent.
    The night is black as ink. Lightening flashes in the distance. A light rain is falling.

  2. Makhanu  - Shepherds
    In the desert, more than anywhere else, the monsoon brings abundance. This ode to happiness counts the beneficial effects of the monsoon using powerful symbols and poetical metaphors.
    In the shade of a tree (khejeri) a shepherd observes his herd on a nearby sand dune. Around him the millet has been sown. On the horizon, clouds herald new rains. The well and reservoir are full of water. The shepherd picks the fruits of the tree (khokha / sangri). He gazes at his village in the distance.

  3. Kangli  - The kite
    The introduction plunges the listener into the heart of a monsoon storm with its dark clouds rolling around the skies to the sound of thunder roaring like a drum… The song then compares the ups and downs of a swing (
    jula / hindo) and the sentiments of the young woman swinging on it to the meanders of a kite in the sky…

    "Urti, urti, nimburai
    Bati nimburai jula kai..."
    "Fly, fly swing.
    The lemon tree sways in the wind..."

  4. Dhumalri - The sand storm
    Paradoxically, the introduction describes the green hills of the Aravallis, around Mount Abu, and the Girnar fortress perched above the clouds… The song itself situates the action in the barren part of Rajasthan, the Thar desert.

    A rider is surprised by one of the sand and dust storms that are frequent during the rainy season. He is a high-ranking character (raja) with a horse and dyed ivory bracelets. The singer addresses him with respect (“kama, kama, …”), guiding him through the gusts by giving his mount the rhythm: “dima, dima, …” ("slowly, slowly, …").

  5. Panihari - The water carriers
    A young woman and her sister-in-law (token of harmony), accompanied by a few friends, go to the storm reservoir to fill their jugs. As she leans over, one of them loses her indani (little cushion on which the jug balances on the head). It drifts away on the waters… A storm is approaching. From the bank, the women watch the light rain fall on the hill and the village. This is a very popular song throughout the whole of Rajasthan and Northern India.

  6. Lunagar
    Lunagar is both a woman’s name and an inexpressible sentiment of melancholy characteristically experienced during the monsoon season.
    While the duha evokes the revitalisation of nature in the monsoon (boar, green mountains, clouds, the scent of sandal wood,…), the song itself describes the long wait of Lunagar who begs her husband to come and join her. The horizon and the hills are covered with a green veil. A bed (charpoï) has been prepared in the yard of the house.
    "Oh! King of the house, Lunagar is calling you!"

  7. Harni
    Harni is the name of a wild plant with white flowers, now extinct. This plant used to flower on rocky banks (magra) and was associated with the monsoon as the introduction reminds us.
    The song (as rare as the flower) continues as the daydream of a young woman tenderly remembering her past youth with her mother in the family home. She would like to send her a message, ask her to send her brother to fetch her back… She will feed her dromedary with white flowers (
    harni). But her native village is so far away! What can she do?

    The theme of the separation of the young wife is often evoked in the popular repertoire of western Rajasthan. As in the following song, Zhêdar, the reference to the Teej, the big monsoon celebration which takes place each year during the monsoon, is obvious. It is also the blessed period when young married women return to their own families for a few months. In general, it falls to a brother of the daughter-in-law to go and get his sister and escort her from the in-laws’ home back to the house where she was born, often far away.

  8. Zhêdar
    All versions of this very popular song tell of the impatience of the young Zhêdar to see her parents again after having been separated from them since her marriage.
    In Rajasthan, particularly in the villages, daughters-in-law traditionally live with their husband’s family, under the authority of their mother-in-law. The beautiful Zhêdar was married in the Sind (Pakistan) and she is awaiting the arrival of this prodigal brother who will take her home for a few months at the
    After evoking the love parade of the peacock in the introduction, the song goes on to describe, over their gentle calls, the preparations for the journey and Zhêdar’s impatience.
    “Come and fetch her!” repeat the musicians with insistence.

  9. Barsalo - The monsoon
    A storm is threatening. The dark clouds fill the sky and thunder is already rumbling in the distance. Under all the “barh” (a very large species of tree suitable for attaching one or several swings) the young girls gather… Once this backdrop and all the ingredients have been well-situated in the introduction, the song develops one by one, other themes specific to this marvellous period of the year which can be found, here and there, in many other songs of the Manghaniyar repertoire: the absent husband and his wife who languishes for him, comparisons between human and animal behaviour (in this case, birds), descriptions of nature and the effect of humans on it.

    “Without you, I would not benefit from the monsoon”.