Earthy Tunes from Folk Instruments, Rajasthan

Music is a connection with the soul, often a way of liberation and coming home of sorts that reminds us of who we are. As we traveled through Rajasthan, I was exposed to earthy tunes from folk instruments sometimes in the street side and sometimes in the gardens, alleys and terraces of once teeming forts and palaces. They mostly belong to the tribal Manganiyar Community who have a rich musical history having sung for the royals over generations. Most of them have never had formal training and have just picked it up watching father, grand father or  a distant uncle. Left me ashamed that I never quite made use of the many opportunities that life presented me to learn a stringed instrument. I guess, music happens and cannot be learned.


The Ravanhatta  completely bowled me over with its deep sound that tugged at my heart strings and unknowingly the eyes welled up !!  I heard it in many a street corner in Rajasthan specially in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The street side musician in Jaisalmer impressed me with his ability to create that magic with the slight nuances with his bow. This instrument with a long neck made of bamboo and a small bowl made of coconut shell covered with goat hide is attached to it. The 2 main strings are made of coconut shell and horse hair and played with a bow decorated with hanging jingle bells. It owes its origin to the 10 headed demon king Ravana who was first playing this instrument to appease Lord Shiva and in his state of stupor immersed in devotion he had cut off one of his many heads and hands to continue playing when the original instrument broke. It is believed that Lord Hanuman brought the instrument to North India and slowly made its way into the royal households of Rajasthan. It has survived through the ages with the princes taking keen interest in learning the instrument. It has now reached the western shores in the form of Ravan -Strong . While I always knew Ravana as the wife stealer, the proverbial villain, I am slowly growing to admire him for this gift of music.


Folk Instrument Kamaicha

On a bright sunny morning, I was walking next to Gadisar Lake, watching the flocking birds but there was something else which made the morning magical, the haunting melody of the Kamaicha. The kamaicha is the heart of the Rajasthani Folk music. Made from a single piece of wood, it comprises of a bowl, neck and a fingerboard and a resonator covered with leather.  With 4 main strings and a couple of subsidiary strings that pass over a thin bridge, it is played with a bow that produces a heart touching melody.

SarangiFolk Instrument Sarangi

In the evening, the desert came alive with the sounds of the Sarangi which closely resembles vocal music. The instrument is made of wood with a short neck and a lower body resembling the stomach tightly covered with hide. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to tango with the moonlight to the tunes of the Sarangi. It is rightly known as the instrument which encompasses more than a 100 moods. In Sanskrit it is also referred to as Saar + Ang meaning the entire body !!

Algoja and Flute

I caught myself tapping to the echoing sounds of the double flute better known as Algoja or Algoza. While the player blows into 2 flute like instruments, he actually plays on one using 3 fingers on either side. Flute is mostly soothing, sometimes sad and melancholic while the Algoja is deeply touching.

Future of Folk Instruments

The one common thread in all the conversations with these musicians has been the lack of earnings to keep them going and the younger generation moving on to other professions to earn 2 square meals a day. I guess evolution is the name of the game, of finding ourselves anew in another time, another place in another form adapting to modernity !! but the songs of the soul remain the same and with this slowly vanishing breed of skilled street musicians we are on the verge of losing the art of oral tradition which has imparted skills and stories through generations.

Keep your ears open during a trip to Rajasthan and a trip just to soak in all that rhythm may not be a bad idea !!

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12 thoughts on “Earthy Tunes from Folk Instruments, Rajasthan

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  6. Rajagopal

    loved this post depicting sights and music of rajasthani streets . it brought memories of my short visit to udaipur recently which has only whetted my appetite for another longer tour to intake the magical beauty of rajasthan…best wishes…raj .

  7. Yearful of Sundays

    What a wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading it, because I’ve seen and heard these musical instruments on several visits Rajasthan-ward, but never really made that effort to find out more about them. Also, that bit you said right in the beginning about music being a homecoming of sorts that “reminds us of who we are” set off a stream of thought (post midnight ruminating). I suppose there are few things besides the aroma of food and music from back home that could possibly tug at my heart when I’m travelling elsewhere, and make me realize where I’m really from, no matter how much I try to drift or uproot myself.

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