Among the many songs of Rajasthani origin that have acquired massive popularity across India is Kesariya balam aavo sa, padharo mhaare des…, the classic maand composition made immortal by legendary singers such as Allah Jilai Bai. Proof of the popularity of this beautiful song lies in the fact that innumerable composers and producers have mixed and mashed up versions of the classic, and singers from orientations as diverse as thumri to Indipop have also attempted to interpret the song. It could even be acknowledged as the reigning favourite for young aspirants in the field of popular music who wish to declare a proclivity for “folk" music as their speciality.

As a result, there exist diverse sound recordings of Kesariya Balam that could well engage researchers and scholars from the fields of both music studies and the complex area of intellectual property rights and traditional knowledge. For the student of music, however, an album titled Padharo Mhare Des, and subtitled The Best of Rajwadi Mand, offers valuable insights into maand, the form of Rajasthani music that once flourished in the courts or rajwadas of Rajasthan. The album forms part of a five-disc series titled Court Singing of Rajasthan: Mand And Other Folk Ragas, curated, produced and published by acclaimed sitar artiste and scholar Krishna Mohan Bhatt, who hails from a family of musicians and Sanskrit scholars that has for generations made its home in Rajasthan. Bhatt’s forthcoming book on maand includes the compact disc featuring 13 sterling tracks focusing on the Rajasthani maand as sung in the rajwadas. Sadly, the album will not be available for purchase till Bhatt finds suitable channels for distribution and sale. Music lovers will, therefore, have to bide their time.

Sourcing 73 minutes of maand music from varied sources, including private collections, Bhatt has also recorded some of the featured artistes in special sessions, including live concerts. The tracks recorded in the voices of Chiranji Lal Tanwar and Banarasi Babu form part of the maand repertoire that was recorded exclusively for the project. But two of the tracks in the voice of Jassi Bai of Jodhpur are vintage recordings that would not be easily accessible otherwise.

The other artistes featured in the compilation include Munshi Khan of Nagaur, Allah Jilai Bai of Bikaner, Lalita Bai of Kishangarh, the Jamila-Kulsum group from Jodhpur, Suraiyaa Begum from Jaipur, the Rukma-Hakla group from Barmer, and the Hasan Khan Manganiyar group from Jaisalmer. Unfortunately, for many of us these names and the music they have recorded for this project may be completely unfamiliar. But they bring to the listener a sense of the rich repertoire of Rajwadi music, of the many varieties of maand like Piloo maand and Jhinjhoti maand, and of the many raginis and ragas like Maru, Sorath and Goond Malhar that form part of the musical treasures of Rajasthan.

Liner notes with the album tell us that Hindu and Muslim singers from hereditary families of musicians that belong to the Dholi, Damami, Mirasi, Kalavant, Patur, Langa and Manganiyar communities are keeping the tradition alive. In the past they would receive the patronage of Rajput kings, thikanedars (holders of a thikana or a grant of land, the revenue from which belonged to the grantee), zamindars (landholders) and nawabs.

The renditions show remarkable variety. Some include elements of elaboration that seem to overlap with the elaboration considered typical of thumri. Others show greater affinity to folk music. Accompaniment to the tracks reminiscent of thumri is provided by tabla and sarangi, hinting at a dialogue between forms like thumri and maand that we regretfully seem to have lost in our pursuit of specialisation. On the other hand, accompaniment to the strong, guttural and androgynous sound of the Rukma-Hakla group is provided by deep, dense dhol (drums) that provide a steady beat to the song. Defying the misconception that folk music is relatively simple, the group comfortably sings through a five-matra (count) groove as if it were child’s play.

The album forms part of a research project and labour of love that has held Bhatt’s attention for several years. Not surprisingly, it has received funding and support from the American Institute of Indian Studies (Aiis). For while we are busy trashing paashchaatya sabhyata evam sanskriti (Western civilisation and culture), organizations and agencies like Aiis are in many ways helping us conserve traditions like the maand.

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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