ARCE Awarded Ambassadors Fund Grant for Documentation of Imperiled Musical Traditions of Western Rajasthan

The AIIS Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology was awarded a grant from the U.S. Embassy in India’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) small grants competition for “India: Documentation of Endangered Musical Traditions in Western Rajasthan.” ARCE will receive $70,000 for the 18-month project that falls under the AFCP focus area of “forms of traditional cultural expression.”

This project is aimed at the revival and revitalization of an important, but rapidly disappearing, oral tradition of ballad and storytelling found in the deserts of Western Rajasthan (referred to in the local Marwari language as “baat,” “katha” and “varta”). The narrative traditions of two marginalized communities, the Manganiar and Langa communities of hereditary musicians in western Rajasthan form a vital part of the western Rajasthan cultural landscape. Though these communities have survived for generations on traditional patronage, these musical traditions are presently being threatened by changes in patronage, urbanization, and the intrusion of modern media into rural areas.

These ballads are a repository of history and traditional knowledge. They include a range of heroic ballads, romantic epic tales and tales that have Sufi spiritual interpretations. The primary reasons that these traditions are highly threatened or nearly extinct are that the narratives are long and sung and recited for several hours, traditionally during night long performances, and thus have not been able to migrate to the urban stage the way instrumental and song performances of the same communities have done. The reduction of traditional patronage has not been replaced by the concert stage and festivals as a support for the performers of these genres, as has happened with some other forms of cultural expression, thus removing a key incentive for the next generation of musicians to learn and continue with the tradition.

The primary objective of this project is to document this tradition in order to create a base for a multi-pronged approach to its revitalization through documentation, community involvement and training of a younger generation of performers. This will also serve as a model of a community-led approach by which members of a community are trained in the physical preservation of the repertoire, as well as in the transmission and preservation of the tradition.

ARCE-AIIS will collaborate with local institutions that are active in working on the musical traditions of Western Rajasthan. The primary collaboration will be with Rupayan Sansthan based in Jodhpur. Rupayan Sansthan, founded by the eminent folklorist Komal Kothari and writer Vijaydan Detha in 1965 is the premier institution known nationally and globally for its pioneering work in putting Rajasthani music of the Langas and Manganiars on the world map. This will serve as well as the local headquarters of the project. Other institutions which will be involved are the Manganiar Lok Sangeet Sansthan (Institute of Manganiar folk music), which is a community-based archive and institution, and Rajasthan Virasat Foundation, which is an organization that has pioneered heritage work in Rajasthan including Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF). Their newly established initiative, Rajasthan Rural Arts Program, would make them useful collaborators.

Digital recordings will be archived at ARCE and will also be deposited in multiple locations serving different purposes, such as Rupayan Sansthan, the premier institution for music and folklore in Rajasthan and known for its support of musicians; the Jaipur Virasat Foundation which is embarking on a Rajasthan-wide revitalization project; and a community archive based in Jaisalmer called the Manganiar Lok Sangeet Sansthan that serves the local musician communities. The performances aimed at rural and urban audiences will set the basis for future performances sustaining the energy created by the intensive phase of training, documentation and performance, and providing a new kind of patron for the performance of the narratives Finally the project will be an important exercise in a community- led revitalization in the area of Intangible Cultural Heritage and will provide a model for such initiatives. Reports on this will be shared on the Project website and shared on various fora through presentations, publications, and other collaborative projects. 

The outcomes are envisaged as reactivating and revitalization a near extinct tradition that captures the rich local history of a part of India that is known for its musical traditions, through teaching in the traditional oral transmission mode; a collection of recordings documented by the community members; supporting and nurturing traditional audiences as well as creating wider national and global audiences. The methodology of community-led revitalization will be a path-breaking initiative and can be used as a pilot for other oral traditions in India and other parts of the world.

This project is one of three projects ARCE is currently undertaking in Western Rajasthan in partnership with Rupayan. ARCE also received a grant from the Modern Endangered Archives Program of the UCLA Library for “Digitization and Preservation of Audio Recordings of Music and Oral Traditions in the Collections of Rupayan Sansthan, India.” This project involves digitizing the cassette collection that belonged to the late Komal Kothari that is held at the Rupayan Sansthan.