Guts and glory: Manganiyar women singers break with tradition

Manganiyar women are not allowed to perform on public platforms.

Manganiyar women are not allowed to perform on public platforms. But defying age-old rigid tradition that Rajasthan’s musician community is associated with, Maangi Bai has carved a niche for herself in the men’s world. She says where there is a will there is a way.

Bai performed at the just concluded Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival in Jodhpur.


“Manganiyar women are not allowed to come out and perform in public. We are lucky enough to have them with us,” said Vinod Joshi, regional coordinator of the festival while introducing them.

She sang for five minutes with her head covered and received appreciation from the audience, including fellow male members of the community.

Now 45, Bai began singing when she was just eight-year-old.

“My parents never encouraged me to sing. But I was in love with music. So when my father would sing at home or weddings in Rajput families, I would hear him like a student who was eager to learn,” Bai told IANS after her performance.

She is a self-taught musician.

“I picked up from whatever I could understand. Women are not allowed to sing at patron’s house. They can sing at local festivals in front of a women audience, but they are never exposed to a larger audience or bigger events,” she added, saying women fear ostracism and never make any effort to break the chain.

Manganiyars, a professional musicians community, are Muslims, and their patrons are predominantly Hindus and Rajputs. They have a song for every season and occasion – from childbirth to marriage; from welcoming gods to in-laws.

With a mind of her own and possessed with the spirit of a rebel, Bai would perform at local functions before marriage.

For most of the women, singing comes to an end post-marriage, but not for Bai who specialises in raag ‘Mand’. She convinced her husband to allow her to follow her passion and perform.

To her delight, he agreed and thus her musical journey continued.

“I believe if you are determined, there is always a way out. I was lucky to get support from my husband, but not everyone is that lucky,” she spoke in a heavily accented Marwari, while her son, Sakir, acted as interpreter whenever she fumbled.

Apart from Bai, three sisters – Halima, Akla and Dariya – also performed at the fest as the trio are “allowed” to sing at public gatherings.

“We three perform and travel to Delhi, often. Be they marriages or functions, we travel to different cities and many parts of the world,” Halima, the youngest of them, told IANS.

Though they didn’t reveal much about their families and background, a fellow male Manganiyar, when asked about women’s contribution to the art and exposure to the world, criticised them.

“These (sisters) are different. We don’t allow our women to perform in front of men in our villages, forget about such massive gatherings,” a kartal player who didn’t wish to be named told IANS.

“Our women follow a certain code of conduct…We follow strict Rajput guidelines for all our women. They are allowed to perform only in front of a women’s gathering.

“Men can play in front of a female audience, but no male members from the community will be present there. So there are strict lines drawn and we would like those to be maintained,” he added.

While women like Bai are few in numbers, it is disheartening to know raw and bucolic voice of women of the community, who are equally blessed as their male counterparts, perhaps more, don’t get a chance to show their talent. The audience is robbed of the pleasure of listening to them as well.



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