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  • Vaishali Rathore

Bonjour, Monsieur, Ghoomar at Cannes!

You ought to be living under a rock if you find yourself unaware of the Cannes film festival that takes place on the French riviera annually. The festival de Cannes is no ‘ordinary soiree’. It is a magnum opus that draws world-class artists, filmmakers, patrons of art, and the who’s who of the film industry.

As the glitterati of showbiz descended on the red carpet, one peculiar gentleman graced the Festival de Cannes and with that registered a historic moment. With the head adorned in elegant headgear, no not a French beret but a ‘Safa’ (a traditional Rajasthani equivalent of a turban) was Mr Mame Khan, a celebrated Langa folk singer from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

Mame Khan has been triumphant in paving the way for the folk music of Rajputana into mainstream Indian cinema.

The coke studio fame not only walked the red carpet but performed a folk song 'Ghoomar' tunes which sway the hearts of every Rajput kid. A song I along with a myriad of others grew up listening to and watching our graceful ladies twirl with beautiful and meticulous moments of hand. A view that lends insight into an expression of a decades-long form of art.

Mame Khan at Cannes. Photo credits: CNBCTV18

Ghoomar: A history of grace.

A still of the Ghoomar art form. Photo credits: A. Shrivastava

Ghoomar is an art which is irrevocably braided into the culture of Rajasthan. Mainly performed by women in the secluded confines of zenana (inner parts of the house where women live). The exquisite dance form gets its name from the Hindi word ’Ghoomna’ (roughly translates to a twirling or spinning movement) showing the vibrant and mesmerizing colours of the ‘Ghaghra’, a flared long skirt worn by women in Rajasthan. It requires remarkable effort and precision to maintain an elegant and uniform twirl. In 2013 it was ranked fourth in the competition of local dances around the world by an online website.

The end of the monarchy marked the onset of a new era and with that followed a wave of change. The royals left with mere titular roles made a move from the palace to politics, the ‘Thakurs’ made a conscious effort to preserve their heritage sites to turn them into cultural havens and create a bloom of tourism, and the middle class got on with their lives. While a lot has changed in the demographic of Rajasthan, the irresistible appeal of Ghoomar has been a common cultural denominator in the state. From the elite to the common man the love for the folk-dance courses through the veins of people from all spheres of life.

While the unwavering faith of our older generation in the culture has remained intact. The sun of liberalization has shone on the younger sections of our society and with that has risen newfound angst to find oneself. The dilemma of how to find the perfect middle ground between the new world and the old-world creeps inside the mind. I am no stranger to this labyrinthine complexity. However, I believe that Ghoomar is a piece of history and, a wealth that we can retain and further pass on to the next generation. Just like a chiffon saree or a Poshak in our closet given to us by our mothers or our grandmothers that holds the scent of their perfume, a tale of another time.

The romanticizing of chiffons, necks decked with freshwater pearls, or the charm of our very own haute couture ‘Poshaks’ will always resonate with the status quo of our youth.

The Langas and Manganiars.

The folk dance is performed along the soothing verses sung by the musical maestros of Rajasthan, the Langas and the Manganiars. The infamous Langas and Manganiars are the rhythm of Rajasthan. The ‘Raag and Taal’ which carries on the tale of times. These musical groups are the essence of Rajputana and the heart of Rajput weddings. Their unconventional voices coupled with the rhythmic beats of dhol and the twirling of the Gaghra of Poshak on cue creates a frame so magical that would inspire da Vinci to ditch ’The Monalisa’ and paint a ‘Thakurani’ instead.

The Langas and Manganiyars have a diverse array of folk songs for different occasions such as weddings, births and spiritual ceremonies. The folk songs usually begin with a philosophical commentary followed by the singing of ragas, usually accompanied by various instruments such as the Dholak, Khadtal and Algoja.

The quest for national prominence:

The national recognition for Ghoomar has seen a significant late bloom. While the art form has seeped its roots deep in Rajasthan, the national expansion of the folk dance has a long way to go.

Maharani Rajmata Govardhan Kumari of Santrampur established the ‘Gangaur Ghoomar Dance Academy’ in 1986 to preserve the dance form. She was awarded the fourth highest civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2007 for her laudable contributions to arts and in promoting the Ghoomar folk dance.

The folk dance recently took the center stage in mainstream Indian cinema with 2019 released epic saga ‘Padmavat’ directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and became a sensation.

The appearance of folk singer Mame khan at the Cannes film festival and the international representation it draws paves the way for a monumental shift in the countrywide status of the dance form.

Rajasthan has birthed a culture and lineage of unsurmountable glory, grace, pomp, and pageantry. The culture continues to house in the spirit of Rajasthan. It is more than a mere fragment of the bygone times. It is our identity, a part of who we are. Every person is a carrier of his/her ancestral legacy. Our culture needs us to keep it alive as much as we need it to fortify our sense of identity. So, the responsibility for the preservation of the authentic form of this divine art form falls on our shoulders.

Ghoomar song in Padmaavat

India’s strongest ever Cannes appearance.

The 75th festival de Cannes chose India as the first ‘country of honour’ at the Marche du cinema. The largest-ever Indian delegation of 11 members walked the legendary stairs of Palais des Festivals. Mame khan scripted history as he became the first Indian folk artist to open the red carpet for the Indian contingent. Mr Khan graced the bougie film festival with suavity, with his footsteps walked the unsung folk artists from the sandy towns of Rajasthan who deserve the representation of their art on a global platform. His presence personified the influence of folk culture on Indian cinema and set a beautiful narrative for the world.

Hailing from Bikaner, Vaishali Rathore is a keen writer. This is her first guest author post on Rajputana Collective.



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