Mir – The Unsung Songsters

The Mir community in Rajasthan gathers to reinvigorate their Sufi musical traditions and discuss their livelihoods.

Ajeet’s close friend Raj Kumar was one of the organisers of this conference in Rajasthan, which aimed at reinvigorating the musical traditions of the Mir community and examining issues around their material needs and the dignity of their community. Ajeet, who had heard about the legendary Mirs went at his own cost to attend the conference because he wanted to document another unheard community.

The Mirs have been labelled by the government as the most socio-economically disadvantaged group in the state. They are nomadic pastoralists with a complicated history that has left them landless, impoverished and conflicted: their language, Sirakai, is a dialect from Punjab; they are affiliated with both Hinduism and Islam; their village is composed of makeshift shelters on rented roadside property near Dasada.

“It’s just beautiful,” says Ajeet about the infamous Sufi music of the Mirs. “They are excellent singers, excellent musicians. They are very progressive, also.” Historically, the Mirs are hereditary singers of the Sufiana Qalam – part of the Sufi mystic tradition spread over the northwest of the sub-continent. Traditionally, they used to perform at the kings’ palaces on special occasions, which evolved into them singing at weddings and religious ceremonies. More recently, however, because of an absence of demand for their music, the Mirs had become apathetic and sought other, more sustainable livelihood options. They have not been able to do so, which is reflected in their poor nutritional habits, lack of sanitation and extremely poor health.

“The Islamic priests from nearby areas do not condone the Sufi music,” says Ajeet. “They said it would cause mental illness and take believers away from the path of God. So people stopped asking the Mirs to perform and they lost their inspiration.” The conference, which was organised by India Foundation of the Arts, was geared at examining the changes in their music, compositions and instruments to devise ways in which it can be popularised, such that the community can again make a living from something they love doing, and which they excel at.

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