Grant Period: over one year
IFA has had a long association with the Mir community in Rajasthan. Over the past seven years, IFA has supported two community projects towards strengthening and reinvigorating their musical tradition. The first one in 2010 enabled a training programme where the ustads trained a group of children and young adults in three Mir villages. The project culminated in the Baba Farid Rang Mir Sammelan. Building on this, in 2015, IFA supported a project to enable a core team of Mir musicians and patrons to undertake a yatra across ten far-flung villages of Mir strongholds in the Bikaner region towards reclaiming local performance spaces and forging stronger networks within the community.
There was a need felt at IFA to study the musical practice of the Mir community, by undertaking a foundation-administered research project that contextualises the Mir community and their practice both musically and historically. Given that existing research on this tradition is negligible and the fact that IFA has had a long relationship with the community, it was felt that this research would be a valuable contribution not only to the Mir community and the larger field, but also guide IFA’s future support to the community.
IFA circulated a call for applications in November 2016 and received 16 applications from across the country. Of these five were shortlisted and called for an interview held in January 2017 in Mumbai with IFA’s Executive Director Arundhati Ghosh, Programme Executive Sumana Chandrashekar and external expert Rahul Ghai on the panel. As an expert who has worked with the Mirs for over 20 years, IFA felt that Rahul would be a key person to have on the panel and for later consultation through the project.
The researcher that has been chosen to undertake the study is a Mumbai-based music practitioner Smita Bellur. Smita is a Hindustani classical singer and she also trains in Sufi music under the Warsi brothers. She has a background in research and writing, and is proficient in spoken and written Hindi and Urdu.
Smita will study and analyse the evolution of the musical practice of the Mirs through this research. The geographical, historical and socio-political confluences in the recent decades have impacted the musical journeys of this community in multiple ways creating new trajectories for their musical tradition. There have also been fissures within the community that have taken separate sets of practitioners in divergent explorations, while at the same time, sharing a similar history and context. From songs that are sung only on specific occasions to songs that are popular with local orchestras, their music has developed multiple strands over time.
Over a period of a year, Smita will undertake several trips to the Mir villages and engage in intimate conversations with community members in order to study and analyse cross-cultural transactions in the music of the Mirs to understand its multiple journeys over the recent decade. To supplement her field work, she will also consult experts and materials from libraries and archives. Some of the questions that Smita will explore during her research concern the framework and definitions of Mir music, its position within Rajasthan’s socio-political and cultural landscape, its evolution over the years, the influences it has imbibed, the spectrum of its repertoire, the diverse spaces into which this music has moved to in the recent years, its relationship with other sufi and bhakti traditions, its encounters with the industry of tourism, mass entertainment and the film industry and so on. Technical aspects of the music including melody and rhythm structures, compositions, languages in the compositions, composers and instruments will also be studied. These are broad questions and as the research progresses Smita hopes to focus and nuance them further. Rahul Ghai will remain a sounding board for this project.
The outcome of this research will be a detailed essay / monograph in English, of approximately 15,000 - 20,000 words. The copyright of this essay will lie with IFA. IFA will take the responsibility of translating it into Hindi and sharing this both with the Mir community and the larger public. IFA hopes that this essay will substantially complement the one that is being written by Rajkumar Rajak, which is part of the deliverables of the current project of the yatra of the Mirs that IFA is supporting.