Merasi Performance Transforms Syracuse University

Merasi Performers

There was standing room only in Slocum Auditorium as the Merasi performers took the stage, performing a combination of local Rajasthani folk songs, Sufi classics, and Hindu bhajans. Their spirited performance captivated the audience. 

These men are members of a community of low-caste Muslim musicians from the district of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan in the Thar desert who are carrying on a tradition that spans thirty-eight generations. They are descendants of musicians who performed for Rajput maharajas and at temple festivals, creating a blend of Hindu and Sufi genres of music. 

Historically marginalized, the Merasi community has been denied access to education, healthcare, and political representation. Even today, most live in poverty, surviving on less than $2/day. Once called Manganiyar (beggar), the members of this troupe today call themselves Merasi, meaning musician, and aspire for a better future. 

Dr. Sarwar Khan, founder of the Indian NGO Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan (LKSS), and Karen Lukas, founder of U.S.—based Folk Arts Rajasthan, have worked together for 20 years to try to improve the conditions for the Merasi performers and their families. They run both education programs and music preservation programs in the city of Jaisalmer. They also organize musical tours in the U.S. to bring attention to the issues of the community. This is the second U.S. tour for the group and they hope to come again.