It’s October and it’s RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) time in Jodhpur.This is probably one festival that is known more outside India, amongst aficionados, than within. If Pushkar fest is a place to take in the Rajasthani folk music and dance in rural backdrop, RIFF is more of a 5-star ambiance.

The king of Jodhpur opens the massive doors of Mehrangarah Fort, one of the majestic in that state, to the festival and the festival enjoys the patronage of Mick Jagger, the rock-icon. It’s been written about in the leading world music magazine SONGLINES. No doubt, the Rajasthan state and the folk arts have indeed a strong appeal per se, the organizers of the festival do a good job. Folk musicians of R’than are probably the most touring (the world) amongst folk musicians from any other state in India.

Last year, on the way to Jodhpur, catching Navaratri Garba in Vadodara and the exquisitely carved 1000 year old marble Jain temples in Dilwara in Mount Abu, I ended up in a room with a view of the fort in Hotel Haveli, had scrumptious food in Jhankar restaurant and dived deep into the festival. RIFF also coincided with the state run Marwar festival, which showcased a different set of musicians and their one evening gig out in the desert was memorable.

RIFF offers a mix of free-admission performances along with quite steep-priced prime-time ones. As I’m more of a purist in terms of folk music, personally, the prime time performances did not have much appeal as they tended to go more on the lines of  “fusion”, that is local musicians play with international bands, which may be the reason for the presence of the word “international” in the festival title and some music played were not even part of “folk music” genre.

Some of the events were – meditative music at Jaswant Thada at 5:30 in the mornings, giving a chance to catch the sun-rise; all day folk performances in various spots inside the fort; rare folk demos at interactive sessions; Living Legends performance in Moti Mahal and the prime-time shows at Old Zenana courtyard. I didn’t venture into the ‘club-scene’ in late evenings.

Rare musical instruments such as Mata, Thalisar, Tarpi, and Pawri were played. Also, Ravanata, Babang, which reminded me of the talking-drum/Tama of West-Africa and Kamaycha, which is played in Iran too.

BBC was there last year to cover the event and was shown later on BBC1 in UK. Jill N, the producer of the show whom I ran into in more than one place, pleasantly surprised me with a DVD copy in the mail.

When in Jodhpur, visited the well-exhibited Government Museum, the beautiful Jain temples of Osian and Bishnoi villages. Bishnoi tribes are eco-minded for centuries, living in harmony with trees and animals around them. They have a strong sense of non-violence in them as they follow vegetarian way of life, and it is a rare phenomenon that a community living in the forested area not indulging in hunting for their survival. One can find plenty of peacocks and Blackbuck antelopes around these villages. Lots of potters and weavers are in action. We can opt to have a home-cooked lunch at these villages during our trip out there.



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