Ḍom – Mirasi

Ḍoms (etymology clearly proves a connection between the Indo-European languages of the Ḍom and the contemporary Rom) are members of castes or ethnic groups living mainly in Indian Rajasthan and the Punjab and in northern regions of Pakistan. In today's Indian caste system (which is not accepted, for example, by Buddhism or Tantrism), this group has a low social position. Traditional, inherited professions of its members include mainly music and other types of entertainment, trade, weaving, basket making , sieve making, smithery , cauldron making , and begging. [ Professions ]

Often a wide professional spectrum justifies and emphasises that the term Ḍom / dom does not pertain to one caste, but rather is a generic term for several endogamic professional groups that might belong to the pre-Aryan population of India.

Oral tradition uses the phrase domogushpur rajogushpur (Ind., Ḍom prince, ruling prince). It includes stories about the common origin of the ruling clan and hereditary musicians – Ḍoms / doms.

Ḍom musicians characteristically divide tasks according to sex: While the men play musical instruments, the dancing and singing of lyrical, love and very often genealogical songs, (during which they accompany themselves on a drum), is reserved for the women and children. The singers, often illiterate, distinguish themselves by their extraordinary memories, thanks to which they can perform songs with thousands of verses. They are thus the family's living chroniclers who sing the praises of many generations of their ancestors. Ḍom musicians used to be and still are in the service of rich Hindu or Muslim families, for whom they have even performed classical poetry, by, for example, Mizra Ghalib.

Common Ḍom instrumental groups of Pakistan consist of at least three musicians, one of whom plays either the surnai, a double-reed instrument of the oboe type, or some type of flute, while the other two play drums: the dadan with two membraphones and the double-head drum, the daman. This instrumental combination is typical for the area influenced by Arab-Islamic culture. This type of instrumental music is called harip.

While the Ḍoms are Hindus, playing and singing for Hindus and Muslims, Muslim folk musicians call themselves Mirasi (in 1870, this term replaced the older quasi-caste term Dharni) or Manganihars (borrowed from Ind. "to beg".) Mirasi play primarily for ceremonies and celebrations connected to the family cycle (birth, circumcision, wedding, death), and devotional music in Hindu temples. The fact that they converted from Hinduism to Islam is evident from them retaining some Hindu customs, and from the names in their genealogies.

As with the Ḍoms / doms, Mirasi also divide musical production according to sex: the women are the dancers and singers, often singing genealogical songs; they accompany themselves with drums. The men-musicians are instrumentalists who play, besides drums, various wind and string instruments. The most frequent melodic instruments of the Rajasthani Mirasi are the double-reed instrument (the surnai) and the stringed kamaycha.

The Ḍoms insist that the musical profession demands complete concentration: at any moment, the musician must be capable of creating and performing music. This understandably stands in contrast to the traditional values of the surrounding settled ("majority") population which places great value on formal education. For Ḍoms, music has the greatest value.


Arnold, Alison (ed.) (2000) South Asia. The Indian Subcontinent, New York.
Hübschmannová, Milena (1997) Domští hudebníci v Indii. In: Romano džaniben 3-4, pp. 11-27.
Neuman, Daniel (1980) The Life of Music in North India. The Organization of an Artistic Tradition, Detroit.
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Image 2 Surnāī and 2 drums