Singing the Waai

Pastoral Times
2 min readSep 2, 2022


By Shabnam Virmani & Vipul Rikhi, Curators of Music and Poetry, Living Lightly

Photo credits: YouTube

Sumar Kada Jat and Mitha Khan Jat are cousins who live in a small village called Bagadia in Kutch. They belong to the cattle-herding Jat community and seem to be the last exponents of the waai musical form in India.

The waai hits you in the gut.

If one were to imagine a form that might best capture a conversation between seeker and God, between lover and elusive Beloved, this might be it.

No weary preliminaries, no pretty embellishments, no polite barriers, no delicate overtures, no middlemen to broker this conversation. The waai is a kind of a visceral cry, a weeping, a lament,
a communion, a trance.

The vibrations from their damboors overpower our bodies as we listen. Waai singing uses two kinds of voices — the thick (gauro) and the thin (sanho). The ‘thick’ is the normal male pitch of singing, but nothing prepares us for the ‘thin’. A startling, high-pitched cry of longing for the beloved. It is this falsetto sanho that strikes the chord of separation — for it is a kind of wail, or a loolaat as Abdullah-bhai terms it — a baby’s howl for its mother. Full-grown men weeping in the voice of a child…

They seem to enter another dimension as they sing, accessing some altered state of reality, clearly far removed from the world of show and tell, of stage and singer, of technique and acclaim.

There is a trembling within me when I sing Shah’s waais, says Sumar Kaka. They’re not poems, they are daggers. They can cut you up and cleave you into two, he says. But then, you wonder: why should he return, again and again, to imperil himself on this blade?

The answer arises, beautifully, in a Latif poem:

I’m in love
With one
Who carries daggers
In this field of love
I press onward
My head’s on the chopping-block
Now slaughter me



Pastoral Times

Highlighting pastoralist lives and livelihoods — their crafts, foods, breeding practices, struggles, and more. Contribute: