Folk Arts Rajasthan (FAR)

Beginning as a grassroots effort in 1992, New York-based FAR was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2004 by Karen Lukas. Powered by the dedicated passion of volunteers, FAR is committed to securing a just and viable future for the Merasi.

Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan (LKSS)

Registered in Jaisalmer, India by Director Sarwar Khan in 1996, the NGO LKSS serves as a hub for the marginalized Merasi community.

International Alliance: The two non-profit organizations are joined together by a shared vision of a thriving and just future for the Merasi community and their musical culture. The collaborative approach recognizes that education, preserving an intangible cultural heritage and achieving social justice for a continually marginalized people are mutually dependent goals.Today, FAR and LKSS are nurturing a generation of ambitious and capable Merasi youth in the face of obstinate hierarchical norms.
Mission: Folk Arts Rajasthan (FAR) and Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan (LKSS) are committed to eradicating illiteracy, fostering community development and celebrating cultural understanding through education and music preservation. We envision a tomorrow where the Merasi can live in peace and celebrate their heritage with dignity.

“One hand on the pen, one hand on the drum, both hands on the dream.”

The Merasi Community: The Merasi are a marginalized community of northwestern Rajasthan (India) who carry a unique musical legacy more than 800 years old, an Intangible Cultural Heritage as defined by UNESCO.

For generations the Merasi have been scorned as ‘Manganiyars’, meaning beggars. Considered ‘untouchable’, denied access to education, healthcare, and political representation, most live in poverty yet aspire to improve their situation. Despite on-going caste-prejudice, they persist in their roles as oral genealogists, storytellers, and musicians.

To reclaim their identity as storytellers, the Merasi of Jaisalmer have shed the derogatory caste label ‘Manganiyar’ and proudly embraced the name ‘Merasi’, meaning musicians and is also a poignant symbol of self-determination.

Team Leaders

Karen Lukas, FAR

Karen Lukas

Founder & Director of FAR

Karen Lukas graduated from Massachusetts College of Art & Design in 1976. A passion for color led her from exhibiting in Boston and New York to a handbag business in SoHo, and then around the world as a decorative painter.

Her work has been featured in publications such as Indian Interiors, Architectural Digest, Smithsonian, and House & Garden, and in private and commercial spaces, such as the American Embassy in Delhi and the Vice President's office in Washington, D.C. She was one of the three distinguished alumnus to be honored for her achievements in 2014. The only state-run college in the United States, Massachusetts College of Art & Design has presented this accolade to only 18 people to date.

Karen's zeal for traditional crafts flourished a connection with a remarkable folk community in Jaisalmer. Ironically the brilliance of Merasi music and art is colored by their position at the bottom of Rajasthan’s caste strata, even today. This has inspired two decades of ongoing human rights activism and initiatives to equip Merasi youth as talented artists, literate leaders, community advocates, and global citizens.

Dr. Sarwar Khan, Merasi, LKSS

Dr. Sarwar Khan

Director of LKSS

Honored for his work in cultural preservation by Maine College of Art in 2008, Dr. Sarwar Khan is a master musician, a visionary artist, a passionate collector of fossils, a fearless activist, a crusader of women’s empowerment, and always a staunch believer in the power of education.

In 2008, Dr. Sarwar Khan received an honorary doctorate from Maine College of Art (USA) for his work in the preservation of his community’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

His relentless commitment to bettering the lives of every child in his community inspires action in all who believe his cause.

"No one should be tortured for advocating education and basic human rights." -Dr. Khan