In the timeless
echo of history, where the soul of art entwines with the rhythms of existence,
a new chapter unfolds from The Courtesan Project series by Classical
Dancer, Creator of Sufi Kathak, and Restorer of the Dance of Tawaifs Manjari
Chaturvedi. It is not your ordinary concert; it's a journey through
time, a resounding exploration of gender discrimination in the performing arts,
and a celebration of the indomitable spirit of the Tawaif and Baiji – the
unsung heroines of 16th to 20th-century North India.
This scintillating spectacle is a living, breathing testament to the rich heritage and an ode to the erstwhile Tawaifs, challenging the roles ascribed to women performers and society's lens that has shaped their narrative. Experience this heartfelt tribute, a unique first-person account, crafted through the labour and love of countless academic seminars and performances, promoting the intangible cultural heritage that was nearly lost to time.
As the curtains rise, and the stage comes alive with history, join us to discover the stories of resilience and bring to the foreground the artistry of the women who also sang for India’s freedom.
Manjari Chaturvedi is the leading exponent of classical dance in India. An unusual dancer, she has blazed her own path, that no one traversed earlier, in the field of performing arts. She has taken the traditional form of Kathak to a different level altogether and has created her own style, her own brand of dance. Her productions as a dancer are projects that are meticulously researched, and documented, as she first studies the original traditions and then finds her own artistic expression of the subject and that expression is always unique, as never seen before, as she pours her heart and soul into the dance. Manjari has extensively worked on gender-sensitive subjects through her medium of dance, exploring the many traditions woven into poetry, music, and dance. With the establishment of the Sufi Kathak Foundation, she has taken a leap further to support marginal artists and provide research opportunities to scholars and students under the banner of the Foundation.Read more
Unexplored History of Indian Tawaifs
The tawaifs were extremely proficient in music and dance
and were considered highly sophisticated courtesans of the Indian subcontinent.
The origin of word Tawaif is believed to be from the Arabic word ‘tauf’ or
‘tawaf’ which means circling around. ‘Tawaf’ is also used for an Islamic ritual
involving circumambulating the holy Kaaba. The tawaifs were not just the
greatest epitome of etiquette but were also treated and recognised as
custodians of elite art and cultural practices in history. During the Mughal Era,
they were at the core of art, aesthetics, and local culture and were among the
best-performing artists of the royal court and nobility. They had a respected
place in society and also enjoyed a relatively autonomous lifestyle as they
owned property, controlled their wealth, lived luxurious lives, and were well
versed with literature and politics.
Correlation between Courtesans and Hindustani Classical
Art and aesthetics flourished during the Mughal Period along with patronage of music, dance, and poetry opening opportunities for all the talented artisans. The sources of the courtesan history also give a brief account of how young girls were trained under the guardianship of eminent musicians, dancers, and poets in the Mughal Period. In the Doab region Thumri, Khayal, Dadra, Tappa, and Ghazals were practised by Tawaifs in the court for higher nobility. Begum Samru, Ad Begum, Moran Sarkar, Binodini Dasi, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Gauhar Jaan, Akhtari Bai, Rasoolan Bai and several others held sway over the music scene in the country and took forward the tradition of Hindustani Classical music. These performers excelled in their musical knowledge, composing ragas and more complex constructions, and creating semi-classical arrangements like Chaiti and Kajri.
The Courtesan Project
The Courtesan Project was launched by the Sufi Kathak Foundation in the year 2011. This neo-revival project focuses explicitly on the performing community of tawaifs and the reinstatement of their identity as the original performers of Kathak. Manjari Chaturvedi, performs Darbari Kathak, the dance form that was prevalent among the tawaifs as a part of this project. She shares that this dance form is an alluring and abstract form of kathak, known for its delicate movements and expressions, and characterized by exquisite costumes. ‘Amad’and ‘Mujra’ are kathak dance salutation pieces that were performed by the tawaifs in the court of Awadh. The main motivation of the Courtesan Project is to re-establish the tawaifs as one of the earliest practitioners of the Kathak dance by bringing back their original repertoire. Manjari Chaturvedi shares that Darbari Kathak revolves around themes of ‘love and romance’ while Contemporary Kathak is associated with ‘God and bhakti’. She recreates the dance elements reminiscent of royal gatherings and kothas using kathak manuals, books, paintings, and images from pre-colonial Awadh to reinstate tawaifs as the original performers of Kathak with The Courtesan Project.