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THE TAWAIF, THE ANTI - NAUTCH MOVEMENT, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF NORTH INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC:

Part 1 - Introduction

by David Courtney working tools


nautch

 

Part 1 - Introduction - This Page
Part 2 - The Tawaifs
Part 3 - Evolution of the Will to End the Tawaifs
Part 4 - Evolution of the Means to End the Tawaifs
Part 5 - The Anti-Nautch Movement
Part 6 - The Passing of the Torch
Part 7 - Affects of the Anti-Nautch Movement on North Indian Music
Part 8 - Epilogue

ABSTRACT

The tawaifs were an Indian equivalent of the Japanese Geisha.  Their heyday was in the 18th and the early 19th century.  They were very important in the development and propagation of a number of North Indian styles of music and dance, most especially the kathak form of dance, and the thumree, ghazal, and dadra forms of singing.  However, after the British consolidated their control over India in the last half of the 19th century, the tawaifs were branded as prostitutes, and subsequently marginalised in society.  This marginalisation might have proved disastrous for their arts, had it not been for the intervention of the Indian bourgeoisie at the turn of the 20th century.  The "rescue" of the tawaif's arts was remarkable, but was accompanied by a fair degree of cultural recontextualisation in order to fit these arts into the culture of the emerging Independent India.

 

The anti-nautch movement was a movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century to abolish the traditional Indian dancing girls.  This movement was started by the British, but carried out with the assistance of numerous Indians and Indian organisations.  The consequence of this movement had profound impact on the well being of Indian dancers, musicians, and singers throughout the subcontinent.  Although a number of artistic traditions were impacted by the anti-nautch movement, it is the north Indian tawaif, along with their accompaning musicians, which will be the major focus of this series of webpages.

We will be looking at several topics in this article.  We will briefly look at the tawaif tradition.  We will concentrate on the political and social events leading up to the anti-nautch movement.  We will look at the movement in full bloom; and also briefly look at how this movement, along with the general cultural renaissance of the period, influenced the development of north Indian classical music.

The tawaif tradition itself will only briefly be touched upon.  There will be a brief discussion of their arts, and a small discussion of a few famous tawaifs.  This will be discussed only to the degree necessary to have good grasp of the topic.  But the rise of the institution of the tawaif, the different classes of tawaifs, and their social structures, are beyond the scope of this article.

It should also be noted that there were major differences between the devdasi tradition of South and East India, and the tawaif tradition of the North and North-West.  However, the artistic, social, and cultural, differences seemed to have been totally lost to the zealots that launched and executed the anti-nautch movement.  The artistic and historical contributions of the devdasi tradition were substantial, and their suffering due to this persecution was immense.  This is certainly a very worthy topic for study, but it too, is beyond the scope of this modest series of web pages.

We will try and maintain a focus on the tawaif, but at times this is difficult.  The anti-nautch movement ran willy-nilly through India's complex social fabric, effecting common dance girls (nachwali), devdasis (temple girls), common prostitutes, and a tawaifs alike.  We will continually be pulled outside of the focus of this article in our attempts to track this movement.  Your understanding and indulgence in this matter is solicited.

It is very important to remember two points.  In order for the British to carry out the anti-nautch movement there were two things.  First, there had to be a will to carry out this movement; and second, the British had to have consolidated their control over the Indian subcontinent to the degree that they could actually carry it out.  Therefore, a substantial amount of time will be devoted to these points.

Now that we have a roadmap as to the topics that we will be discussing, we can proceed.

 

Delhi Tawaifs circa 1830

Delhi tawaifs prepairing for a dance (circa 1830)

 

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Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - The Tawaifs - Next Page
Part 3 - Evolution of the Will to End the Tawaifs
Part 4 - Evolution of the Means to End the Tawaifs
Part 5 - The Anti-Nautch Movement
Part 6 - The Passing of the Torch
Part 7 - Affects of the Anti-Nautch Movement on North Indian Music
Part 8 - Epilogue

 

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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at david@chandrakantha.com