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

Part 8 - Epilogue

by David Courtney working tools

epilogue

 




Part 1 - Introduction
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 - This Page

SUMMARY OF TOPICS COVERED EARLIER

The tawaifs were an Indian equivalent of the Japanese geisha. At the end of the 19th century there was a British inspired persecution of dancing girls.  This persecution included the tawaif.  However for there to be an effective persecution, there had to be both a will as well as the means to carry it out.  The will was provided by a combination of Victorian moralistic and political considerations.  The means was provided by the British consolidation of their control over the Indian subcontinent.  The persecutions started in the South and were initially directed at the temple girls, however they quickly spread to the North where the tawaifs became the targets.  During these persecutions, there were serious questions whether the art-forms that the tawaifs specialised in would survive.  As it turned out these arts were embraced by the Indian middle class as part of a cultural renaissance that was sweeping India in the early 20th century.  The art-forms that were under the most pressure during the anti-nautch movement were the kathak dance, and the dadra and thumree styles of singing.

Today the tawaifs are virtually gone.  The word has become redefined so that today, it is applied to a common prostitute.  These prostitutes have nothing in common with the tawaifs of old.

Fortunately, their arts did not die with them; and the way they were saved is full of irony.  By some curious twists of fate, the bourgeoisie who had spearheaded the destruction of the tawaifs, appropriated their arts and carry them on.  Today, dance is an upper middle class phenomenon.  Classical vocal lessons are generally just for the children of the most affluent.  Many of the great grandchildren of the members of the Punjab Purity Association are today learning with great zeal the tabla and sarangi.  Their great grand parents would never have had any social interaction with sarangi or tabla players.  The irony of this is inescapable.

But the irony extends even further.  By the time the anti-nautch movement arose at the end of the 19th century, the tawaifs were already a dying breed.  The goal of eliminating the tawaif was already fait accompli.  Just as a tree that has been cut down will retain foliage for a short time, the tawaif tradition had its roots severed by the time the anti-nautch movement began.  We must not forget that the tawaif tradition had its cultural and economic roots deeply set in the feudal society of Northern India.  This was decimated by a string of annexations by the British in the 19th century.  The tawaifs, separated from their financial support and devoid of a relevant cultural context, could not survive.  They were doomed to extinction whether or not an anti-nautch movement existed.

But in a sense the tawaifs live on.  They live on in everyone who is either Indian or has some connection with Indian music.  Just as a person is defined by their soul and not their body, it is the artistic soul of the tawaif which is still strong, even though their physical presence is virtually gone.

 

 

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Part 1 - Introduction
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

 

© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at [email protected]