THE COURTESAN PROJECT
Celebrating the Women Performers, the Tawaifs and the Baijis of North India
The concert series relives the magic of The Courtesan. Manjari Chaturvedi has taken her obsession with classical dance and turned it into more than expression: in her hands, it is cultural renaissance and syncretism; narrative form and dialogue. Nothing is more evocative of this than “The Courtesan Project”, a unique research and documentation exercise via which Manjari seeks to chronicle the historically remarkable role of the ‘tawaif’ ( women performers) in artistic life: as muse to poets and painters, writers and kings, musicians and leaders. And in so doing, she seeks to claim for these maligned women the reverence due to them for their learning and their performance art; their intelligence and wit; their talent and raw sensual power. This project is a medium to draw the attention of the society towards our erstwhile courtesans and how discriminatory practices impacted NOT only their life but also of their families. Thus, advocating and creating much required space for them as an “artist” in the society through cultural activism and social change. The well‐researched cultural production dedicated to the performing art of the Courtesan brings to the forefront the art through both Information, Communication & Technology and the live performance. This is an exhaustive research as it brings alive dance and stories of women who were stigmatised by the society for being performers of both music and dance and in an unfortunate society ridden by gender discrimination. These women were not even part of the documentation history of the performing arts. Any study on history of arts will be incomplete without a reference to the Courtesan who was the muse for poets, painters, musicians, and the creative thought at large. Their poetry, with the interlacing of Persian and Awadhi language influence touched the soul, their music – ghazals, dadra and thumri gayaki where each note resonated the singer’s emotions and never failed to captivate the audience, and their dance, with delicate movements and expressions, manifesting the poetry through the language of the body ‐ all lost along the pages of history. The Courtesans too have all faded. A few compositions that have managed to endure bear testimony to the sheer timelessness and allure of those words and music. Manjari performs this production wherein she recreates the dance of these incredible women performers, the royal performers of the erstwhile courts and relive and recreate a bygone era.
Manjari Chaturvedi is dedicated to work towards removing social stigmas associated with courtesans and thereby giving them much deserved respect and place as artists par excellence.