dancing into oblivion

Beyond the stereotypical “vulgar song and dance,” “fun and play,” “bawdy lavani (folk song) performance,” and the “rural disorderly spectacle,” tamasha (travelling folk theatre), the significant performance art of Maharashtra, is best understood through the analytical matrix of caste and class inequities, mobility, migration, and everyday survival. The Dalit tamasha legend, Vithabai Narayangavkar sang a famous Lavani in the 1960s:

laaj dhara pavana janachi manachi
potasathi nachatey mee parva kunachi
dava dola jhakun khunavu naka ho asa tumhi hinavu naka
aathavan dete mee tarnya panachi
potasathi nachatey mee parva kunachi

(O guest, be respectful of others as well as of yourself. 

I dance to feed myself, do hell with what society thinks of me

Do not wink at me, Do not make lewd gestures.

I provide you with the nostalgia of youth

I dance to feed myself, do hell with what society thinks of me)

Tamashgirs (artiste, also troupe leader) like Vithabai and her daughter Mangalatai (this series features performers from her troupe) interpreted their stigmatised lives in tamasha as a ritual of “rough music” and cruelty, and sharply ridiculed the mixed upper-and-lower-caste male audience. Moreover, both women productively used their practice of popular song and dance to express their social and economic anxieties, turmoils of tamasha labour, life and livelihood, as well as to record their resistance and resilience against private and public patriarchy.