E-210 - Tehzeeb-e-Tawaif: A Symposium on Courtesan Culture and Women Performers in India

E-210 - Tehzeeb-e-Tawaif: A Symposium on Courtesan Culture and Women Performers in India
Tehzeeb-e-Tawaif: A Symposium on Courtesan Culture and Women Performers in India


Saturday, April 27 2019

11: 00 AM – 5:30 PM – Symposium Sessions


Royal Opera House,

Mama Parmanand Marg,

Mumbai – 400 004




Manjari Chaturvedi

A. N. Sharma, Kushal Gopalka, 

Dr. Lata Singh, Veejay Sai,

Sanghamitra Sarker, 

Veena Talwar, Yatindra Mishra,

Shubha Mudgal, Manjula Shirodkar,

Malavika Sangghvi 




Tawaifs and Baijis were once considered the epitome of performance art. Journey back into India’s performative past with a unique event that brings the magic, the mannerismsand mujras of the Tawaif back to life! Sufi Kathak Foundation and Avid Learning present an illuminating day-long Symposium exploring the role and significance of women artistes and how they irrevocably influenced dance and musical legacies of the Indian Tradition. Conceptualised by Kathak Dancer and Founder of the Sufi Kathak Foundation Manjari Chaturvedi this symposium will be divided into sessions that re-tell stories, reaffirm histories and address issues related to these exemplary performers.

  • Manjari Chaturvedi.jpg

    Manjari Chaturvedi is a Classical Dancer, Director, Choreographer, Ted X Speaker and Cultural Academic. Among the 300 concerts that she has performed in 20 years, a few prestigious venues include the Symphony Space, New York City, Judith Wright Center For Performing Arts – Brisbane, Sydney Opera House, Australia, National Gallery Of Victoria, Australia, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi and Parliament House, New Delhi. She is the leading exponent of classical dance in India. Her productions as a dancer are projects that are meticulously researched and documented; it includes gender sensitive subjects that through her medium of dance, explores the many traditions woven into poetry and music. Under the banner of the Sufi Kathak Foundation she supports similar research and encourages marginal artists to participate in dissemination of their art. She has been the part of the Sufi Symposium at the prestigious Smithsonian Museum Washington D.C. and of the conference on Living heritage by UNESCO and is the Jury and member of “Think Tank on Asian dance” for the prestigious Asian Dance Committee in Korea.


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    Shri A. N. Sharma, I.R.S., Ex-Principal Commissioner of Customs, Mumbai is a known Archivist and Historian of Early Recorded Sound’s History of the Indian sub-continent. He has devoted 30 long years of his life in discovering and documenting early sound discs including rarest of the rare Brown Wax cylinders of the Indian Sub- continent. He is credited to have re-written the history of this esoteric field of our cultural heritage by discovering and documenting the lost voices of Ustad Allahdia Khan; Dada Saheb Phalke; Bhaurao Kolhatkar; Pandit V.D. Paluskar and Pandit Bhaskar Bua Bakhale, all recorded on Brown Wax Cylinders. He is equally admired for discovering Indian sub-continent’s oldest and earliest voice recordings of 1899 in the form of ‘Abha Cylinders’. His two books titled as ‘Bajanaama’ and ‘The Wonder That Was The Cylinder’ are internationally acclaimed seminal works of this field. His talk will primarily centre around recently discovered non- commercial sound recordings on brown wax cylinders entwined with history of early commercial sound recording era of the Indian Sub- continent (1899-1910), with a special emphasis on recordings of nautch-girls of early India.

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    Kushal Gopalka is a Dhrupad singer, Archivist of Indian music, music historian and researcher based in Mumbai. Pertaining to Indian music, he has curated exhibitions and permanent displays, lent research and archival audio and video material for making films, made documentary films, conceptualized and presented live thematic shows (over 250), produced and organized festivals of classical music, interviewed music makers, edited a newsletter (for 7 years), extensively written articles and essays, very closely interacted with musicians and music directors, etc. Kushal hosts his own ongoing monthly musical show at the Indian National Theatre- Aditya Birla Centre for Research and an annual seminar on Cinema music. He has recently produced an LP record featuring the great singer- Zohra Bai of Agra. All his passion and hectic musical activities are supported by his chemical business and encouraging family.

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    Dr. Lata Singh is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Social Science, JNU. Her expertise in women’s studies is a multifaceted one which looks at women subjects through the lens of colonialism and nationalism in India, gender binaries, women’s movements and cultural and performance studies. Her interest in women performers in public spaces has been documented as ‘Courtesans and the 1857 Rebellion: The Role of Azeezun in Kanpur’ in Biswamoy Pati, ed. book, The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India: Exploring Transgressions, Contests and Diversities, Routledge, 2010, and ‘Retrieving Voices from the Margins: The Courtesans and the Nation’s Narrative’ in Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1 that directly concern itself with nautch performers. And other works like ‘The Women Performers as Subjects in Popular Theatres: Tamasha and Nautanki’, ‘Modern Theatre as Epitome of Middle Class Civilized Culture: Scripting of Stage Actresses as ‘Prostitutes’ and ‘Fallen’ Women’ that highlight stigmatisation of women performers in theatre.

  • Malavika Sangghvi 11.jpg

    Malavika Sangghvi is a journalist, editor, author and columnist with three decades experience in media. She has edited newspapers like The Sunday Review - and written for respected international journals like the New York Times and the Sunday Times, (UK). She has been regarded as a pioneer in lifestyle journalism and content creation. She has also worked as a broadcaster for BBC Radio and a TV anchor on Star TV and is a published poet and author of two books. Sangghvi currently writes a popular daily city diary column 'Malavika's Mumbai' in Mid-day and 'Woman of Letters' in DNA. She has recently co-founded a luxury and lifestyle consultancy 'SANGUINE' which curates bespoke events and which will launch an upscale digital content and e-commerce platform shortly.

  • Manjula Shirodkar.jpg

    Manjula Shirodkar nee Negi is a published author and film critic who has served print journalism for over two decades. A post-graduate in English Literature from Delhi University, Manjulaa has worked with national newspapers and magazines including as Asst. Editor with Hindustan Times; Senior Editor with the Times of India and News Editor, Deccan Herald. She has penned a biography of the Urdu litterateur Ismat Chughtai A Fearless Voice (Rupa & Co) and her articles, features, book and film reviews and interviews with celebrities have been published in the Asian Age, the Hindu, the Pioneer, the Open Magazine, Good Housekeeping and The Little Magazine. She has been Managing Director, Woodpecker International Film Festival and a Contributing Editor at thehoot.org. She has also worked as Consultant with Osian’s Cinefan International Film Festival. As film correspondent she has covered national and International film festivals – including the International Film Festival of India, Mumbai International Film Festival and the world’s largest Animation Film Festival, Annecy, France over the years. Manjulaa has also been on the Film Selection Committee of Jagran Film Festival – India’s biggest film festival. She is also serving as (Hony) Director at the Indian Film Institute, New Delhi. Manjula has recently set up her own company Words Worth Enterprises, a start-up which is into research and documentation of Indian cinema.

  • Shubha Mudgal.jpg

    Born into a musically-dedicated family, Shubha Mudgal has been trained by some of the finest musicians and musicologists in India. Trained by eminent scholar-musician-composer Pandit Ramashreya Jha ‘Ramrang’, she also received guidance from Pandit Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya and Pandit Vasant Thakar. She later learnt stylistic techniques from maestros Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki and Pandit Kumar Gandharva. She also received training in thumri from Smt. Naina Devi and is thus a versatile and popular performer. In addition to being a performer, Shubha Mudgal is also recognised as a composer. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Padma Shri in 2000, and the Gold Plaque Award for Special Achievement in Music at the 34th Chicago International Film Festival, 1998, and the Yash Bharati Samman from the Government of Uttar Pradesh in 2015. She has also been closely involved with several projects related to music education in India. Formerly a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education constituted by the Government of India, Shubha also chaired a focus group discussing the need for introducing an arts education program in mainstream school education during the National Curriculum Framework 2005. Shubha Mudgal was also a Nana Shirgaokar Visiting Research Professor for traditional music at Goa University.

  • Veejay Sai portrait.jpg

    Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor, translator and a culture critic. He has written and published extensively on Indian classical music, classical dance, theatre, Indic studies, food, and travel. He loves documenting the cultural history of India through the lens of performing arts. He has held editorial designations in several newspapers and magazines in the past two decades. He also helps curate several festivals of Indian classical performing arts. His first book ‘Drama Queens: Women Who Created History On Stage’ was published by Roli Books in 2017. He lives in New Delhi.

  • Teena Talwar.jpg

    Dr. Veena Talwar Oldenburg was born and grew up in Lucknow where she attended La Martiniere Girls School. Her Ph.D. (1980) was to become the own classic book, The Making of Colonial Lucknow from Princeton University Press and is part of the Lucknow Omnibus published by Oxford University Press. She became a professor of History in the US teaching at Sarah Lawrence College and the City University of New York. Her latest book is Gurgaon: From Mythic Village to Millennium City. Her influential work on the courtesans of Lucknow which has been anthologised in several collected volumes including her own edited work, Shaam-i-Awadh: Writings on Lucknow (Penguin, 2007) and accounts for her presence at this conference.

  • Yatindra Mishra.jpg (1)

    Yatindra Mishra is a celebrated Hindi Poet, Music and Cinema scholar. He has four collections of Hindi poetry, several well-received books on Indian Classical Music & Cinema and some translations. His book ‘Lata: Sur-Gatha’ won total of Six Awards in 2017 including the prestigious 64th National Film Award for Best Writing on Cinema (Swarna Kamal) and MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Award for Best Writing on Cinema, Mumbai, 2016-17. His latest book released in January, 2019 Akhtari: Soz aur Saaz ka Afsana, is based on the Life, Times, and Music of Akhtari Bai Faizabadi Aka Begum Akhtar. He is currently working on a book on eminent Lyricist, Poet and Film Maker Gulzar Saheb.


  • Sanghamitra Sarker.JPG

    Dr. Sanghamitra Sarker is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science of Surendranath College for Women, University of Calcutta. She is intensely involved in researching political sociology of North East India. As a media person she has written several articles in newspapers and journals. She is a regular empanel expert in Television News Channel. Her extensive interest in research led her to direct a documentary feature Anewesha on the Indian classical music and dance and their yesteryear women performers or the nautch girls in the city Kolkata. She won international accolades for this documentary feature in various national and international film festivals. Her debut documentary film Anwesha also entered the Asia Pacific Film Festival Berlina in league with other documentaries.