Lavani is a traditional dance form of Maharashtra with a rich heritage of several centuries. Lavani necessarily involves direct interaction of the artists with the audience. The artist communicates with the audience through her singing, abhinaya, and dance. The dominant rasa (elements) in Lavani are Shringar (eroticism) and Hasya (humor). Although Lavani is gaining popularity since the last few years, its portrayal in popular media is limited to being just a traditional item number. The rich heritage of Lavani is slowly dying and will soon be completely forgotten. The text and performance of these traditional numbers are quite contemporary, which deals with women’s sexuality in a direct, unabashed, graceful way.
Most women, who start dancing in Sangeet Bari Kala Kendras (traditional Lavani theaters), belong to nomadic tribes such as Bhatu Kolhati, Dombari, and Kalwaat. The women of these communities have been performing Lavani for centuries. The girls are initiated in this profession at a very young age. The initiation is conducted by tying of ghungroo and after this, they are not allowed to get married. They are expected to be under the patronage of a man whom they call Malak (husband). This man is expected to take care of all their needs, but in most cases this patronage is superficial and women are left to fend for themselves. There are many women who rose above all the difficulties and social stigma and became award-winning dancers viz. Padmashree Yamunabai Waikar, Roshan Satarkar, Laxmibai Kolhapurkar, Shakuntalabai Nagarkar, etc.
We were introduced to this hidden world of Lavani dancers nearly 10 years ago and it fascinated us. We traveled extensively to various Sangeet Bari Theaters across Maharashtra and were able to meet the Lavani women and observe their lives closely. Our first venture with Lavani was the documentary film in 2008 called ‘Natale Tumchya Saathi- behind the adorned veil’. With the wealth of these amazing life stories, came the critically acclaimed book ‘Sangeet Bari’ in Marathi, published by Rajhans Prakashan in 2014. The book and the film focus on the lives of these women and attempt to portray them as artists and human beings unlike the popular image of a seductress or victims.
Sangeet Bari is a theatre production that combines multiple narratives such as the Lavani woman, the musicians, the customer, and the researcher/narrator. It also includes live Lavani performances of old traditional Lavani which are either unknown or forgotten. This is our humble attempt at creating a platform for the Lavani woman to tell us her story.
Sangeet Bari has been extensively performed in Mumbai, Pune and various venues in Maharashtra. It was also performed in Bharat Ranga Mahotsav at NSD Delhi in February 2016, NCPA Ananda Hindi Theatre Festival in May 2017 and NCPA Pratibimb Marathi Theatre Festival in August 2017, Remembering Veena Pani Festival, Adishakti, apart from regular shows at various venues in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Ratnagiri, and Belgaum.