MUJRA: THE DANCE OF THE COURTESANS OF HINDUSTAN IN THE BOLLYWOOD INDUSTRY

Apsaras Events present a unique workshop on Semiclassical Bollywood style with Valentina Manduchi and Nathalie Rajawasala, with a unique show and challenge. Let’s discovere what is behind this enchanting and old style of dance.

 

History of Mujra

Mujra is a dance performance by women in a format that emerged during Mughal rule in India, where the elite class and local rulers like the nawabs of the Indian society (often connected to the Mughal emperor’s court) used to frequent courtesans for their entertainment at night. This trend was increasingly evident during the decadent or decline years of the Mughal empire.

Background and history

It combines elements of the native classical Kathak dance with native music including thumris and ghazals. It also includes poems from other Mughal periods like the emperors from Akbar to Bahadur Shah Zafar‘s ruling periods. Mujra was traditionally performed at mehfils and in special houses called kothas. During Mughal rule in the subcontinent, in places such as DelhiLucknowJaipur, the tradition of performing mujra was a family art and often passed down from mother to daughter.

These courtesans or tawaifs had some power and prestige due to their access to the elite class and some of them came to be known as authorities on culture. Some noble families would send their sons to them to learn etiquette (tameez) and the art of conversation from them. They were sometimes called Nautch girls which included dancers, singers and playmates of their patron nawabs.

 

In LahoreMughal empire‘s Heera Mandi neighbourhood, the profession was a cross between art and exotic dance, with the performers often serving as courtesans amongst Mughal royalty or wealthy patrons. “The wealthy even sent their sons to the salons of tawaifs, high-class courtesans that have been likened to Japanese geishas, to study etiquette.”

As a musical genre, mujras historically reconstruct an aesthetic culture of sixteenth-to-nineteenth-century South Asia in which heightened musical and dance entertainment afforded a medium for exchange between one woman and many men — what ethnomusicologist Regula Qureshi calls, “an asymmetry of power that is tempered with gentility.”

Present day

Modern Mujra dancers perform at events like weddings, birthday and bachelor parties in countries where traditional Mughal culture is prevalent, such as India. To a lesser extent, dancers in India often perform a modern form of mujra along with popular local music.

The Mujra performance, were not an exclusive of muslim courts or kings, we do have mujras in the folk dances of Maharastra like the lavani dance or in Marwari cuourt of Rajasthan for examples.

In 2005, when dance bars were closed across Maharashtra state, many former bar girls moved to ‘Congress House’ near Kennedy Bridge on Grant Road area in Mumbai, the city’s oldest hub for mujra, and started performing mujra there. The women are trained in mujra in Agra of India and Lahore and Karachi of Pakistan. Dawn newspaper, Karachi, describes Lahore‘s Heera Mandi area as, “Pakistan’s oldest red light district was for centuries, a hub of traditional erotic dancers, musicians and prostitutes.”

In many areas of the Indian subcontinent, they are called by different names – for example they are called tawaifs in North India and Pakistan (in Hindi and Urdu-speaking areas), devadasis in South India and baijis in Bengal.

Most women hope for an international dance career or South Asian dance career at a film studio.

Mujra in the Marathi and Hindi-Urdu languages means:

  • Payment of respects
  • Musical performance by a dancing-girl
  • To salute deferentially

In popular culture

Mujra has been depicted in Bollywood films like Pakeezah (1972), Umrao Jaan (1981), Zindagi Ya Toofan (1958) and Devdas (1955), or in other films that show the past Mughal rule and its culture. The dance is upscaled and taught with more dance choreography to make the female dancer more fluent in her moves and to be more artistic and feminine. The women are usually the center of the public eye and can dance and entertain the audience for a long time. Check this documentary on their role in hindi cinema.

In Pakistan’s Lollywood films like Anjuman (1970), one can see many mujra dances being performed before the movie is over while in Pakistani dramas such as Deewar-e-Shab (2019) and Umrao Jan Ada (2003), there were also several Mujra performances.

 

On 24th April from 4pm to 6 pm italian based dancers trained in kathak, will offer an exicting Semiclassical Workshop on Mujra, alongside a competition. Discover how to book and be part of the #mujrachallenge! Let you self immerse in the magic of the good old Mughal days, and dance like a tawaif!

INFO AND COSTS 

info@apsarasevents.com

Valentina : 00393202930720

Natalie : 00393408885275

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