Decoding the lavani: A symposium in the city will look into the history of the performance art
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Decoding the lavani: A symposium in the city will look into the history of the performance art

The traditional Maharashtrian dance form originated as an expression of femininity, and evolved into an artistic representation of erotica

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Dec 02, 2016 18:29 IST
As told to Poorva Joshi
As told to Poorva Joshi
Hindustan Times
Lavani,HT48Hours,Godrej Culture Lab
The history of lavani reflects the cultural evolution of Maharashtra. (Photo: Sandesh Bhandare )

The house of lavani


The name is inspired by a diwankhaana - a cluster of small rooms for a private lavani performance. This approach to the lavani originated in the 13th century, and was characterised by women sporting a six-yard sari as opposed to the traditional Maharashtrian nine-yard style. It’s accompanied by musicians: the tabla and a harmonium. Although the form no longer exists, another house of lavani - the Sangeet Baari traces its origin to the Diwankhaana.

A lavani performance in progress at Nagpur, Maharashtra. (Photo: Sandesh Bhandare)

Sangeet Baari

Historically, the performances of the Sangeet Baari are characterised by the tradition of daullat jadda - a style of bidding by rich male patrons for female dancers. Lavani dancers were required to perform on a song of their bidder’s choice in a private, intimate theatre setting. This format is predominantly performed in the sitting position, allowing the performer to sing and dance at the same time.


Performed as part of a tamasha (rural folk theatre), this style was often performed by men dressed as women. However, during the 19th century, under the Peshwa rule, the tamasha underwent radical changes and it was opened to women who mainly performed lavanis and mujras (Mughal-inspired female performances). Other acts such as songs on patriotism and religion were reserved for male performers. In this form, performers do not sit and perform. Also, the dancer is not obliged to sing and dance at the same time.

Types of Lavani

Sangeet bari and Lavani in the Dholki-Phad Tamasha have many intersections in the forms that are practiced. Below are a few of them:

Shringarik lavani: The sensual form explicitly describes heterosexual erotica. It has been widely celebrated and even misrepresented in mainstream media. The format has further been experimented in Hindi - Main Kolhapur Se Aayi Hoon from Anjaam (1994) and Pinga from Bajirao Mastani (2015).

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Adhyatmik lavani: A spiritual form, these are composed to invoke the blessings of deities prior to a performance of shringarik lavani. However, these musical compositions are distinct from traditional devotional songs as they often blend in sensuality in the lyrics.

Powada: The male form of expression, performed through ballads of bravery in contrast to the shringarik lavani, which finds its roots in femininity. Most popular powadas are composed in praise of the Peshwas.

Chakkad lavani: A conversational performance, this type of lavani is seen as theatrical dialogue accompanied by dance. It’s a form of lavani that dramatically talks about the two separated lovers and the spatial estrangement that they undergo in a new city.

Chaukachi lavani: Popularly known as bhedik lavani (translated to something that cuts through your heart), this type is short and crisp. It engages spectators intensely through the bold erotic performance of it.

Andharatil lavani: Originating in the 18th century, the name translates to lavani in the dark, suggesting their erotic character. An analysis of the lavanis suggests that they emerged as a mode of constructing the sexuality of women performers who majorly belonged to the lower castes of Maharashtra. Due to its bold commentary on sexual positions, foreplays, and sexual fantasies, this form of lavani was banned from being performed by the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr Balasaheb Kher in the year 1948.

- As told by Sejal Yadav, scholar at Godrej Culture Lab, and PhD candidate at the Centre for Political Studies department at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Be there: Lavani Live will be held on December 3, 11am to 7pm

Where: India Culture Lab, Godrej One, Vikhroli (E)

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First Published: Dec 02, 2016 18:28 IST