From royal patronage to AIDS - it’s Tamasha on downslide

February 18th, 2008 - 1:16 pm ICT by admin  

By Prashant K. Nanda
Ahmednagar (Maharashtra), Feb 18 (IANS) Female artistes performing in Tamasha, a theatre form popular in Maharashtra and once patronised by rulers, were earlier seen as icons of beauty. Today they have difficulty making ends meet and many of them are falling prey to AIDS. “People like us on stage, but consider us as prostitutes away from it. The art form is going down day by day,” said Sangita Andhare, a Tamasha artiste in Ahmednagar, about 300 km from Mumbai.

“Our ancestors were royal entertainers. The Marathas were our patrons but things have changed over the years. Less money, social discrimination and poor health of Tamasha artistes have cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the art,” Andhare, 37, told IANS after a power-packed performance.

Tamasha, said to have originated in the 17th century, had received patronage from the Peshwa rulers. A Tamasha troupe consists of both male and female members. While the men take care of the musical instruments, women sing and dance.

There are two types of Tamasha - theatre-based groups and mobile ones. Women usually head Tamasha theatres.

Kolhati and Dombari tribes practise the art form.

Traditionally, a performance starts with a devotional song followed by a dramatic sequence known as “Gaulan”. Emotional and sensuous songs, called Lavni, are integral to the art form followed by a short play with dialogues.

Meena, a 40-year-old artiste, said: “Many of our members have turned to flesh trade because of money. We earn a maximum of Rs.1,500 a month and it’s really not possible to maintain ourselves and our family with that amount.”

“I have seen many artistes with HIV. And sometimes, we starve because we have no money. Our dance and drama requires physical strength. We are often taken ill,” Meena told IANS.

She cuts a cute figure clad in a red nine-yard sari, ankle bells and jewelry. “The jewelry belongs to my theatre owner and we put them on for performance,” she said, showing her ghoongrus or ankle bells, which weigh over seven kg each.

Prahlad Gothar, a dholki artiste, said half of their earnings go to the theatre owner. “No one wants to see our shows. What will we eat?”

Gothar said there are nearly 50 Tamasha troupes in Maharashtra, mainly in Pune, Ahmedangar, Nasik and Kolhapur.

“The situation is the same everywhere. Hundreds of artistes have contracted AIDS and some are suffering from tuberculosis and malaria. Look at my hands - how long can they sustain pressure?” the dark, thin man said, showing his palms full of wounds.

Alka Jadav, a theatre owner, said: “We don’t get government support and authorities deny us even ration cards. Schools do not admit our children and ask for their father’s name.”

She said women artistes from the Kolhati community do not get married. “It’s humiliating and that is why many children drop out of schools.”

However, a global NGO, Pathfinder International, has brought a ray of hope for them.

“We are working to restore the health of these artistes. We are teaching them the benefits of hygiene, food, nutrition and above all safe sex practices,” said Michele Andina, project director of Pathfinder International.

The organisation has launched the Mukta Project in 59 towns across 10 districts of Maharashtra, reaching out to over 20,000 female sex workers and Tamasha artistes.

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