Bhavai

Definition

Theater

  • A type of bawdy and satirical rural theater formerly popularin western India. Its emphasis on humour makes it unique in the traditionalIndian theater. The stories depict the vices and virtues of varioustypes in village society but usually centre on figures from historyor Hindu mythology. The genre has been introduced to cities by urbantroupes who have successfully adapted its social and political satire,but the rural form now barely survives.

    According to legend, Bhavai was created by the Brahminpriest Asaita Thakar in the 14th century. He was excommunicated fordining with a young Hindu woman; her Muslim captor, knowing this wasforbidden, had agreed to release her only if such a meal took place.Asaita then turned to song and dance, forming the bhaviyas,the first strolling players in Gujarat, who still perform the Bhavaiby hereditary right.

    The plays are performed at religious festivals, especiallyNavaratri, the festival of Bahucharaji, the patroness of Bhavaiactors. Performances are held in a temple courtyard or adjacent street.A torch is lit to symbolize the presence of the goddess and the performancebegins with music featuring Bhavai's unique bhungals, or copper pipes. In the preliminaries, dances are performed by actors dressed as the elephant-headed god Ganapatri, the goddess Kali, and a grotesque Brahmin priestwho speaks obscenities and dances with clumsy movements. The regular drama follows.

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