Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bhavai in Vadodara


In Gujarat's villages folk theatre is still one of the most effective ways of communicating with a mass audience. I attended a folk theatre workshop organized by UNICEF and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan at Kelanpur village near Vadodara yesterday. This was my first chance to catch Bhavai and Daira performances. The idea of the workshop was to get more rural youth to learn these traditional art forms so that they would convey to the community at large messages on girls' education, prevention of child marriages and prevention of child labour. It also gave me a chance to interact with young men (even the women's roles in Bhavai are performed by men) from far-flung villages in Kutch, Banaskantha, Patan, Bhavnagar and Vadodara districts of Gujarat. I was particularly surprised when a young man, Adil, from a village near Mandvi in Kutch walked up to me and told me that he had seen me in Roadies on MTV. I told him it wasn't me. He wasn't ready to believe that. He then asked me if I was on Facebook! Soon, I had 10 young men surrounding me eager to talk to me about themselves and maybe even willing to invite me as their Friend on Facebook. I lied to Adil. I told him that I would join Facebook soon. "You haven't joined yet?" He was shocked!

Performers from Jagruti Bhavai Mandal, Patan dance to the rythm of the cymbals and pakhawaj. Bhavai is believed to have originated in the 14th Century.Veshas or Bhavai plays are also known as swang. In one of his long poems Asait, one of the most well known vesha writers, dates his composition as AD 1360. Asait wrote about 360 plays, out of which some 60 have survived.

A man plays the four-feet-long Bhungal at the start of a performance. Other instruments commonly used are pakhawaj, tabla, jhanjha (cymbals) and harmonium

Ta thei ya thei ya ta thei,
Ta thei ya thei ya ta thei!

Women singers as part of a group that performs Daira.

Sharma is a third-year college student in Vadodara. Bhavai is an art form he loves.

The men have to do their own dress selection and make-up.

Mixing entertainment with awareness, Bhavai is an important tool of mass media in rural Gujarat.  Each performance lasts up to 40 minutes. The end of the performance makes way for discussion among the community members and leaders about the issues that have been raised through the performance. It is one of the best ways to get the community together to talk about their problems.


More about Bhavai in India Guide's book, Gujarat:

"One of the most popular forms of theater in Gujarat is Bhavai, which is said to have been started by Asait Thakar, a Brahmin from Mahesana. Ostracized by his community, he used his poetic inclination and the support of his three sons to introduce this folk form that mixes dance, song and drama. It was traditionally performed in the village square and was characterized by farce and satire aimed at certain sections of society. The word Bhavai is derived from the Sanskrit root, bhava, which means expression. A typical performance begins with a prayer to the Mother Goddess. Characters known as Rangli and Ranglo introduce the theme and add continuity throughout the performance. Instruments such as the harmonium, sarangi (an Indian stringed instrument), pakhawaj (the two faced horizontal drum) and jhanjh (cymbals) accompany the play. Dialogues were originally in verse and often sung by the actors. Female roles were played by men in the earlier days of Bhavai. Each episode of a Bhavai is called vesh. Only 60 of the 360 vesh that Asait Thakar wrote survive. Some troupes still perform Bhavai while the contemporary street plays, enacted by social activists, have evolved from the Bhavai format."

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