I am hosting a FulBright scholar, Megan, who is doing her research from University of Pittsburgh. Her research topic is tawayaf culture. She has rented a whole flat and will stay till June 2010. We discussed a few things about tawayaf culture in Varanasi. I already knew that Lucknow was the most famous place of tawayafs.Varanasi has also been a famous center for tawayafs but according to Megan, it doesn’t exist anymore. I also talked with a few of my friends and relatives and they were telling that there are few places where tawayafs still perform.
Most of the people think that tawayaf is one other name for prostitutes but it is not true. They were highly educated women and and trained in their skills such and dancing, singing, literature and were very well respected in society. My friend Ravi told me that kids of royal families were sent to tawayafs to get training which included behavioural training, gazal writing and few other skills. The place were tawayafs used to live was called kotha and now kotha is also referred as a brothel which is also not true. Kothas were a place for tawayafs to live and perform.
Usually kothas had more than one tawayaf where one, the most senior, was the head. The head of the tawayfs was responsible for training other tawayfas. Usually kothas had a dance performance every evening where anyone was allowed to enter. They had male musicians who played different musical instruments and tawayafs were the one who performed dance. Alcohol was also served to special clients or sometimes to everyone. Sex work was also involved there but it was not like today’s brothels where someone pays Rs. 50 and sleep with the sex workers till he cums.
Tawayafs were expensive and I have heard that they had right to choose whom did they want to sleep with, so it was not like anyone could pay and sleep with them. Usually they had one special client who was very close to the tawayaf and this relationship was also not like a relationship of a sex worker and her client; it was something special. Tawayfs had children also and this special person would act as their father. Tawayafs were called at the palaces also perform and entertain the royal families. Whatever I heard about tawayfs made me feel like tawayafs were accepted and respected in our society but kothas were still a disrespected place.
There is not much information available about tawayafs but I have heard that there are a few places in Varanasi and Lucknow where they still have few kothas which run illegally. Megan’s subject is awesome but she is more interested in prostitutes now because she said that it would not be possible for her to write her thesis on tawayfas because there is not much information available about them. I want to know more about tawayfs and looking at Megan’s thesis if she writes something about them.