Collections: Ami Dilip Ahalpara - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Bhavai Performance in Gujarat, India (2006-2007)

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Wedding of Raam and Seeta—an episode from Ramayana, enacted by Avadichya Brahmins during their annual Bhavai ritual in the Jadeshwar temple courtyard. Paladi, Gujarat, India, 2006. Image © Ami Dilip Ahalpara.

This footage consists of various Bhavai performances recorded in the region of North-Gujarat, India in 2006-2007.

It is believed that Bhavai was invented in the late 15th century in rural Gujarat by a scholar named Asiat Thakar in order to educate the villagers about various improper social practices prevalent in those times. It soon became a powerful medium for social satire.

However over the course of 500 years, Bhavai has lost its popularity and has now become ritualistic in nature. Some Bhavaiyas (Bhavai performers) now believe that it is their responsibility to preserve this art form and therefore they perform in temples at least once a year on an auspicious day. On the other hand there are also Bhavaiyas who perform to make a living. Such performances are held in village squares and chiefly serve the purpose of entertainment.

The compilation includes both ritualistic and commercial performances and focuses on the following elements of Bhavai that have survived while its original form and intent are essentially lost:

  • Spectacle: Bhavai is a spectacular event providing the audience a reason to rejoice. The use of loud music, extravagant costumes and makeup, songs and dance, make Bhavai an enticing spectacle.

  • Impersonation: Historically right from the earlier days of Bhavai, women could never act because of the orthodox beliefs of the society. Moreover public humor and loud physical gestures which have always been a male domain are employed in most Bhavai plays. So men played the part of women. And the trend continues even today.

  • Farce: most plays have mockery as their chief motive. Use of slang and physical comedy is common in most Bhavai plays.

  • Interactivity: Bhavai is also a theatre-in-the-round. In the absence of a stage (which is the case most of the times), the audience is not separated from the actors. The spectators can voice in their opinions anytime and it may even alter the course of the play.

  • Social satire: most plays are satirical, strongly ridiculing the orthodox society.

  • Sutradhaar: all Bhavai plays are woven together by the periodic intervention of a character that is usually comic. His role is to summarize the previous play and to introduce the play to follow.

  • Stock characters: the stock characters in most Bhavai plays are a hero – charming, fearless, quick-witted; a buffoon – hero's accomplice, a jester making most of the subtle ridicule; the culprit – one who is ridiculed (or ridicules himself).

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © Ami Dilip Ahalpara

Ami Dilip Ahalpara graduated from DA-IICT, Gandhinagar in 2007 with a Master of Design, Multimedia and was awarded the prestigious President's Gold Medal by the University.

Her dissertation project was centered on the premise that in the present days of modernization and globalization, no tradition can remain in isolation retaining its purest form for a sufficiently long time. Changes as per the forces from within the society are inevitable. She demonstrated this with the example of Bhavai, a folk tradition from rural Gujarat, India. During her field trips, she recorded several rare Bhavai performances which exhibit the spirit of unrelenting performers and the evolved folk tradition.

She greatly enjoys film making and developing interactive multimedia applications. She is currently designing applications for Optical Character recognition in Bergen, Norway.

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