Tamasha is a form of Marathi theatre that is accompanied by a lot of singing and dancing. The word has its origins in the Persian language where it means a show or a theatrical performance. In its Marathi equivalent, it means fun or play. It is usually performed by local or travelling theatre groups across Maharashtra. The traditional form of Tamasha has been highly influenced by various Indian forms of song and dance such as Kaveli, Kathak, Ghazals, Lalit and Kirtan. It is also believed that this dance form has been derived from the ancient forms of Sanskrit drama – Prahsana and Bhana. There are two main branches of Tamasha – Dholki Bhaari and Sangeet Bhaari. The latter involves a lot more music and drama in comparison to drama. In addition, there are many other forms of this dance like Dashavatara, Pawada and Gavalana. The Mahar and Kolhati groups in Maharashtra are known to perform Tamasha. Today, there are around 10,000 artists and over 450 dance troupes who are involved in its performance. This form of satirical theatre makes fun of almost anyone, be they saints or politicians. 

History of Tamasha

The history of the Tamasha dance can be traced back to the 16th century when it was believed to have originated as an entertainment form for the Mughal troops deployed in the Deccan Plateau. Later in 18th century, it acquired a distinct form during the late Peshwa period of the Maratha Empire. With the development of the textile industry in Bombay during the 19th century, a lot of people migrated to the city from the rural areas in search of employment. Accompanying them were the rural Tamasha groups too. Soon a number of local theatre groups too came into existence that enjoyed the patronage of the mill workers living in Girgaum. The performers generally belonged to the lower castes like Kolhati, Mang, Mahar and Bhatu. The religious reformers of the late 19th century used Tamasha as a way to criticize the existing caste system.

Performance and Costumes

Typically, the main elements of Tamasha include garish dances, loud humor and suggestive lyrics. Its performance does not require any kind of a special setting or stage and it begins with the entry of the musicians. Usually, two percussionists known as a dholkiwala and a halgiwala enter the scene. They both contribute to the musical background of the performance and announce the beginning of the show. They are then joined by two more musicians, a manjriwala and a tuntune player. Finally, the lead singer takes his place on the stage.

Once all the performers have taken their places on the stage, a song or Gana invoking Lord Ganesha is sung. This is followed by the Gavalana which is equivalent to the Krishnalila describing the different episodes in Lord Krishna’s life. Tamasha also involves a lot of acrobatics that is contributed by the female performers. The acrobatics have strong resemblances to other Maharashtrian dance forms. The Yaman, Bhairavi and Pilu are the popular ragas used in the musical score accompanying the dance. This highly charged performance finally ends on a moral note speaking about the victory of the good over the bad. A ritual that is similar to an Aarti concludes the performance.

There are no special costumes used in Tamasha. The attire worn by the performers known as Gammat, Phada etc depict the day-to-day wear of the various communities in Maharashtra.

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