Mujra is a dance performance by females in a format that emerged in South Asia during the Mughal empire, where the elite class and local rulers like the (nawabs of the Indian society, often connected to the Mughal emperor's court) used to frequent courtesans for their entertainment at night. This trend was increasingly evident during the decadent or decline years of the Mughal empire.
Background and history
It combines elements of the native classical Kathak dance with native music including thumris and ghazals. It also includes poems from other Mughal periods like the emperors from Akbar to Bahadur Shah Zafar's ruling periods. Mujra was traditionally performed at mehfils and in special houses called kothas. During Mughal rule in the subcontinent, in places such as Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur, the tradition of performing mujra was a family art and often passed down from mother to daughter. These coutesans or tawaifs had some power and prestige due to their access to the elite class and some of them came to be known as authorities on culture. Some noble families would send their sons to them to learn etiquette (tehzeeb) and the art of conversation from them. They were sometimes called Nautch Girls of India which included dancers, singers and playmates of their patron nawabs.
In Lahore, Mughal empire's Heera Mandi neighbourhood, the profession was a cross between art and exotic dance, with the performers often serving as courtesans amongst Mughal royalty or wealthy patrons. "The wealthy even sent their sons to the salons of tawaifs, high-class courtesans that have been likened to Japanese geishas, to study etiquette."
As a musical genre, mujras historically reconstruct an aesthetic culture of sixteenth-to-nineteenth-century South Asia in which heightened musical and dance entertainment afforded a medium for exchange between one woman and many men — what ethnomusicologist Regula Qureshi calls, "an asymmetry of power that is tempered with gentility."
Modern Mujra dancers perform at events like weddings, birthday and bachelor parties in countries where traditional Mughal culture is prevalent, such as India and Pakistan. To a lesser extent, dancers in India and Pakistan often perform a modern form of mujra along with popular local music.
Bollywood and Lollywood
Mujra has been depicted in Bollywood films like Pakeezah (1972 film), Umrao Jaan (1981 film), Zindagi Ya Toofan (1958) and Devdas (1955 film), or in other films that show the past Mughal rule and its culture. The dance is upscaled and taught with more dance choreography to make the female dancer more fluent in her moves and to be more artistic and feminine. The women are usually the center of the public eye and can dance and entertain the audience for a long time.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
In 2005, when dance bars were closed across Maharashtra state, many former bar girls moved to 'Congress House' near Kennedy Bridge on Grant Road area in Mumbai, the city's oldest hub for mujra, and started performing mujra there. The women are trained in mujra in Agra, India and Lahore, and Karachi of Pakistan. Dawn newspaper, Karachi, describes Lahore's Heera Mandi area as, "Pakistan's oldest red light district was for centuries, a hub of traditional erotic dancers, musicians and prostitutes."
In many areas of the Indian subcontinent, they are called by different names – for example they are called tawaifs in North India and Pakistan (in Hindi and Urdu-speaking areas), devadasis in South India and baijis in Bengal.
Most women hope for an international dance career or South Asian dance career at a film studio.
Mujra in the Marathi and Hindi/Urdu languages means:
- Payment of respects
- Musical performance by a dancing-girl
- To salute deferentially
- Dance bar (India)
- Heera Mandi (also called Shahi Mohallah or Red Light District in Lahore, Pakistan)
- Martha Feldman, Bonnie Gordon. The courtesan's arts: cross-cultural perspectives. pp. 312–352.
- Soumya Rao (15 May 2019). "Mughal-era courtesans are the unsung heroes of India's freedom struggle". Quartz India website. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
- Sanjoy Hazarika (6 October 1985). "THE RICHES OF MOGUL INDIA BRING A DYNASTY TO LIFE". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
- 'How Facebook is killing Lahore's Heera Mandi' on Dawn (newspaper) Published 23 August 2016, Retrieved 2 October 2019
- John Caldwell, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, , Southeast Review of Asian Studies Volume 32 (2010), pp. 120-8, Retrieved 2 February 2017
- Watch 'Mujra dance' being performed in Pakistani film Anjuman (1970 film) on YouTube Retrieved 2 October 2019
- Film 'Umrao Jaan' (1981 film) with many 'Mujra dances' on IMDb website
- Of Pakistani weddings and vulgar mujras on The Express Tribune (newspaper)
- The Bollywood Mujra Primer on Outlook (India magazine)
- Bipasha's next: A mujra song in 'Shootout at Wadala' on India Today (newspaper)
- 'Inhi logon ne le leena': 'Uncertain' history of song that defined Bollywood Mujras - What is the driving force behind our obsession with the story of a courtesan with a heart of gold? on Daily Pakistan Global (newspaper)