Maharashtra, southern parts of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are home to Lavani’s folk flavour and allure. Derived from the word Lavanya, meaning beauty, or the Marathi word Lavane, which means arrangement, Lavani has further classifications. Shringari Lavani, one of the famous forms, is based on themes of love, enticement, longing and separation. In this, it is usually the female dancer who sings the song whose lyrics are composed by a male poet. Nirguni Lavani is the philosophical or devotional style. There are several noted poets who pen lyrics for Lavani.
Dholak and other musical instruments creating folk music lend support to the lead dancer or a set of dancers who take centre stage, sometimes accompanied by male artistes (known as nat). Merging with the music, dancers also sing to enact themes. Graceful movements of waist, hip and hand and feet, including gyrations, encompass most of Lavani’s dancing techniques. Through the free flow of expressions, subtle and sometimes obvious display of sensuality, the dancer exhibits her charm and influence.
Dressed in an overly-long sari —nawari — a Lavani performing artiste spellbinds her audience with powerful rhythm and pace. Accessories accentuating the dancer’s features and silhouette all contribute to the sultry final performance. Flowers adorning her hair, jewellery for her hands, neck, ears, nose, waist, and ghungroos strapped to her ankles bring forth an elaborate overall look.
The journey of Lavani has been a long one, from the time when it was used to buoy Maratha warriors during wars to the time when it spread to other parts of the region becoming a source of livelihood for a certain set of performers and entertainment for the public. Most of the traditional artistes performed (and still perform) only to male audiences. And Lavani, in its rawest form, was not seen by women or respectable men, because of which they had to live separately.
Over a period of time, this form found representation in Hindi and Marathi films, where it continued to serve entertainment. This folk culture merged with the mainstream, and rawness gave way to finesse and the art found some acceptance and much popularity. Beautiful Indian actresses like Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukherjee, Vidya Balan and Sonali Kulkarni, through the medium of cinema and television; and conventional Lavani dancers, through theatres (part of tamasha groups), all contributed to the admiration Lavani garnered.
Old and new
Traditional Lavani varies from the newer stylistic Lavani, but nuances of the original, earthy style combined with grounded refinement and semblance do still accompany these evolved renderings. Songs like Apsara Aali and Vajle ki Bara from the Marathi film Natrang are formal, polished and form the adapted versions of ‘derived-from-traditions Lavani’. The song Mala jau de is one such modernised style that still retains the old-school spirit.
Lavani altogether isn’t just about dance; the songs, their lyrics, the singing voice of the dancer, accompanying musicians, and the social messages some forms of Lavani wish to spread, instead of purely suggestive motives, make it world-centric.
Scores of artistes and songs based on Lavani continue to keep this art alive and present the influences of rustic India to the world. These song and dance routines, set to myriad ensembles, hold their audiences captive through enigmatic and musical portrayals of poetic narratives. Lavani is true to the name it has been given, as it flows in sublimity, while the dancers and other artists perform, and the audiences applaud.