Welcome to Courtesans of India!

This website aims to deepen and enrich understandings devadasis and tawaifs (jointly represented as “courtesans”) within the frameworks of colonialism, nationalism, and the normative construction of gender identity in India.¬† Because¬†discourse about the devadasi and tawaif communities is largely produced and disseminated by non-courtesan outsiders, these multifaceted, diverse, intriguing figures have too often been stigmatized and stereotyped as shameful, fallen women or pitiful victims of an uncivilized culture. Even scholarship that seeks to represent them in a positive light can be reductive and one-dimensional. Here, we seek to fill these discursive gaps through an extensive range of literary, cinematic, and cultural texts, including illustrations and photographs. In the future, we hope to provide texts and videos created by or featuring courtesans themselves.

Unknown dancers, 1860-70

Wikimedia Commons

A Nautch in the Palace of the Ameer of Sind

British Library

Nautch Girls and Musicians, 1870s

Samuel Bourne/Wikimedia Commons

Nautch girls in Hyderabad, 1860

Hooper and Western/Archaeological Survey of India Collection