INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY
Bhavai is a seven hundred year old folk theatre form of Gujarat state in India. As is the case with all forms of Indian drama and dance, the roots of Bhavai are found in the Natyashastra, a treatise on the poetics of theatre written by Bharat three thousand years ago. Because it is performed outside in front of village temples or in village squares and it has a structure of very few characters and a simple short story, Bhavai is similar to Prekshanak, one of the ten forms of Sanskrit theatre described in the Natyashastra. A distinctive feature of Bhavai is its utter simplicity. The presentations are designed to entertain, educate, point towards social change and to enact ritual activity for the community. The actors job is to bring news, help with community improvement, perform ritual events, and to entertain. The small playlets or scenes are called Veshas, and several are enacted during an evening of performance. Veshas are generally satirical and humurous, focusing on the social and political issues facing the community. Music, dance, and the ability to improvise are key elements in Bhavai performance, especially since there is no written script for the actors to follow. The Veshas are merely loose outlines for the actors to improvise around.
According to legend, Bhavai was created by Asait Thakar, a fourteenth century Brahmin from a village in Gujarat. After he broke serious caste laws to share a meal with a girl from the Patel community in order to save her life, he was outcast by the Brahmins and began to create Bhavai as a means of survival. He and his three sons created hundreds of Veshas, all dedicated to the Mother Goddess Amba, whom they impersonate in rituals. Their offspring created a new caste called the Taragala Community, who are still performers of Bhavai today.
Bhavai is on the verge of extinction now due to urbanization and the popularity of other entertainment media. Fortunately, Kailash Pandya of Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, realized the need to preserve and revive this rich and powerful indigenous form for use in contemporary theatre in rural and urban settings. He organizes workshops, performances, and started a training school to teach Bhavai to young actors. Today, Bhavai has found its way into the professional contemporary Gujarati Theatre.
Professor Betty Bernhard of Pomona College has systematically documented and archived Bhavai since 1992.