ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Nautch Girls as Travellers Beyond South Asia: Histories of Transport and Performance


Sachdeva Jha Shweta - Miranda House, University of Delhi, English, Delhi, India


13 – The Travelling Female Performer: Mobility and Agency in and beyond South Asia, c. 1760-1940


 Most literature on the nautch girl remains confined to princely states, qasbas or cities in colonial India. In this paper I will compare the experience of troupes of nautch girls who travelled from South Asia to Europe and performers who made the journey in the opposite direction from Europe and the United States to India. Through this comparison I will trace the differences in modes of transport, conditions of travel and reception of performances as well as perception of women travellers by local audiences. From the trains for local travel to the ships across the sea, how did women performers and male musicians negotiate the changes in weather, language and attitudes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century travels to Europe or beyond? Reversing the gaze of the European nabobs and memsahibs, we will explore the unwritten histories and lives of nautch girls through the files in the archives of India Office records, photographs, diaries and newspapers. The world of the nautch girl as a traveller was complex and had close connections between histories of transport, migration and performance, through this paper I chart a part of this history.