Badri Narayan Tiwari

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

This IFA Arts Research and Documentation grant supports making and remaking of the bhagait folk singing tradition among marginalised and Dalit castes residing on the Indo-Nepal border region in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The project specifically covers the folk ballads of Sahles and Dinabhadri, the folk heroes of the Dusadhs and the Mushhars respectively.

The word bhagait comes from the term bhagat or bhakt, meaning devotee. The bhagait tradition is an integral part of the folk singing tradition of the most backward castes that live in this region. Bhagait performances straddle ritual and entertainment, and occupy a counter-Brahminical space where folk heroes become deities and recur in collective memory through ritual, worship and ballad.

Dr Tiwari will begin on the project by first drawing up a bhagait performance calendar based on the community life, regional ritual occasions and travelling zones of the performance. Over the one year period, he will engage in a series of interviews with performers and patrons to gather “the untold cultural narratives”, to fathom the linkages between the bhakti and bhagait traditions, and between artistic traditions and identity aspirations. The research will look at continuity in the tradition as well as transformations and artistic constructions.

The study will also scrutinise the cultural transaction between bhagait, Nautanki and modern theatre and the changing profile and contexts of bhagait performances, patrons and audiences. Further, the ‘border-zone features’ such as shifting identities, the memories of the travelling performers and the making of a rich cultural interaction zone on either sides of the Indo-Nepal border will be a special focus area for the research.

The project will result in detailed documentation and recordings of performances of the bhagait ballads. Audio-visual recordings will be deposited at the archives of the Dalit Resource Centre at the G. B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad. Select printed material around the bhagait tradition such as posters, flyers and articles will be deposited in the archive of the Dalit Resource Centre and digitised copies will be uploaded on the Centre’s website. Dr Tiwari will also produce two research papers that will be published in newspapers and national and international journals.


This grant was made possible with support from Illana Cariapa.