Many girls were taken at a young age and trained in both performing arts (such as Kathak and Hindustani classical music) as well as literature (ghazal, thumri) to high standards.
Some of the popular tawaifs were Begum Samru (who rose to rule the principality of Sardhana in western UP), Moran Sarkar (who became the wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh), Wazeeran (patronised by Lucknow’s last nawab Wajid Ali Shah), Begum Hazrat Mahal (Wajid Ali's first wife who played an important role in the First War of Independence), Umrao Jaan (a fictional character), Gauhar Jaan (a notable classical singer who sang for India's first-ever record), and Zohrabai Agrewali.
The annexation of Oudh by the British in 1856 sounded the first death-knell for this medieval institution.
It soon was not favoured by the British, and the women were branded as prostitutes to defame them. They used to be the only source of popular music and dance and were often invited to perform on weddings and other occasions.
Some of them became concubines of maharajas and wealthy individuals.
As the day is a symbol of glory and pride for every Indian citizen, here are top ten musical hits to play on January 26.
It will kick off with Maunraag — a theatrical rendition of playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar’s autobiographical works.
A tawaif was a highly sophisticated courtesan who catered to the nobility of South Asia, particularly during the Mughal era.
The tawaifs excelled in and contributed to music, dance (mujra), theatre, and the Urdu literary tradition, The patronage of the Mughal court before and after the Mughal Dynasty in the Doab region and the artistic atmosphere of 16th century Lucknow made arts-related careers a viable prospect.
"At this time when so many of us are really concerned about wars and travel bans, literature is more indispensable than ever, precisely because the imagination is no respecter of boundaries or fences," he says.