The term Tawaif is the plural form of the Arabic Taifa. Now a days the term has become synonymous with a prostitute, this is an extreme corruption of the word. The tawaifs contributed to music, dance, theatre, film, and the Urdu literary tradition. They were very important in the development and propagation of a number of North Indian styles of music and dance, most especially the kathak form of dance, and the thumree, ghazal, and dadra forms of singing. Tawaif is more popular in 18th and starting years of 19th century. The tawaif culture itself will only briefly be touched upon.
Tawaif is similar to nautch, Kotha, and Devdasi. In 19th century the nautch girls, nach wali has been applied to tawaifs and devdasis. Devdasi literally means: a female servant of God. The devdasis were girls who were attached to the temples. The tawaifs had options open to them that were generally denied women of a more domestic nature. Today Tawaifs were not looked upon as artistes because they were seen, primarily, as figures of sensual entertainment. A few famous Tawaif Artists were Begum Samru, Moran Sarkar and Umrao Jaan. In bollywood a film named Tawaif was released in 1985. The title character performed by Rati Agnihotri. Rekha has played the tawaif so often.