Chhau Dance Introduction
Chhau dance is an eastern Indian tradition that enacts episodes from epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as local folklore and abstract themes. Its three distinct styles are derived from the regions of Seraikella, Purulia, and Mayurbhanj, with the first two employing masks. Chhau dance is closely associated with regional festivals, most notably the spring festival Chaitra Parva. Its roots can be traced back to indigenous forms of dance and martial arts.
The dance is performed in an open area at night to traditional and folk melodies played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai. The accompanying music ensemble is dominated by the reverberating drumbeats of various drums. Chhau is an important part of these communities’ culture. It brings together people from various social strata and ethnic backgrounds, each with their own set of social practices, beliefs, professions, and languages.
With its many styles, it is close to classical dance tradition on the one hand, and has links with regional folk and tribal dances on the other. Chhau is also heavily influenced by martial arts and has a strong ritualistic context. The Seraikella and Purlieu Chhau wear masks, whereas the Mayurbanj Chhau does not. Seraikella Chhau is performed as a prayer for a bountiful harvest during the annual Chaitra Parva Festival dedicated to Ardhanareshwara. A series of mandatory rituals precede the Performance. Males from the royal family frequently perform in the main dances, but others do as well.
The dance is traditionally performed by an all-male troupe, and it may be a syncretic dance form that evolved from a fusion of classical Hindu dances and the traditions of ancient regional tribes. The dance is amazing and brings people from all socioeconomic backgrounds together in a festive and religious spirit.
Origin Of Chhau Dance
Chhau Dance is based on tribal rituals, but it also draws inspiration from martial arts, mock combat, semi-classical dance, acrobatics, athletics, and story-telling. The word ‘Chhau’ is said to be derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chhaya,’ which means shadow or image. Under various royal patronage, the dance form was nurtured and developed. Mayurbhanj’s greatest patron was Maharaja Krishna Chandra Bhanj Deo.
Types Of Chhau Dance
The Seraikella Chhau arose in Seraikela, the current administrative headquarters of Jharkhand’s Seraikela Kharsawan district, the Purulia Chhau in West Bengal’s Purulia district, and the Mayurbhanj Chhau in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district. The use of masks is the most noticeable distinction between the three subgenres. While the Seraikela and Purulia subgenres of Chhau dance with masks, the Mayurbhanj subgenre does not.
The technique and repertoire of the Seraikella Chhau were developed by the region’s erstwhile nobility, who were both performers and choreographers, and it is now danced by people of all backgrounds. The Seraikella Chhau is performed with symbolic masks, and the acting establishes the actor’s role.
The Purulia Chhau employs elaborate masks shaped in the shape of the character being played; for example, a lion character has a lion face mask as well as body costumes, with the actor walking on all fours. These masks are made by potters who create clay images of Hindu gods and goddesses and are primarily sourced from West Bengal’s Purulia district.
The Mayurbhanj Chhau is similar to the Seraikella Chhau in that it is performed without masks. Ram Leela performances were an important part of the Rama Navami festival celebrations in the region during the reign of Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja (1823-1863). Madan Singh Babu came to Baripada from the Dhalbhum region at that time and mixed Chhau music with Ram Leela’s. Mayurbhanj Chhau is said to have taken formal shape during the reign of Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanja Deo (1868-1882), when one of the Maharaja’s aids witnessed a Seraikela Chhau performance and requested the Raja to develop a similar dance form in the Baripada region.
Costumes Of Chhau Dance
The costumes worn by the Chhau performers vary in colour and design. It primarily consists of Dhoti or Pyjamas in a deep green, yellow, or red shade worn by the actors portraying Gods, and loose trousers in a deep black shade worn by the actors portraying demons. Stripes of contrasting colours are sometimes used to make the costumes more appealing and unique.
The upper part of the body is dressed in a Kurta with a variety of designs. Female dancers, as well as male dancers portraying female characters, are known to wear vibrant sarees. Necklaces are the most common type of costume jewelry. The style and variety of the dancers’ costumes are heavily influenced by the characters they play. Characters are typically divided into three categories: Gods and Goddesses, Demons and Monsters, each with their own distinct costume and appearance.
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Features Of Chhau Dance
The Chhau dance is primarily performed during festivals in Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Odisha, particularly the spring festival of Chaitra Parva, in which the entire community takes part. During the Sun festival, the Purulia Chhau dance is performed. Chhau dance is performed by artists from West Bengal’s Purulia district.
Masks are an essential component of Chhau dance in the Purulia and Seraikella styles. Oral transmission is used to pass down knowledge of dance, music, and mask-making. Masks are not used during the Chhau dance, which is found in northern Odisha, but they are used when the artists first appear on stage for an introduction to the audience.
The two mask-wearing styles of Chhau dance combine forms of both dance and martial arts, employing mock combat techniques (called Khel), stylized gaits of birds and animals (called chalis and topkas), and movements based on village housewives’ chores (called uflis). According to Mohan Khokar, this form of the Chhau dance has no ritual or ceremonial significance; it is a form of community celebration and entertainment.
Facts About Chhau Dance
- Chhau dance, also spelled as Chau or Chhaau, is a semi-classical Indian dance with martial, tribal, and folk traditions, with origins in eastern India.
- It is found in three styles named after the location where they are performed, i.e. the Purulia Chau of Bengal, the Seraikella Chau of Jharkhand, and the Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha.
- The dance is traditionally an all males troupe, regionally celebrated particularly during spring every year, and maybe a syncretic dance form that emerged from a fusion of classical Hindu dances and the traditions of ancient regional tribes.
- The dance is amazing and brings together people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in a festive and religious spirit.
- It is a festival devoted to Lord Shiva in his form of Ardhanarishwara, during which Bhaktas or devotees observe various austerities and participate in religious ceremonies.
- Traditionally Chhau is performed by male performers, but from the third decade of the twentieth century, a few female dancers began to acquire proficiency in this dance form.