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Chhau Dance

Chhau dance:An amazing dance form

Chhau Dance (or Chau dance) is a genre of tribal martial dance that is popular in the Indian states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa. The dance form originated in the erstwhile princely state of Mayurbhanj as mock fights of the Oriya Paikas (warriors) who fought rhythmically to the accompaniment of indigenous musical instruments. Today, there are three subgenres of the dance, based on its places of origin and development. Seraikella Chau was developed in Seraikela, the present day administrative headquarters of the Seraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand, Purulia Chau was developed in Purulia district of West Bengal and Mayurbhanj Chhau was developed in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. The most prominent difference among the three subgenres is in the use of mask. While, the Seraikela and Purulia subgenres of Chhau use masks, the Mayurbhanj Chhau uses none.

The Dance

The highly Stylised Chhau dance of today follow the basic principle of the Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni and the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeswara. The Chhau dancers worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the two presiding deities of the Tandava and the Lasya styles respectively. The typical dance poses when the dancer is at rest in Chahau dance is the bent knee position. In this position, the legs form a Square, right hands raised upwards forms right angle at elbow and the left hand falls downward also forming right angles at the elbow. The Chhau dancers have to practice difficult modes of walk-in, striking difficult postures and moving in a way peculiar to this style. In its past form, the dance was practiced only by male members who performed in female roles. Today there are also female dancers who have mastered this art. Emotions and passions are not depicted by facial expression but also by intricate footwork, whirls and jumps. Hence, the waist, the feet and the legs are used to depict bhavas. The basic postures and stance of this dance resemble the postures of a combatant in a traditional fight. In its rudimentary form it is generally referred to as Phari Khanda Khela (the game of sword and shield) or Rookmar Nacha ( the dance of offence and defense). The themes of Chhau are largely drawn from the Puranas, Ramayan and Mahabharat. They combine elements of tremendous kinetic fury and very fast footwork with mellowed elegance and lyricism which at times is indistinguishable from visual poetry. Episodes like the fight of 'Abhimanyu' with the 'Sapta Rathis', the killing of 'Mahishasura', 'Shiva Tandav', 'Kirat Arjuna', 'Jambeb', 'Garuda Bahana', etc. are very popular.

The dance is usually performed in the open air on a raised platform, the musicians stand, on one side of the platform and play on big kettle drums and other musical instruments. In villages, Chhau dance is usually performed during Chaitra parva festival in the days concluding the month of Chaitra. Popular story from the Ramavyna and Mahabharata are staged. The costumes, the headgear and other ornamental requisites are carefully selected. The dance can be solo, duet or group performances. Today, the subject matter of Chhau dance is borrowed from the whole gamut of animate and inanimate nature. The female peacock, swan and deer dances depict the wild beauty and grace of the form and are excellently choreographed. The hilly region of north –eastern Orissa with a rich folk and tribal culture has influenced Chhau dance.

 

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