Chhau is a native dance form with its folk roots being firm in the states of West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand. Based on the states, Chhau dance is categorized primarily into 3 styles – the Purulia Chhau of West Bengal, Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa and Seraikella Chhau of Jharkhand. Among these, the Purulia Chhau is the most popular and is one of the most performed dance forms in West Bengal. The art form is a combination of dance, martial arts and acrobatics, that makes it so flamboyant. Chhau Dance earned its name from the word “Chhaya” which means shadow. Actually, in this dance form, the performers wear colorful masks on their faces to make the dance more attractive. Thus, the use of mask in the performance shadows the original face of the dancer and hence, the name.
As said earlier, Chhau Dance is a very attractive form of dance and is known to interpret several religious themes such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc. The Chhau of west Bengal originated in Purulia where mostly tribesmen learned, performed and popularized it. The dance form makes use of a variety of costumes and masks as props to enhance the effect on the audience. The dancers perform to enact different mythological stories in order to give a whole new dimension to storytelling.
If you have heard about the famous Gajan festival of West Bengal, then you may know that Gajan is the time when this dance is predominantly performed in public. The dancers honor Lord Shiva by enacting several of his popular endeavors. The beautiful yet gripping dance form displays a mock combat technique which makes use of the martial art form referred to as khel in the colloquial language.
Chhau Dance is performed by an all male troupe who work really hard to master the art from a very young age. The dance requires great dedication like any other form along with strength to wear the heavy costumes and perform nonchalantly. The style of this dance form has been derived from the traditional Hindu dances with a fusion of tribal style. It is also performed during the Sun festival in the season of spring. Unlike most other tribal dances, Chhau has great religious significance being enacted only on certain Hindu festivals.
The Chhau dance form originally began as a community celebration and as form of mere entertainment in the life of the village people. There was no ritual or ceremonial aspect to the practice before but with the passage of time, this dance form has also evolved like any other form of art. As stated earlier, the dance is performed only by male members in an akhada. The music is traditional which makes use of instruments like reed pipes, shehnai, drums and dhols. The practice of this dance was actually meant to glorify the local legends and pass on their stories to the next generation.
One of the intriguing aspects of this Chhau dance form is the knowledge it transmits orally. This makes it stay original to its kind with the ultimate knowledge remaining only with the natives. Thus, Chhau is not only a dance form among the tribes but also a form of audio-visual education.
Every dance or art form of the country is a cultural asset to the nation and preserving them is very essential. In 2010, under the effect of UNESCO’s programs to preserve cultural diversity, institutions were set up to teach and spread this native dance form. The Chaitra Parva festival has since been financed by the state government to celebrate the uniqueness of this dance. Several local people along with the students of the institutions, aided by their teachers, take part in the festival. One such institution is the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Chhau dance is a an expressive form of dance in which a variety of human emotions like anger, fear, laughter, sorrow are flaunted by the performing artists trough their body language. The music mostly belongs to the Hindustani Raga category which makes this dance even more catchy and alive. Pertaining to the fact that Chhau is a classical dance form of India, its beauty and grace is truly incomparable. The perfect blend of dance, fight and storytelling, showcased through it, is the sole outcome of years of practice.
In recent years, this dance form has started gaining more recognition as people are again trying to associate themselves with their roots. Bollywood has tried to capture the beauty of Bengal in two of its movies, Barfi and Lootera, where they have shown this dance form in play. There are also numerous videos where glimpses of Chhau have been exhibited while framing Bengal. Several dance reality shows have eventually come to realize the importance of traditional dance forms and thus, Chhau has been performed many a times making it well-acquainted to the audience.
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