Chhau Dance: The Enchanting Fusion of Dance, Drama, and Martial Arts from Eastern India

Chhau Dance: The Enchanting Fusion of Dance, Drama, and Martial Arts from Eastern India
Posted on 29-07-2023

Chhau Dance: The Enchanting Fusion of Dance, Drama, and Martial Arts from Eastern India

Chhau is a captivating semi-classical Indian dance form that combines martial, tribal, and folk traditions, originating in the eastern regions of India. It is performed in three distinct styles named after their respective locations: Purulia Chau of Bengal, Seraikella Chau of Jharkhand, and Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha. This dance form showcases stories from Hindu epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as narratives from the Puranas and other Indian literary works.

Chhau dancers embody various characters, including gods, animals, birds, hunters, rainbows, nights, and flowers. They enact short themes and perform a series of vignettes during the annual Chaitra Parva festival in April.

In the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, Chhau is practiced without masks. Instead, the dancers use deliberately stiff and immobile facial expressions to create the illusion of wearing a mask. The style of their dance is vigorous and acrobatic.

Chhau masks of Purulia are registered under Geographical Indications, recognizing their cultural significance.

Notable features of Chhau dance include:

  1. Three Types: Chhau dance comes in three main styles: Saraikela, Mayurbhanj, and Purulia (West Bengal).

  2. Male Dancers: Chhau is traditionally taught to male dancers from families of traditional artists or local communities.

  3. Unique Vocabulary of Movement: The dance's movements encompass mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals, and choreographed actions inspired by the daily activities of village housewives.

  4. Expression through Body Language: Chhau dancers maintain an expressionless face, allowing their bodies to convey the emotional and psychological aspects of the characters they portray.

  5. Silent Performance: The dancer remains mute, with no singing involved. Only instrumental music, played on reed pipes like mohuri and shehnai, accompanies the performance.

Chhau dance holds great cultural significance and was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010, acknowledging its importance in preserving and promoting India's rich cultural heritage.

Chhau is a traditional Indian dance form that originates from the eastern Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. It is a unique blend of dance, drama, and martial arts and is often performed during religious festivals and celebrations.

There are three main styles of Chhau:

  1. Mayurbhanj Chhau: This style of Chhau comes from the Mayurbhanj region of Odisha. It is characterized by its graceful movements and intricate footwork. The dancers wear elaborate masks, colorful costumes, and use various props to depict stories from Indian epics and mythology.

  2. Seraikella Chhau: Seraikella Chhau comes from the Seraikella region in Jharkhand. Unlike Mayurbhanj Chhau, this style does not use masks, but the dancers employ vigorous movements and acrobatics to portray tales from Hindu mythology, especially those related to Lord Shiva.

  3. Purulia Chhau: This style hails from the Purulia district of West Bengal. Similar to Seraikella Chhau, it does not involve the use of masks. Purulia Chhau incorporates tribal and folk elements into its performances and often showcases rural themes and stories.

Chhau dance is highly energetic and demanding, requiring both physical agility and emotional expression. The performers, mostly male, undergo rigorous training to master the intricate movements, facial expressions, and gestures that are essential elements of the dance form.

Chhau has gained recognition not only in India but also internationally as a significant cultural art form, reflecting the rich heritage and traditions of the region.

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