A part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in India, The Chhau Dance is a popular form of tribal dance in India that also integrates elements of martial arts into its movements. Predominantly seen in the states of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand, this dance form is a unique spectacle.
The word Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chhaya’ which essentially means shadow or image which can also be hinted as they use of the magnificently colorful and grand masks. The dance form has three subtypes; namely Purulia Chhau, Mayurbanj Chhau and Seraikella Chhau, named differently because of the place of their origin.
Origin and History
The Chhau Dance has roots in the tribal rituals but also draws inspiration from martial arts, mock combat, semi-classical dance, acrobatics, athletics and story-telling.
The century–old form of dance was developed a means to portray stories to the audience. The fables revolves around the two great epics of Indian Mythology – Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranas and other India Literature with religious themes found in Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism.
Chhau Dance is usually performed during important ceremonies. It strongly associated with the Gajan Festival and the Sun Festival but are also performed during weddings.
Creating the Performance
The Chhau Dance is not just a performance of dancers or re-telling of religious epics; musicians play an extremely large role. Indian instruments - Dhol, Shehnai and Dhamsa (percussion instrument and Indian clarinets) make the recital come to life.
The costumes also play a vital role in this performance. The male dancers wear brightly colored dhotis (flared bottoms) with a matching kurta on top. A vast amount of costume jewelry is worn in the form of necklaces. Female dancers, or male dancers depicting female characters, are known to wear colorful sarees.
The style and variety of the costume of the dancers largely depends on the characters being portrayed by them. Usually, there are three types of characters – Gods and Goddesses, Demons and Monsters, each with their distinct costumes and appearance. The masks worn during this performance are of vital importance as they are used to convey emotions and the nature of the character.
Mostly, these dances are performed on the floor, as opposed to an elevated stage. The performers create a magical performance as audience sitting in a circle or a semi-circle around them to watch.