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Chhau Dance : A folk dance of Purulia in West Bengal

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ॐ श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः ॐ श्री शिवानन्दाय नमः ॐ श्री चिदानन्दाय नमः ॐ श्री दुर्गायै नमः 

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Chhau dance is a tradition from eastern India that enacts episodes from epics including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, local folklore and abstract themes. Its three distinct styles hail from the regions of Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj, the first two using masks.

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Chhau Dance: West Bengal's Performing Art Treasure | Utsavpedia
Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

Chhau dance is intimately connected to regional festivals, notably the spring festival Chaitra Parva.

Its origin is traceable to indigenous forms of dance and martial practices. Its vocabulary of movement includes mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and movements modelled on the chores of village housewives.

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Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

Chhau is taught to male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities. The dance is performed at night in an open space to traditional and folk melodies, played on the reed pipes Mohuri and  Shehnai. 

The reverberating drumbeats of a variety of drums dominate the accompanying music ensemble.

Chhau Dance Style in Delhi by Urshilla Dance Company | ID: 9395209491
Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

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Chhau is an integral part of the culture of these communities. It binds together people from different social strata and ethnic background with diverse social practices, beliefs, professions and languages.

However, increasing industrialization, economic pressures and new media are leading to a decrease in collective participation with communities becoming disconnected from their roots.

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Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

Chhau dance, also spelled as Chau or Chhaau, is a semi classical Indian dance with martial, tribal and folk traditions, with origins in Mayurbhanj-Seraikella Belt in Odisha, and slowly panned out to neighbouring regions of Jharkhand and West Bengal.

It is found in three styles named after the location where they are performed, i.e. the Seraikella Chau and the Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha and the Purulia Chau of Bengal.

Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

The dance ranges from celebrating martial arts, acrobatics and athletics performed in festive themes of a folk dance, to a structured dance with religious themes found in ShaivismShaktism and Vaishnavism.

Goddess Durga and Lord Ram at Chhau dance in Bamnia, purulia - Tale of 2  Backpackers
Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

The costumes vary between the styles, with Purulia and Serakeilla using masks to identify the character. The stories enacted by Chhau dancers include those from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas and other Indian literature.

Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

The dance is traditionally an all males troupe, regionally celebrated particularly during spring every year, and may be 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.

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Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

Features of Chhau

The Chhau dance is mainly performed during festivals in the region of  Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha, especially the spring festival of Chaitra  Parva and in which the whole community participates. The Purulia Chhau dance is celebrated during the Sun festival.

Masks form an integral part of Chhau dance in Purulia and Seraikella styles. The knowledge of dance, music and mask-making is transmitted orally. 

The Chhau dance found in northern Odisha does not use mask during the dance, but they do when the artists first appear on the stage for introduction to the audience.

The two styles of Chhau dance that use masks, blend within it forms of both dance and martial practices employing mock combat techniques (called Khel), stylized gaits of birds and animals (called Chalis and Topkas) and movements based on the chores of village housewives (called Uflis). 

This form of Chhau dance has no ritual or ceremonial meaning. It is a form of community celebration and entertainment.

Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

The dance is performed by male dancers, at night in an open space, called Akhada or Asar. The dance is rhythmic and set to traditional folk music, played on the reed pipes Mohuri and Shehnai

A variety of drums accompany the music ensemble including the Dhol (a cylindrical drum), Dhumsa (a large kettle drum) and kharka or chad-chadi.

The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes.

Three Styles of Chhau

The three styles of Chhau dance are the Seraikella Chhau developed in Seraikela, the present day administrative headquarters of the Seraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand, the Purulia Chhau in Purulia district of West Bengal, and the Mayurbhanj Chhau in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha.

The most prominent difference among the three subgenres is regarding the use of masks. While, the Seraikela and Purulia subgenres of Chhau use masks during the dance, the Mayurbhanj Chhau uses none.

Recognition

In 2010 the Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO‘s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Chhau Dance : A Folk Dance of West Bengal

The Government of Odisha established the Government Chhau Dance Centre in 1960 in Seraikella and the Mayurbhanj Chhau Nritya Pratisthan at Baripada in 1962.

These institutions engage in training involving local Gurus, artists, patrons and representatives of Chhau institutions and sponsor performances.

The Chaitra Parva festival, significant to the Chhau Dance, is also sponsored by the state government.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi has established a National Centre for Chhau Dance at BaripadaOdisha.

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Purulia Chhau Dance Mask

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Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Though academically trained in modern Western Sciences, Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar is a crazy maniac of India's ageless, timeless ethnic arts, crafts & textiles. The rich & glorious cultural & spiritual heritage of India is a subject extremely dear to her heart, and the whole of this Blog has been dedicated to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide, to every nook & corner of the globe, through these simple Blog-posts. Any constructive criticisms & suggestions in this regard for improvement of the Blog 'MOST WELCOME'. Also, High-Quality Guest Blog-posts 'MOST WELCOME". LinkedIn Profile : https://in.linkedin.com/in/mala-chandrashekhar-04095917a

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