Dance of India
Chhau dance form of Bihar is a popular folk dance full
of vitality and spontaneity. The Chhau dance is so called
because the chhau or mask is an essential feature of
this art. The word 'chhau' is generally traced to the
Sanskrit root, chhaya, meaning shade.
The techniques of Chhau dance incorporated certain basic
steps and garts which seems to have stemmed from the
pharikhanda system of exercise, which has always been
an important part of the training of the Sipahis, or
Pharikhanda. The performers all hold swords and shields
in their hands while doing the exercises.
Fine stages and lighted by brilliant display of torches,
lanterns and many flickering oil lamps, these dances
are done in solo, duet and dance drama form .The musical
accompaniment for Chhau is provided by the Nagra, a
huge little drum, Dhol, a cylindrical drum, and Shehnais
or reed pipes. The tunes are based mainly on the ragas
of Hindustani music. Usually two distinct airs are used
in a dance item and when the melody changes, so does
the rhythm of the dance. The steps of the dance are
governed by patterns of rhythmic syllables played on
the drums, and any change of tempo is prefaced with
a katan, a rhythmic flourish played three times in succession.
Performed by men and boys, the item never lasts more
than 7 to 10 mts each, for it is difficult to dance
longer wearing a mask.
Chhau dance follows certain fundamental traditions of
the classical modes as detailed in the ancient treatises.
In this, therefore three main elements of the classical
dance, namely Raga or melody, Bhava or mood, tala or
rhythmic timing are found.
In Chhau dances, there are many dance forms depicting
nature and animal world such as Mayura Nritya or Peacock
dance, Sagara nritya or Ocean dance, Sarpa Nritya or
serpent dance etc. The Harvest dances and also stories
from Ramayana, Mahabharatha are depicted quite often.
The themes of the dance are taken from mythology, everyday
life, aspects of nature and at times the dance is simply
the delineation of a mood, state or condition.
All three traditions of Chhau dance carry what may be
called an elemental pulse. In no other classical dance
of India is the pounding of the rhythm so intense, so
full-bodied. Here the dancer employs his entire body
and his entire being, as a single unit, as his language.
And this language is at once poetic and powerful. The
legs in particular offer a wide range of studied extensions
and sweeps, and the torso emphatic turns and thrusts.
Even though the face is hidden behind the mask, the
mask uncannily expresses what the body feels or wishes
The principle occasion for the performance of Chhau
in Mayurbhanj, as in Seraikella is the Chaitra Parva,
which comes about the middle of April every year. Chaitra
is the month for dancing and on the 25th of Chitra month,
the dances start after invocation of Lord Shiva.
The leading exponents of the Chhau in Saraikella have
been the royal princes in Mayurbhanj, the lower classes,
the rabble and Purulia farmer, tillers and the like.
Though in recent years women have taken to the Saraikella
and the Mayurbhanj version, mostly as a professional
accomplishment, the Chhau remains by virtue of its very
character, a conspicuously male-dominated art.