Folk Dance of India

The 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 to communicate.

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.

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