Chhau
Shadows and mystery; the stealthy hunt
With origins shrouded in mystery, the Chhau dancer communicates inner emotions and themes through cadences of body flexions, movements and kinetic suggestions. The word Chhau is interpreted differently by scholars. ‘Shadow’, ‘Disguise’ and ‘Image’ are the most common interpretations due to the extensive use of masks in this dance form. The martial movements of Chhau have led to another interpretation of the word as meaning ‘to attack stealthily’ or ‘to hunt’.

Three styles of Chhau exist born from the three different regions of Seraikella (Bihar), Purulia (West Bengal), and Mayurbhanj (Orissa). Martial movements, strong rhythmic statements and dynamic use of space are characteristic of Chhau.

Seraikella Chhau flourished under royal patronage. Its vigorous martial character made it suitable id="table1" only for male dancers. The princes were not only patrons but also dancers, teachers and mask-making experts. The Seraikella masks are similar to those used in the Noh dance of Japan and the Wayang Wong of Java.

Purulia Chhau uses masks which is a highly developed craft in the region. The barren land with its tribal inhabitants and multi-layered influences of Vedic literature, Hinduism and martial folk-lore have all combined to shape the Purulia Chhau dances which have only one message - the triumph of good over evil.

Mayurbhanj Chhau has highly developed movements, no masks and a more chiselled vocabulary than the other two Chhau styles. Like Seraikella Chhau, it had also thrived under royal patronage and is considered a link between the earthy Indian dance movements and the flying, springing elevations of Western dance.

Unlike other Indian Classical dance forms, vocal music in Chhau hardly exists! Instrumental music and a variety of drums like the Dhol, Dhumba, Nagara, Dhansa and Chadchadi provide the accompaniment.

Combining folk, tribal and martial traditions and yet covering the three aspects of Nritta, Nritya and Natya as well as the Tandava and Lasya aspects of classical dance, the Chhau dances are complex combinations of Folk and Classical motifs.

Chhau

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