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Celebration of Chaitra Parv Chhau Festival
- Pallavi Verma

April 12, 2018

Folk dances are about more than dancing. It's human's natural urge to rituals, a direct expression of innermost spirit. The beauty of folk dances lies in its intervention with the lives of people. Each movement they perform is familiar and joyful. They are associated with the performance of daily tasks or activities like sowing, harvesting, hunting and the passage of season gives them a devotional theme. Chaitra Parv is one such season when people of Orissa worship Lord Shiva with utmost enthusiasm by performing Mayurbhanj Chhau dance. The Chaitra Parv Chhau Festival is celebrated on 13th or 14th April for consecutive three days. Understanding Mayurbhanj Chhau's cultural and historical background on this eve will let us appreciate the strength of our traditions.

Chhau is derived from the word 'Chhauni' meaning a military camp where the dance evolved from martial art. Some believe that this folk dance was performed to entertain the Oriya warriors inside the camps and has spread gradually. Others believe that the word Chhau is originated from such words as 'Chhabi' (picturesque), 'Chhai' or 'Chhatak' (clowning) and 'Chhaya' (shadow or phantom). Mayurbhanj Chhau is one of the principal folk dance forms of eastern India performed by the people vastly spread in contiguous areas of Mayurbhanj (Orissa).

Its growth and development
In Orissa, the evolution and growth of the Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj has gone through a lot of ups and downs. The different kings of Bhanja dynasty were great patrons of art and culture. Chhau dance flourished into a better form under the sponsorship of the Bhanja rulers of
Mayurbhanj state.

Examining the contribution of each king:

Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja (1823-1863)
Prior to the rule of Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja (1823-1863), Chhau dance in Mayurbhanj was not popular as it is today. At the time of Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja, the Rama Leela dance was performed for the first time during the Rama Navami festival in the month of Chaitra. A few years later, Chhau music was added in this Rama Leela dance. In this way, the Mayurbhanj Chhau dance started growing under royal patronage.

Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanja Deo (1868-1882)
Mayurbhanj Chhau dance became very popular during the reign of Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanja Deo. Ramahari Bebarta Babu, a faithful aide of the Maharaja witnessed the Chhau dance of Seraikella and requested Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanja for the development of Mayurbhanj Chhau dance accordingly. He appointed two ustads for the development of Uttarsahi and Dakshinsahi.

Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanja Deo
After the death of Maharaj Krushna Chandra Bhanja Deo in 1882, Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanja Deo took over the charge of the administration of the State in 1892. The annual performance of Chhau dance was presented inside the Palace of the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj for three days prior to the Chaitra-Sankranti i.e. roughly from 11th April to 13th April. An annual grant of Rs. 2,000 was given to each sahi. (Sahi: Uttarsahi and Dakshinsahi are two Chhau registered organizations or committees under which Mayurbhanj Chhau has emerged and evolved.) Apart from this amount, each brother was to spend as much as Rs.15,000 every year for the training and development of Chhau dance. In 1912, the Maharaja gave special attention to the development of Chhau dance. He introduced a new dance form, which was famous as 'War Dance.'

The dance was for the first time performed at Calcutta to welcome the British Emperor George V and Queen Mary in 1912. This 'War Dance' is shown to be essentially a sort of mock fight between two opposite groups holding swords and spears in their hands. The dancers are dressed in red or blue dhotis, turbans along with feather garlands round the arms and waists. They painted their faces and bodies with ochre or red color. The beautiful presentation of the Chhau artists was very much appreciated by the Emperor George V and Queen Mary.

Maharaja Purna Chandra Bhanja Deo
After the death of Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanja, Chhau dance faced different types of problems. During that period, Maharaja Purna Chandra Bhanja Deo had given only an annual grant of Rs.250 to each sahi for the purpose of keeping up the ceremony. Because of the financial problem and the decreasing number of artists, the practice duration got reduced. They practiced for only one or two months in place of practicing the whole year.

Maharaja Pratapa Chandra Bhanja Deo
Maharaja Pratapa Chandra Bhanja Deo was very much interested in Chhau dance and gave special attention to develop the Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj. He increased the annual grant to Rs.5,000 for each sahi. He formed a committee for each sahi and a manager was appointed to look into the dance related activities. The committee gave special attention for the training of the artists and their presentation at the time of the Chaitra Parva. Several new dance themes were composed and introduced in the Chhau dance. During this period, a new era of Chhau dance was started. The dance teachers were sent to different parts of the country to see the performances of the top exponents of Indian dances like Uday Shankar, Amalanandi, Simkie etc. Several features from such dances were included in the Chhau dance to improve its range and quality. Because of these efforts, the Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj became even more attractive.

Sadhya Dance Company

Modern India with its vast variety of races and diversities, needs to keep reviving and developing this treasure house on account of its deep and pervasive roots. Only then can this beautiful dance form live on with its passionate energy.

Pallavi Verma is a contemporary dancer working as a performing artist in Sadhya, a unit of performing arts, Delhi.

Very informative article presented lucidly.
- Anon (May 3, 2018)

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