Chhau dance, also spelled Chhou dance, is an Indian semi-classical dance with martial and folk traditions. It is found in three styles, each named after the location where it is performed: Purulia Chhau in West Bengal, Seraikella Chhau in Jharkhand, and Mayurbhanj Chhau in Odisha. The dance ranges from a festive folk dance celebrating martial arts, acrobatics, and athletics to a structured dance with religious themes found in Shaivism, Shaktism, and Vaishnavism. Purulia and Serakeilla use masks to identify the character in their costumes, which vary between styles. Chhau dancers perform stories from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as the Puranas and other Indian literature.The dance is traditionally performed by an all-male troupe, and it may be a syncretic dance form that evolved from a fusion of classical Hindu dances and the traditions of ancient regional tribes. The dance is amazing and brings people from all socioeconomic backgrounds together in a festive and religious spirit.
The unique martial Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj captured the attention of the then-British monarch and, later, international media long before many other Indian dance forms.When George V and Queen Mary visited India in 1912, the king of Mayurbhanj (now an Odisha district) choreographed and performed ‘War Dance’ with 64 Chhau artistes from the palace troupe at the royal couple’s reception in Calcutta. It was described as “a great spectacle” by a leading Indian newspaper.”The throw of the leg, movement of the torso, and jumps are unique to Mayurbhanj and are directly derived from the war practises of Odia soldiers, known as paikas.”Almost 140 years ago, Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanja Deo introduced Chhau at Chaitra Parva, the state’s most popular annual festival held inside the palace. The king and queen would invite royal families from neighbouring kingdoms to attend the performances. It was also the only time when ordinary people were permitted to enter the palace.
By Subhechcha Ganguly
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