Orissa has earned name and fame in
the international arena for its famous martial Chhau dance. This variety
of dance is prevalent in the princely states of Mayurbhanj, Nilagiri and
Sareikala (now in Bihar). This dance is performed exclusively by men.
A War Dance
The origin of Chhau dance is shrouded in obscurity and no historical document in this context has yet been recovered. Etymologically, Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Chhaya', which means a mask but some scholars are of opinion that Chhau is an independent colloquial Odissi word, meaning to attack or hunt stealthily.
It is evidently a war dance. The steps and movements, the attack and defence, the performers, each holding a sword and shield, dividing themselves into two parties, the drums and their mode of play, the huge kettle drum known as 'Dhumusa' a must in the orchestra, its reverberating powerful beats energizing the dancers, all signify that Chhau dance is unmistakably originated from marital practices.
The rituals connected with Chhau spread throughout the year beginning from Dussehra. The initiation ceremony for the newly recruits starts from this day by putting a red-thread on the wrist. The actual training of the Chhau starts from the day of 'Sri Panchami' after playing homage to 'Saraswati', the goddess of learning.
A number of rituals are performed primarily to call upon the divine blessing. The thirteen 'Bhokatas' (devotees) held from different castes perform all the connected rituals. The actual performance takes place on the occasion of 'Chaiti Parva' (spring festival).
All these rituals have a deep symbolic meaning according to the Hindu philosophy. From the various rituals interlaced together, it is apparent that Chhau as an institution was meant to achieve religious, social, and cultural integration. Shaivites, persons adhering so 'Sakt-cult', Sun worshippers, Vaishnavites, all are integrated together admirably in a new festive atmosphere.
This dance, heroic and histrionic in character, is a way of life with the people living in the princely states of Mayurbhanj and Sareikala. The royal patronage in development of this art is mainly responsible. The kings of these states with artistic learnings had participated in dance performance.
Chhau in general even today serves three-fold purpose:
(1) It perpetuates on art
(2) Maintains the age-old martial customs
(3) Provides on opportunity for the integration of tribal culture with the culture of the sophisticated society.
The Chhau dance was too hard to include women to play roles
hence; male dancers who are extremely masculine in appearance play women
roles. The use of mask by every character is the specialty of 'Sareikala
Chhau' whereas 'Mayurbhanj Chhau' is totally devoid of it. The Sareikala
Chhau for stylisation appears to be less virile and conditioned by mask.
On the other hand, the Mayurbhanj school of Chhau retains extremely
virility of the original movement with martial trend.
It is a type of dance, which takes utmost care in expressing emotion and feeling - anger, fear, laughter, wonder or sorrow. The rhythmic variations of this stance even in the same performance, the linear relating to the intricate footwork, and the complicated gamut of inspired stances are vital, charming, subtle and full of sinuous grace.
CHHAU DANCE OF MAYURBHANJ
Mayurbhanj, one of thirteen districts of modern Orissa Province, was the biggest among the eighteen erstwhile Princely states annexed to the Indian union in 1948. For over a century Chhau Dance flourished under the princely patronage and fostering care of the Maharajahs of the rulers of Mayurbhanj.
Evolved out of the extent war dances of the area the dance has a unique character of masculine vitality. Its annual ceremonial presentation formed an essential feature of the tribal festival "Chaitra Parva" held for three consecutive nights. The dancers were divided into competing groups each trying to excel the other by virtue of their neat performance. Chhau Dance has a character of its own.
In the process of its evolution and growth it has also freely imbibed from the prevalent folk and tribal dances and makes a harmonious blending of classical, traditional, folk and tribal traditions. Unlike the Seraikala and Purulia styles Mayurbhanja Chhau has dispensed with the mask. This has greatly influenced the style and the technique of the dance. In comparison to the other masked -styles it has a wide range of intricate movements with acrobatic stunts and beautiful choreographic patterns. Being without masks it has adopted a style, which retains the virility of the original movements of the martial craft.
Mayurbhanj Chhau has a vast repertory of over hundred dances. Excepting the earlier dances with heroic characters, thematically it draws substantially from the 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata'. Many themes are also drawn from the Krishna legend.
In the earlier stage, the Chhau dance had limited items, namely, the "Rookmar" ('Matcha' or the dance of mock fighting). In course of time things of all varieties with special emphasis on the heroic ones were incorporated. The dance is more famous for its group numbers sometimes having more than twenty characters at a time.
Most of the themes of 'Puranic' episodes like 'Mayashavari', 'Kiratia Arjuna', 'Satarathi', 'Garuda Bhan', 'Dwaparieela', 'Vastra Haran', 'Bhasmasura' etc. The duet dances are but a few. Most famous of them are 'Geeta' and 'Rangapanda'. The characters of these dances are Krishna, Shiva ('Mahadev'), Rama, 'Parasurama', 'Hanuman', 'Shavara', 'Dandi', 'Jambaban' (Mythological bear hero of Ramayana), 'Indrajeet' etc. The themes combining elements of tremendous kinetic fury and very fast foot work with mellowed elegance and lyricism become visual poetry of strong passions gestured in a style that is free, intense, affluent, dynamic yet melodious.
Moods And Modes
Keeping with the martial tradition, Chhau Dance in its rudimentary form had only one dominating mood "Tandava Bhaba" or heroism. The solo dancers were simply displaying stylised vigorous movements with sword and shield in hands. The dances were 'Sandhamar' (strong man), 'Dushman Pachhad' (chasing the foe), 'Pakalanka' (red chilly), 'Bajra Maruni' (thunder bolt), 'Singha' (to puzzle the enemy, obviously with marital display) etc.
When themes were introduced and group items were composed the dance has to widen its moods and modes, corresponding to the demand of the characters. Consequently there was a need for introducing more female characters. So, at this stage Chhau had to evolve three modes of rendering of movements to build up the general aesthetic climate.
The first, "Hatiardhara", meaning holding of an arm for marital and masculine characters, "Kalibhanga", meaning the pliant end of a spring for more delicate lyrical and non-martial characters especially females and "Kalikata", meaning to cut off the tender spring with a weapon is a judicious mixture of the other two for both male and female characters.