Believed to have originated in eastern India, which dance form is performed in States such as West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand etc. and often involves the adorning of masks named after the dance form

Chhau, a form of tribal martial dance of India, is believed to have originated in the former princely state of Mayurbhanj. Today, three variations of the dance are performed in eastern India – Seraikella Chhau in Jharkhand, Mayurbhanj Chhau in Orissa, and Purulia Chhau in West Bengal.

Chhau in West Bengal has a distinctive character of its own. Though it has not changed much in spirit from its hunting or warfare origins due to lack of sustained patronage, its outer form has been altered to an extent. In fact the Purulia Chhau is almost an antithesis of the sophisticated and stylised Seraikella form.

Brief and simple rituals precede the performances usually conducted before a Shiva temple or in the village square. Basically, a ritual dance, Chhau was performed on the occasion of the sun festival observed at the end of the month of Chaitra (mid April) as per the Bengali calendar. With time Chhau has become an integral part of other festivals too. It also provides an opportunity for groups of young people to pursue it as a profession. There are many renowned Chhau dancers in Purulia like late Gambhir Sing Mura and Nepal Chandra Mahato; both were Padmashree awardees.

The most important and characteristic part of Purulia Chhau is the mask. This is an indispensable part of the dance that liberates the dancer and assigns a role. Vigorous jumps, hops and twists  portray the mood of Chhau. These movements however are not arbitrary. On the contrary, every body movement including the movement of the even the peaks of each masks follow prefixed rules and grammar of the dance. The shoulder and chest movements indicate euphoria, melancholy or courage. Jumping in the air or as it is known in the dancers’ dialect ulfa, indicates attack during the enactment of a war scene. The expression in the mask’s face is researched intently and portrays minute nuances of the character. It needs extremely high artistic perfection and detailed knowledge of mythology and the epics for the artist to make the right mask depicting the appropriate mood. The wide eyed masks are made of pulp, painted with indigenous colours and decorated with peacock feathers, zari (gold and silver embroidery) and jute – used to make knitted eyebrows and thick hair on the demon masks. 


Picture Credit : Google