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At the Feet of The Mother

Purulia Chhau Dance

Purulia Chhau dance performance by Sri Tara Pada Rajak and Group from West Bengal, at Bharat Nivas, Auroville, on August 11, 2012. Video production by Manohar.


The three styles of Chhau – Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj – belong to the neighbouring states of Bihar now in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa, in Eastern India. Their location in three different states is the result of the reorganisation of Indian states in 1947. Seraikella and Mayurbhanj were small princely states before Independence and Purulia acquired its name after being discovered in the city of Purulia, West Bengal by the folklorist Late Dr. Ashutosh Bhattacharya in 1960. The same style, however, has an equally strong tradition in the neighbouring villages. The dancers and musicians travel from one place to another to perform this traditional dance. Chhau dances represent an interesting blend of folk, tribal and classical elements. Like classical dance, there is a certain amount of codification but the dances retain great spontaneity, their movements painting vivid images from everyday life. Chhau dances are performed by tribal groups as part of the rituals associated with the great Spring Festival, Chaitra Parva, celebrated over the adjoining districts of the states bordering West Bengal, Bihar (now in Jharkhand) and Orissa in Eastern India during mid – April-May. All styles of Chhau dances are represented at the Spring Festival, Chaitra Parva, which is an ancient tradition that plays a vital social and religious role in the life of the region.

Of the three styles of Chhau, Purulia is the most robust and virile. Unlike Seraikella, Purulia Chhau never depended on royal patronage so it retains its vigorous folk character. With great gusto the dancers plant their feet forcefully on the ground and freeze in postures of encounter and challenge, bent knee foot stamping, short vertical jumps and full circle spins characterise this style as does the violent juggling of shoulders and shivering of the upper torso. Purulia dancers wear elaborate costumes – the embroidered velvet jacket and striped baggy trousers are a mixture of the Jatra folk theatre and 19th century theatrical costumes. The performances take place in the open ground platform. It begins in the late evening and may continue whole night. The audiences sit on the ground encircling the performers in separate groups of men and women.

The music that accompanies Purulia Chhau is played on three instruments: A Shenai – wind instrument, the Dhamsa kettle drum and the Dholak or Dhol, a drum carried on a shoulder strap that is beaten by a thin stick at one end and by the hand at the other end. The dholak player acts as a kind of picador or ring master to the dancers, running forward and shouting as if to goads them into dancing. At the beginning of the performance the musicians play a lively welcome tune of Shehnai and the drums beat rhythmically. Lord Ganesh is evoked before. He actually appears in the opening dance recitals. He is followed by epic heroes, other Gods and Goddesses with multi-coloured masks gleaming with tinsel, equipped with extra arms or heads (as required) made of wood or indigenous materials. The mask is an integral part of Purulia Chhau Dance. It liberates the dancer from the limiting influence of the face and puts a greater burden on the movements of the body. The body moves it bring the mask alive. Purulia masks are rustic; their wide-open eyes give a sense of speed and gusto. In both cases a headdress complements the mask. The masks are made of pulp and indigenous colours and decorated with peacock feathers, jaris and hairs. The masks are fascinating products of superb craftsmanship. Most Chhau themes are drawn from the two great Indian epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as the mythology of the Puranas.

[ the above text is courtesy of spic-macay-virasat  blog]

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