Folk  &  Traditional 


Chhau Dance

Chhau Dance

Chhau dance is a genre of Indian tribal martial dance which is popular in the Indian states of OdishaJharkhand and West Bengal. The tribal belt where the tribals and other common people perform Chhau dances is distributed into three adjoining states, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, after the dissolution of the princely states in 1950. The three forms of Chau are named after the district or village where they are performed, i.e. the Purulia Chau of Bengal, the Seraikella Chau of Bihar nowJharkhand, and the Mayurbhanj Chau of Orissa


It is believed by some modern scholars that the word Chhau is derived from Sanskrit Chāya (shadow, image or mask), but according to Sitakant Mahapatra, it is derived from Chhauni (military camp). 

The Chhau dance is mainly performed during regional festivals, especially the spring festival of Chaitra Parva which lasts for thirteen days and in which the whole community participates. The Chhau blends within it forms of both dance and martial practices employing mock combat techniques (called khel), stylized gaits of birds and animals (called chalis and topkas) and movements based on the chores of village housewives (called uflis). The dance is performed by male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities and is performed at night in an open space, called akhada or asar, to traditional and folk music, played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai. A variety of drums accompany the music ensemble including the dhol (a cylindrical drum), dhumsa (a large kettle drum) and kharkaor chad-chadi. The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes.

Seraikella Chhau uses masks that employ elaborate headgear decorated with artificial pearls, beads and zari work. Masks in this form of the dance are of three main types representing human characters - both mundane and depicting characters from Hindu mythology, masks that represent animals and birds and objects thought of as having human faces and masks that represent ideas and seasons. This last category includes masks representing marumaya (mirage), basanta (spring season) and ratri (night). Purulia Chhau uses masks that are less elaborate and they represent characters from Hindu mythology. These masks are crafted by potters who make clay images of Hindu gods and goddesses and is primarily sourced from Chorda, a village in the Purulia district of West Bengal.

In 2010 the Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Chhau dance is mainly performed by the Munda, Kalindi, PattnaikSamal, Daroga, Mohanty, Acharya, Bhol, Kar, Dubey, and Sahoo communities. The musical accompaniment for the dance is provided by people of communities known as Mukhis, Kalindis, Ghadheis and Dhadas who are also involved in the making of the instruments. Masks form an integral part of Chhau Dance in Purulia and Seraikella where the craft of mask-making is undertaken by communities of traditional painters known as Maharanas, Mohapatras and Sutradhars. The knowledge of dance, music and mask-making is transmitted orally.


The Government of Odisha established a Government Chhau Dance Centre in 1960 in Seraikella and the Mayurbhanj Chhau Nritya Pratisthan at Baripada in 1962 since the abolition of princely states made it difficult for the local communities to sustain these traditions. These institutions engage in training involving local gurus, artists, patrons and representatives of Chhau institutions and sponsor performances. The Chaitra Parva festival, significant to the Chhau Dance, is also funded by the state government. It is the best form of mask dance. For safeguarding Chhau Dance the Sangeet Natak Akademi has taken up specific measures including grants to cultural institutions the establishment of a National Centre for Chhau Dance at BaripadaOdisha.

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