Chhau Nach or Chhau Dance is an old traditional folk dance, prevalent in the eastern part of India. I had the privilege of witnessing the dance multiple times in my life. My childhood was spent in a small town yet it rightly upheld the customary spirit and historical heritage of ancient India. Watching the folk songs and dances with my parents are memories I can never forget. Chhau Nach was inevitably one of them. Before the lockdown and pandemic had set in, I was fortunate to witness the dance again with my son and hubby. My son as astonished to watch the dance, filled with vibrant energy and acrobatic moves.
The Essence of Chhau Nach
Chhau Nach is majorly popular in the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha; all being in the eastern part of the country. It is termed differently in the 3 regions; In West Bengal, the dance form is known as Purulia, in Jharkhand it is Seraikella Chhau and in Odisha, the name is Mayurbhanj Chhau. The dances are performed by the male folks who enact both the roles of a man, woman and even animals and birds. Tales from Hindu mythology form an integral part of the Chhau dance. It is mostly performed in rural areas but now increasingly popular in the urban and metro cities too. In the earlier days, the dance was performed only on a particular month in the Hindu calendar; Chaitra equivalent to the confluence of the months of March and April as per the English Calendar.
The dancers wear brightly coloured dresses and headgears or masks resembling the characters portrayed through their acts. If you want to learn more about mask making and the village in the Purulia district of West Bengal; then you must read my earlier article on Charida Village. It is amazing to watch the masks being carved to show resemblance to the Gods, Goddesses, kings, queens, animals and birds. In Odisha, the mask is not very popular as that of Jharkhand and West Bengal. The colours of the outfits attract the audience, the jewellery and the ornaments are a treat to the eyes. The masks showcase the immense talent of the craftsmen, curating them with intricate designs.
The dancers move at a fast pace, demonstrating rapid movements and acrobatic skills. Somersaults, jumps, agile moves are a part of the dance form. The entire duration of the dance is filled with vibrant energy and loud music. Different types of drums, reed pipes and shehnai or the clarinet are the traditional folk musical instruments that accompany the dancers. Few narrations are made in between to describe the act in tune with the music.
Interesting Facts about Chhau Nach
Chhau Nach is included in UNESCO’s Representative List for the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in the year 2010. The recognition has helped to revive the dying tradition of the dance form and the artists. Nowadays special events are organized in the towns and cities for performing Chhau Nach in front of a huge audience. Events have been organized outside India too; thus spreading its popularity internationally. The amazing part is the vigour and intensity of the dancers performing rhythmically throughout the entire duration of the program. The objective and theme of the dance form are to bring harmony, unity and peace among people with varying social and cultural backgrounds. The tales that are enacted have a moral inbuilt in them, learning for the people watching the shows.
Next time when you visit India, do plan to watch a Chhau dance performance. I bet you will not repent.
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