Chhau dance

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Ileana Citaristi performing Mayurbhanj Chhau.
A video of Chau dance in Purulia

Chhau dance is a genre of Indian tribal martial dance which is popular in the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. There are three subgenres of the dance, based on its places of origin and development, Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau.This is also called paika nrutya.The word paika is derived from the Sanskrit word Padatika meaning the infantry, and hence the name of the dance is battle (paika) dance (nrutya). In the olden days the powerful Ganga and Gajapati rulers of Orissa extended their territory from the river Ganges in the north to the Godavari in the south with the help of a vast army of valiant Paikas. They were not in the regular payroll of the army, but received huge land grants from the kings and the chieftains. They formed the rank of a peasant-militia. Though agriculture was their main occupation they used to keep themselves prepared by regular practice and training in war techniques. Several village-groups were under the command of a Dala Behera or group-commander. It was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in 2010. Most of the Paika villages of Orissa, spread all over the state have maintained the older tradition of Paika Akhada - the village gymnasium where young people assemble in the evening after the day's work. Along with traditional physical exercises, they dance with sword and shield in hand to the accompaniment of the country-drum. The primary aim of this dance was the development of physical excitement and consequently courage, in the dancing warriors. In ancient times this was unconsciously a rehearsal of battle.

During Dussera all the Akhadas celebrate their annual festival. In several prosperous villages display of traditional gymnastics, acrobatics and the dance by various village-groups are arranged on competitive basis. Each group participates with great enthusiasm. For all such displays, special grounds are prepared with soft earth sprinkled with oil and water.

Needless to say that the tradition of this dance carried to the contiguous tribal belt of Mayurbhanj, Sareikela and Purulia, and has developed into the magnificent dance of Orissa called 'Chhau'.


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).[1][2]

Features of the Chhau[edit]

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 kharka or chad-chadi. The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes.[3]

The Chhau dance is mainly performed by the Munda, Mahato, Kalindi, Pattnaik, Samal, 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.[4]

headquarters of the Seraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand, the Purulia Chhau in Purulia district of West Bengal and the Mayurbhanj Chhau[5] in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. The most prominent difference among the three subgenres is regarding the use of masks. While, the Seraikela and Purulia subgenres of Chhau use masks, the Mayurbhanj Chhau uses none.[6][7]

The Seraikella Chhau's technique and repertoire were developed book the erstwhile nobility of this region who were both its performers and choreographers. The Mayurbhanj Chhau is performed without masks and is technically similar to the Seraikella Chhau. The Purulia Chhau too uses masks and it exhibits the spontaneity of folk art. This is because unlike the Seraikella and Mayurbhanj Chhau, which enjoyed royal patronage, the Purulia Chhau was sustained and developed by the people themselves.

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.[8]

In 2010 the Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[9]

Measures to safeguard the dance[edit]

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 Baripada, Odisha.[10][11]

In popular culture[edit]

The Hindi film Barfi! has several scenes that features the Purulia Chhau in it.[12][13]


  1. ^ Claus, p. 109
  2. ^ "The Chhau". Seraikela-Kharsawan district official website. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  3. ^
  6. ^ "Famous Folk Dance: "Chau"". Purulia district official website. Archived from the original on June 2, 2013. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  7. ^ Claus, p. 110
  8. ^ Pani, Jiwan (1986). World of Other Faces - Indian Masks. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. pp. 19–20. 
  9. ^ |title=Intangible Heritage Lists
  10. ^ "Chhau Centre, Baripada/Jamshedpur". Sangeet Natak Akademi. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "Chhau centre at Baripada finds favour with Union Ministry". The Hindu. July 15, 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "Film Review | Barfi!". HT Mint. September 13, 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Bengali nuptial the Barfi! way". Daily Mail. 4 August 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 


External links[edit]

A Mayurbhanj Chhau music troupe performing in Bhubaneswar.