Curated By Leela Samson

A comprehensive presentation of three forms of Chhau: Seraikella, Mayurbhanj and Purulia. Each style is distinct, drawing from the rich traditions and history of their respective regions of origin and practice, deeply rooted in their varied contexts yet representative of formal properties of the the form. Audiences will experience the diverse spectrum of Chhau forms and styles, discovering variations and confluences in performance.

Seraikella Chhau 

Singhbhum—an area that finds reference in the Puranas as a part of the ancient region of Utkal is now in eastern India. Seraikella, from where the unique masked dance form of Seraikella Chhau originates is a part of this region. An energetic and spirited dance, this evolved from martial art techniques that were earlier practiced in this region by soldiers in the royal army. The etymology of the word Chhau, itself explains the nature of this art form. This word traces its origin to the Sanskrit word 'chhaya' which means shadow. The thematic contents of the compositions arc mostly abstract and are steeped in Parikhanda, a system of exercises practiced by the soldiers became more stylised, both in their physical and aesthetic sensibilities. Parikhanda translates to shield and sword, and till the present day the basic techniques are practiced holding a sword and shield. Chhau differs from other Indian classical dance forms primarily in its treatment of space and in its method of communicating emotions. The dancer executes movements that thrust the body upwards, defying gravity by performing spiral turns executed mid-air; jumps and extended leg movements carry the dancer through choreographic patterns that traverse the performing.

The second unique feature of Seraikella Chhau is the complete absence of 'vachikabhinya' by means of vocal support and 'mukhabhinaya', as the face is completely concealed by the mask. Thus the emoting is done kinesthetically through body movements. 'Mukhota' or masks are an integral part of this dance style and the art of mask-making is itself highly evolved. There are traditional families that specialise in this art, and work together with choreographers and dancers. It is only after a detailed study of the characters that the masks are created. A mask depicts only the essence of a particular character but in combination with the movements of the dancer the mask becomes extremely animated. Every move of the body, the tilt of the face imparts to the mask a whole range of expressions. When worn, the masks lead the dancer through a series of meditative experiences. Breathing through the masks there is a total negation of the self and a complete transformation into the character depicted. This overwhelming feeling makes it an extraordinary experience for both the dancer and the spectator.

The themes of the compositions are inspired from nature, mythology and even history. The rhythmic accompaniment is provided by traditional drums like nagada, a huge kettle drum and dhol, a cylindrical drum. The melody is provided by the shehnai (reed pipes) and bansuri (bamboo flute). The compositions are classical, based on ragas that enhance the mood of the character. Patronage from the rulers of Seraikella greatly helped in the evolution of Chhau and transformed it in to a sophisticated theatre art-form. In the present day, even though it is performed all over the world and highly regarded by both the fields of theatre and dance, Seraikella Chhau is intimately associated with the culture of this region. Every year in the spring people of Seraikella celebrate the Chaitra-Parva, and through the medium of dance evoke the blessings of Kali, the mother goddess and Ardhnarishwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva representing the male-female duality inherent in nature.


Mayurbhanj Chhau got structured and flourished under the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj approximately a century ago, evolving into a beautiful yet virile dance. This dance from was introduced in the eighteenth century in the Darbar period of Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanjdeo. This form is widely acclaimed for its beauty, vigour and marvel. Of the three styles of Chhau, Mayurbhanj—which is prevalent in Odisha—is the only of its kind which is performed without the use of mask. Given its historical evolution, it serves as a vibrant example of continuing folk performing traditions that persist despite facing many constraints. Elements of folk, tribal, martial, traditional and classical art have been woven in to the grand mosaic of Mayurbhanj Chhau. Mayurbhunj is always spectacular and characterised by rhythemic fury rising to a crescendo at the end. Various aspects of the idioms, vocabulary repertoire, a thematic of gestures and aesthetic qualities of Mayurbhunj draws substantially from great epics like the Ramayana, The Mahabharat and from folk and tribal elements.

The most important feature of this form is its music accompanying the dance which invigorates the soul. The orchestra is generally composed of 'mahuri', 'kadka', 'dhol', and 'dhumsa', which adds to its vigour and vitality the vibration touches. The grammar of Chhau comprises of challis and uflis (jumping locomotion ). These chalis and uflis are adapted from rural house-hold activities, behaviour of animals and birds, and war actions. The prominent feature of this form are the lyrics as they are largely derived from the Jhumar and local songs. hhau is a house hold tradition in Mayurbhanj a tradition celebrate both by non-tribal and tribal alike. The vigour and fury of movement indicates to the dynamism of tribal culture and showcases the deeply religious sentiments motivating the performance as the presiding deity of this dance is Lord Vairab. In this dance grace is related to vigor and emotion. As an ancient dance form it follows the basic principle of Natya Sastra of Bharatmuni and Abhinaya Darpana.

Purulia Chhau

Purulia is a part of the district Manbhum under the Chhotanagpur division, which is home to tribal inhabitants. The Chhau dance is a popular cultural activity of this region. The Purulia Chhau is distinct from Mayurbhanj which originates in orissa and Seraikella, which originates in Jharkhand. The dance originated over a century ago, and historically recieved patronage from rulers. This form has been practiced and sustained by the Mahato, Kurmi, Bhumij, Komar, Dom and Hadi of the region. It serves as an essential part of the rituals of Shiva Gajan, a festival celebrating the glories of Lord Shiva, starting from the last day of the last month of Bengali calendar chaitra, it continues for a couple of months. Now the dance is conducted throughout the year, though was originally restricted to the month of the festival. A number of dances of the region have influenced its music and rhythmic structure. The musical accompaniment of Chhau dance includes 'dhol' (drum), 'dhumsa' (drum), 'mohuri' (kind of wind instrument), 'nagada' (drum), etc. Purulia performances are based on episodes of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The protagonists are both classical and mythical, dieties such as Shiva, Durga, Karthick, Ganesh, Kirat, Ravana, Mahshasur, Karan, Abhimanyu and others are performed. The dances are vivid depictions of heroic qualities and veer-rasa. The technique comprises acrobatic movements jumps, leaps, swirls, summersalts, circular movements.

The usage of huge masks (thath mohoda) is an important feature of Purulia. The mask conceales the facial expressions but it helps the artists in portraying various emotions and creates an element of theatre. The masks are made of particular colors for different gods, demons and other characters. The masks are prepared by special craftsmen using paper maché.

Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in any performance, artwork or installation do not reflect the official policy or position of the institution.


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