Chhau Warsong

Dance forms in India are a medium to tell beautiful stories of war, love, separation and grief. Every part of this country has something interesting to witness. The intricate movements of hands, eyebrows and facial features is sometimes so intense that it can be noticed when they are wearing a mask.

When it comes to masked dance performances, Chhau is easily recognized due to the storytelling ability and use of costumes that are known for intricate designs.  The dance form tells stories from the Indian mythology, most notably of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The Chhau dance is performed in the tribal villages of Orissa, Jharkhand and West- Bengal in eastern India. There are three distinct forms of Chhau performed in these states:

  • Seraikella Chhau of Jharkhand
  • Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa
  • Purulia Chhau of West Bengal

Among these, Purulia Chhau is more extravagant and uses masks and costumes while Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa doesn’t use any masks and is more music oriented.

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Chhau Dance – A Jewel of Eastern India
Chhau Dance (1)

In Eastern India, Purulia Region of West Bengal is known for Chhau dance performances. The villages are also famous for mask making. This land of red soil is dotted with lush green fields that act as background of the dance performances. Dhol (drums) and shehnai (clarinet) are used to create music for the dance performance while singers sing the legends on which the performance dance and recreate scenes of the stories.

What makes Chhau so unique?

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Like most of the dance performances, Chhau too is a form of storytelling and the most notable ones are of war. The mask makers pay special attention towards expressions and facial features that make the battle scenes more intense.

Chhau Dance photos (5)Chhau Dance photos (3)

Every Chhau Dance performance has its own style and the mask varies from small to huge. The performers shake their body in aggressive stances combined with jumps and rhythmic body movements.

Also, unlike many of the dance forms which use a well made stage, Chhau dance stage prefers using dry earth. Soil blowing during the performance adds effect to the story.

Story of Chhau Mask makers

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Chhau is gaining an international recognition and so are the artists who prepare the masks. Charida, a small village in Purulia district, is the home to these makers who work day and night to create the attires for the performers.

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The mask makers are from Sutradhar community who were brought here by the King Madan Mohan Singh Deo some 150 years ago. This is the 4th or 5th generation who is involved with this job and as the dance is getting recognition on an international stage, the artists are finding a way to live a prosperous life by selling the masks.

Where is Purulia and how to attend Chhau Dance Performances

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Purulia is six hours away from Kolkata and 3 hours from Ranchi (Jharkhand). Regular trains connect Purulia from both cities. Chiroda is an hour away and regular buses take a stop here. Getting information about Chhau performances in advance is a little difficult but it is slowly becoming a focus of many Indian festivals including Surajkund Crafts Fair, Delhi and Jaisalmer Desert festival, Rajasthan.

These pictures were clicked in Purulia during the Chhau-Jhumur Utsav at Bamnia. The spectacular performance of Purulia Chhau Dance is one of a kind and while there are three different versions of the dance, this one is most extravagant. I had visited Charida village that is known for making the Purulia Chhau masks.

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Hope this Chhau Dance guide and blog helped you plan your next trip. Drop a comment for more queries.

 

30 thoughts on “Chhau Warsong

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  1. Many thanks for sharing. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about India from your blog. It’s interesting how dancing can be used in such an artistic manner. I want to attend a Chhau Dance Performance now!

    1. Wow, m amazed how diverse my country is. Even though i live in India, i was not aware of this tradition. Thanks for the enlightenment

  2. This is beautiful and your photos are absolutely breathtaking! Thanks for sharing this amazing piece of culture with us!

  3. This looks like so much fun. What an amazing article thank you for sharing!

  4. Wow, I really love the background information about Chhau. The costumes are so colorful and learning about what makes Chhau unique and the reasoning behind the dance is really interesting!

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