Exploring myriad aspects of chhau

KNOWING PAST

In last few years chhau dance form has become popular amongst the masses. Thanks to movie like Barfi! that promoted one of the forms of the chhau and many dance reality shows for presenting it on Bollywood tunes.

The credit also goes to UNESCO for making the three forms of this dance -- Saraikella, Mayurbhanj and Purulia as the cultural heritage of the world. Therefore, celebrating this age-old art form, ‘Unmasking the Tradition’, the story of Seraikella chhau was organised by Sudhaaya Dance Foundation at IIC in the
City.

 During the two-day programme, interesting details about the Seraikella chhau came into light. On the first day, through series of lectures and demonstration, the history, evolution and fundamental technique of the dance-drama folk art was brought into notice.

One of the interesting features that grabbed the attention was the chhau’s origin. It is a combination of dance and martial art practice. Khel mock (combat techniques), challis and topkas (stylised gaits of birds and animals) and uflis (movements inspired  by the mundane occupations of simple village life) defines the Seraikella form.

“The dance form explores a variety of subjects like local legends, folklore and mythology. Experimentation has become a part of it too as dancers have introduced contemporary themes through interesting interpretation,” says Shagun Bhutani, founder-director, Sudhaaya Dance Foundation.

She says, “Traditionally this form of chhau was learnt by male dancers, who belong to artist families or who have trained under gurus or Ustads. The performance used to last the whole night and was done in open spaces like akhada. It was supported by the beats of dhol, dhumsa, kharka along with the melody of mohuri and sehnai.”

On the first day, Prakriti Kashyap, a scholar who visited Seraikella in 1970s talked about the rituals performed during Chaitra Parva and its deeper connection to the dance. During the sessions, the artists also discussed how chhau has evolved in the last 60 years and the elements that have been lost as there is no record of the old compositions.

Interestingly, the peculiarity of Seraikella chhau lies in the use of colourful masks to represent the emotions. Unlike the other classical dance forms where the face is always the main instrument for expressing the feeling and emotions, the Seraikella chhau includes the use of mask.

  It was the second day of the programme that explained in detail the techniques of mask making and the underlying aesthetics in how the mask is used in the dance form. The demonstration of the art of mask making was given by traditional mask makers, Kanahi Lal Mahrana, Sushant Mohapatra and Dilip Acharya.

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