The word Chhau originates from ‘Chhaya’ meaning shadow. It is a form of mask dance that uses vigourous martial movements to narrate mythological stories. Some narrations also use natural
themes such as Sarpa nritya (serpent dance) or Mayur Nritya (peacock dance).
There are three main styles of Chhau dance:
- Saraikella Chhau in Jharkhand,
- Mayurbhanj Chhau in Odisha and
- Purulia Chhau in West Bengal.
Of these, Mayurbhanj Chhau artists don’t wear masks
The Chhau dance of Eastern India is a blend traditions, temple rituals, and folk and popular performance of this region.
Episodes from the epics Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas, traditional folklore, local legends and abstract themes are presented through the medium of dance and a music ensemble that consists, primarily of indigenous drums.
In its traditional context, the dance is intimately connected with the festivals and rituals of this region. Important among these is the Chaitra Parva celebrated in the month of April. The Month of Chaitra celebrates the advent of spring and the start of the harvesting season.
The melody is interwoven and is provided by reed pipes like the Mohuri, Turi-Bheri and Shehnai. Though vocal music is not used in Chhau, the melodies are based on songs from the Jhumar folk repertoire, the devotional Kirtan, classical Hindustani ‘ragas’ , and traditional Oriya sources. Dhol, Dhumsa, Nagada, Chadchadi, and jhaji provide accompaniment to Chhau dance.
In 2010, UNESCO inscribed Chhau in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Note: Till now, Sangeet Natak Akademi has recognised 08 classical dance forms whereas the Ministry of Culture has recognised 09 classical dance forms including Chhau.