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Chhau Dance : The UNESCO’s World Heritage

What is Chhau Dance

Chaau is a very popular, traditional, and age-old tribal dance form, which incorporates the movements of martial arts and depicts the mythological Hindu epics.

It is believed by some scholars that, Chaau word is derived from the Sanskrit word “Chhaya”, which means shadow or mask. On the other hand, other experts believe that it is derived from the word “Chhauni”.

History of Chhau Dance

Pre-eminently, this popular culture and folk dance is seen in the states of Orissa, Jharkhand & West Bengal. The dance form was named and differentiated according to the regions, their culture, and tradition. This traditional dance or folk dance got it’s name from these places which are as follows :

  • Seraikella Chhau
  • Mayurbanj Chhau
  • Purulia Chhau

Earlier, Chaau was the cultural identity of the marginalized people. Because of this folk dance’s uniqueness, grace, individuality & peculiarity, it was enjoyed by the zamindars & kings.

Though it’s said that the Chhau originated from Purulia, West Bengal then it spread to the neighboring states. This art form consists of martial arts or mixed martial arts and classical dance. You can’t believe the grace and aura of the performance, until and unless you see it with your own eyes. It’s an experience in whole, as they perform their acts based on the Hindu mythologies like Ramayana, Mahabharata, local folklore or traditional beliefs and customs and also on various abstract themes. It’s connected directly with the Bosonto Utsav, Chaitra Parv, Saradiya Utsav. Their style and movements are inspired by martial arts, combat techniques, classical dance, inspired by nature, birds and animals and also inspired by the village housewives’ household chores.

The movements must have “ghura”, “ulfa”, “laf”,  “jhap”, “kap”, “digbaji”, “rangbaji”, “chakkar”, “ura”, “chal”. Without these acrobatic movements, Chhau is incomplete and lifeless. The male dancers of the family are mainly engaged in the chhau dance. After coming back home from their everyday work, they start their practice mainly in the evening and practice till 8 or 9 pm. 

This traditional dance performance is accompanied by 4 major Indian instruments, which are :

  • Dhamsa
  • Flute
  • Dhol
  • Shehnai

For this particular folk dance, the costume and the masks play a very vital role. Without that the dramatic performance is incomplete. They wear brightly coloured and flared bottom dhotis with matching bright kurtas. To give that dramatic, fierce, and powerful look, they wear pieces of jewellery as well. And then comes to those beautiful masks, which conveys various emotions and nature of that particular character.

These masks are mainly made up of clay or paper pulp, which are sustainable and eco-friendly.

The evolution with time & the recognition

Once in 1961, this traditional dance was witnessed by an anthropologist in a rural village of Purulia. Seeing this, the locals formed their groups and parties, who were expecting a trip sponsorship to abroad. This was the turning point,and in the greed of acquiring fame internationally, they started working hard, came up with new martial art movements, exciting combat moves and excellent summersaults, to make the play more dramatic and elegant. They created their costume jazzier than before by adding heavy embellishments. As their face was hidden behind the mask, they made their headgears enormous, which could align with their body movements to pour out the character emotions.

In this way, finally, in 2010, their hard work was paid off. This traditional Chhau dance was listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list of dance as”Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. After that Chhau dance gained international recognition, where the groups fly abroad to various events to show their play and entertainment the mass with the same.

Sonajuri Art’s  role in the preservation of Chhau Dance

Sonajhuri Arts is different from other art platforms because our vision is to create a bigger picture of art, than what exists today. It’s for all the unparalleled and unmatched creativity of the arts of Rural India, who have been quietly perfecting their art and creativity for centuries.

Sonajhuri Arts gives recognition to every artist and their art, who want to join us. We always try to feature them in the international arena, rather than veiling their identity. This is what makes us so special. We keep on mentoring them to innovate and create relevant designed traditional, trendy and culture-based products that match the changing tastes, needs and modern preferences of the audience to help them hit the wider markets.

Due to the massive increase of industrialization, this traditional dance form is becoming an endangered art form. Chhau binds people of various social strata, so we have come up with the traditional masks and headgears of Chhau dance on our website so that people can know and buy these excellent art pieces which are very exclusive and hard to be sourced.

Sonajuri Arts is not only helping them grow but also preserving various art forms. As we know, India is already a hub of arts and crafts for centuries, and to preserve those and spread it is what we believe in.

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