Chhau dance, with its martial origin and strenuous physique actions, was as soon as a strictly-guarded male area. Now a number of all-women troupes are all the fashion

There’s a proverb within the Santhali language that goes: ‘When we talk, we sing; when we walk, we dance.’ It suggests how dancing and singing are intrinsic to the Santhal neighborhood, which makes up most of West Bengal’s Purulia district. One of the poorest districts of Bengal, Purulia has been ravaged by Maoist insurgency, however even within the worst of occasions, it has clung steadfastly to its vigorous custom of Chhau dance, which, with its vigorous leaps, jumps and somersaults, is an expression of the bir (bravery) rasa.

The phrase ‘Chhau’ in all probability comes from chhauni (camp), and the artwork type was arguably invented to maintain foot troopers war-ready. The martial actions and mock fights subsequently took the form of dance, changing into standard within the Chota Nagpur Plateau area. Apart from Purulia Chhau, there are two different variants, Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chhau, that are practised in Odisha and Jharkhand respectively. With tales taken from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas, the dance dramas have a good time the triumph of excellent over evil. In these pandemic occasions, Chhau has even been used to unfold consciousness about COVID-19.

A Finished Mask Being Transported On A Motorcycle In Charida

A decade or so in the past in Purulia, males decked in dazzling costumes and larger-than-life masks would dance to the intoxicating rhythm of dhol, dhamsa, madol, shehnai, and flute at night-long performances in the course of the spring competition of gajan parab, devoted to Shiva. These days, after all, Chhau festivals are held by way of the 12 months and dancers are known as to carry out on nationwide and worldwide phases. And, in one other improvement, ladies dancers have entered this male area, with all-women troupes sharply on the rise.

In their blood

Mousumi Chowdhury, 23, from Purulia’s Maldi village, is credited with beginning the pattern. Chhau runs in Mousumi’s blood — her father, Jagannath Chowdhury, is a longtime Chhau artist and coach. “I was always interested in Chhau. As a child, when I watched my father perform, the beats would leave me excited.” When Mousumi was in Class IX, she joined her father’s coaching course on a whim, taking alongside her sister and some feminine associates. In three to 4 months, they have been prepared. It helped that right now, Banglanatak dot com, an NGO working in the direction of the event of marginalised communities in collaboration with the federal government and worldwide organisations like UNESCO, was conducting Chhau coaching camps in Purulia. The women strengthened their abilities there. When they carried out on stage, they impressed critics and lay audiences alike.

In 2010, Mousumi arrange the primary all-women Chhau troupe of Purulia, Mitali Chhau Maldi. (Chhau was included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage record in 2010.) Inspired by her, about 4 all-women teams now work in Purulia. While the ladies begin coaching early, they proceed with their training too: this 12 months, Mousumi completed her Masters in Bengali from Purulia’s Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University. She teaches Chhau at her college, which has a division devoted to the dance. Over the previous 10 years, Mousumi and her troupe have carried out throughout India, and even in Norway. “Chhau is my life, my identity,” she says.

A Seraikella Chhau Dancer Gets Ready To Don The Mask Before A Performance

It wasn’t straightforward, after all. Detractors have been prepared with taunts, telling her father, “Your own earnings are not enough, now you need to make your daughter dance too to earn more.” Although eradicating the masks is a strict no-no in Chhau, Mousumi and the ladies had to try this to show to the viewers that they have been certainly ladies. Sudip Bhui, coordinator and head-in-charge of the Chhau division of Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, says, “Women excel at Chhau because they are naturally more flexible and graceful. Caste and gender prejudices might have excluded them for long, but now that they have started off there’s no stopping them.”

Rebellious ladies

In the early Nineteen Eighties, Ileana Citaristi, an Italian-born Odissi and Chhau dancer, was refused entry on stage to carry out the Shiva tandava act at a programme in Baripada, the house of Mayurbhanj Chhau. Only male dancers have been allowed to enact the Shiva tandava at the moment. Although within the Nineteen Sixties and 70s, fairly a number of ladies had managed to interrupt the barrier and dance Chhau, only a few might handle to maintain the journey. In 1994, when Subhashree Mukherjee, then 15, carried out the Mahishashuramardini Durga piece at a standard Chhau akhada in Baripada, purists reacted with gentle disapproval whereas progressives hailed it warmly.

Mukherjee has performed a key function in bringing the ladies Chhau dancers of Odisha to the limelight. She is related to Project Chhauni, created by the Mayurbhanj administration, which is working exhausting to revive Chhau, supporting current artists and enlisting new ones. Recruiting and coaching ladies dancers is a part of the venture. She says, “Women didn’t take up Chhau because of the fear that it would mark them out as rebels and society would disown them. Besides, the use of heavy props like sword and shield in Mayurbhanj Chhau probably made it difficult for women.”

Artists From Jharkhand Perform At A Mela In Haryana

All that has modified. Prakashini Mishra, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, rehearses the vigorous Shiva tandava at a dance college in Baripada. She is one in every of a number of women coaching to turn into Chhau practitioners. Prakashini’s foray neither raises eyebrows nor makes her really feel like an outsider now. She enjoys the fruits of empowerment that different ladies have introduced into the artwork at totally different factors within the dance’s journey.

Seraikella in Jharkhand, some 100 km from Baripada, is thought to be the birthplace of Chhau. Under the patronage of the erstwhile royals of Seraikella, Chhau unfold to Mayurbhanj and different locations.

Bijoy Pratap Singh Deo, prince of Seraikella, was the best exponent of Chhau within the early twentieth century. He is credited with all the main reforms within the artwork type, together with the introduction of ladies. A girl artist, Kumari Bani Mujumdar, is alleged to have accompanied the troupe led by him that toured Europe within the late Thirties. The royal patronage and safety is perhaps one of many the reason why ladies have been a part of Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chhau a lot earlier than they made a mark in Purulia Chhau.

In all types of Chhau, the story is narrated by way of physique actions, which makes it bodily demanding. Deepali Sahu, 42, a Seraikella-based dancer, says she needed to grasp the martial arts earlier than studying the intricacies of Chhau. Earlier, feminine roles have been carried out by male artists. Now it’s the opposite means spherical.

Vanishing taboos

The taboos related to ladies enjoying male gods are additionally vanishing. Malay Kumar Sahu, a Seraikella-based researcher, says ladies can carry out Chhau so long as they continue to be bodily match. “In the Seraikella area, girls start training at the age of 10 and remain active till about 24. Most of them discontinue after marriage,” says Sahu.

But marriage has not deterred 26-year-old Sunita Mahato of Purulia. She heads an all-women troupe known as Bongabari Matangini Hazra Mahila Chhau Nritya Dal. Starting off as a kirtan singer, Mahato later grew to become a Jhumur dancer. Her Jhumur guru educated her in Chhau, which she has been practising for the final three or 4 years. She obtained married in 2019. Seeing her dedication, her husband and in-laws inspired her.

Now that public performances have began once more after the lockdown, Mahato may be very busy, touring regionally and likewise in neighbouring States. “While men can change in the open, women have to have green rooms. We carry three or four sheets of tarpaulin with us wherever we go so that we can have our own makeshift green room in case the organisers don’t provide us with one. If there’s no toilet, we make one with a partition inside the tent.” The dress-change needs to be finished quick, with every performer enjoying a number of characters. As a senior member, Mahato performs the tougher and clever roles like that of Kartik, Krishna, Mahishashuramardini or Parashurama, leaving the better ones to the trainees.

In the times following Makar Sankranti, which is well known as a harvest competition on January 14-15 in japanese India, as in varied components of the nation, Mahato will probably be performing all night time together with her troupe. There’s not a lot cash to be made. Even till eight years in the past, the same old cost for a troupe for a night-long efficiency was a number of kilos of chickpea and jaggery, two-three bundles of beedi, and ₹10-20. The state of affairs has improved, however remunerations are nonetheless not commensurate with the trouble. “For me, it’s not a matter of money. My passion for Chhau drives me on,” says Mahato proudly.


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