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Performing Arts

Purulia Chhau

Seraikela Chhau (Bihar), Mayurbhanj Chhau (Orissa)


(c) Centre for Cultural Resources and Training

Purulia Chhau is traditionally performed in the open air, on level ground. The performance begins with an invocation to Lord Ganesha. In Chhau repertoire there are several dance numbers which are based on episodes from the Mahabharata and Purana. Musical instruments play a very important role during this dance performance.

Reasons for selection

1. Purulia Chhau is a vibrant and powerful folk dance form with an inclination towards theatre. Use of mask in the dance makes it more attractive for the audience.
2. The unfortunate silence of historical documents about Purulia Chhau dance has heightened the mystery of this form.
3. This form is declining due to various reasons and it needs to be preserved.

Area where performed

Purulia District, West Bengal State

Essential elements of the performing art

Dance, Music, Theatre, Mask

Detailed explanation

Purulia Chhau is generally regarded as a form of dancing, but close examination will reveal that it is more a form of theatre than of dancing.

The story or theme contained in each number in Purulia Chhau is not narrated in words but depicted only through dance movements. Therefore, Chhau is essentially a form of non-verbal theatre, in which actors expresses themselves in movements, not in words. To compensate the absence of the verbal element the dance has developed a stylized mimetic language and a well-knit grammar.

The use of mask in Chhau not only determined the line of its growth, but remained its focal point even after the form fully crystallized. The making of these masks is an independent art altogether. It needs a gifted artist to visualize the mask and then give shape to it. Masks were earlier made of wood, but presently these are made of papier-mache or clay.

The Purulia Chhau, masks vibrate with quality of earthiness and their function is more or less limited to effectively stylized representation of mythical dramatic personae. With the use of masks, Chhau takes the fantasy of its audience to the summit of poetry, where beauty is distilled from a world of magnificent dreams.

Dancers wear traditional ornaments and richly decorated costumes.

Music of Chhau is predominantly instrumental. Percussion is both powerful and dominating because the expression in movement is governed primarily by percussive music. The rhythmic pattern and tempo of the music is designed to go along with the development of the theme. It creates an appropriate atmosphere with the help of melodic content in the accompanying orchestra, which has practically no vocal element.

The musical instruments, used in Chhau are dhol, dhumsa (big drum), pepti (a reeded aerophone similar to the shehnai)and janjh.

All the dance numbers in the repertoire of Purulia Chhau centers around a dramatic fight. Even the movements are vigorous and powerful, it proves the fact that Chhau was originated from traditional martial dances of bygone days. Nevertheless, inspired by an intoxicating percussive music, the Chhau represents a highly stylized, expressing the exultant and unique sensibility of rhythm.

Publication and textual documentation

In form of cultural package and video film

Audio documentation

already available

Visual documentation

Purulia Chhau, film, High Band (U-matic), CCRT documentation department, 1992

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

1. Center for Cultural Resources and Training, New Delhi.
2. Sangeet Natya Academy, New Delhi.
3. Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts, New Delhi.

Data provider

Mr. Surendra Kaul
Director General
Centre for Cultural Resources and Training
Address: Bahawalpur House, Bhagwandas Road,
New Delhi - 110001, India