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The spirit of dance

The spirit of dance
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The repertoire of Purulia Chhau embodies the cultural heriage of West Bengal. the signature mask dance that is performed in certain areas of the state has a distinctive character of its own, making it stand apart from the other Chhau forms.

Although a part of the folk cultures of Bihar and Orissa, Purulia Chhau has received international recognition for its vigour and perfection. The Republic Day parade tableaux representing the state this year will feature the Purulia Chhau.

The main theme of Purulia Chhau is battle. It traces its origins to the Bhumij or the Munda warrior tribe. The physical agility of the dancers along with high levels of endurance and forceful movements to best represent fighting moves, makes Purulia Chhau a vibrant and an energetic performance.

The use of the drum is an important part of the dance performance. The dance usually opens with an invocation of Ganesha by a singer and it is followed by the entry of the drummers and singers with the Dhol and the Dhumsaa - the two traditional musical instruments used by rural communities throughout India. The Shehnai is also a part of the musical repertoire in Purulia Chauu. The performance of the musicians not only inspire the dancers but also create the wonderful ambience through the sounds and chants.

The technique of dance in Purulia Chauu reveals a rich grammar of body movements mentioned in texts of classical dramaturgy and dance. The basic stances of Ksipta with the knees turned out and bent at right angles, is maintained in the dance. The various leaps, circular movements, walks etc are similar to those mentioned in Natya  Shastra and Abhinaya Darpana.

The intricate Angikabhinaya suggests that in its earliest forms Chhau dancers may have performed bare-bodied, however in recent times several of the costumes have been modelled along the lines of traditional theatre costumes from Bengal, namely the Yatra. This was facilitated by the fact that at one time mythological plays were popular in urban professional theatres in Bengal.

All the characters in the Chauu are required to wear masks. Mood variations therefore cannot be shown through facial gestures and the dancers have to depend solely on body movements and movement of the masks to illustrate different moods.

Chhau is said to have originated from some primitive war-hoops . Experts consider that the dance has its roots in sympathetic magic as it was performed by tribal people in an effort to propitiate the deities like the Sun god and Shiva-Shakti. The credit goes to communities who have helped continue this rich legacy and facilitated it to gain international recognition and accolades. So make sure you keep your eyes on the Bengal float this year - it promises a treat!
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