Encendiendo una luz sobre los orígenes

“Libre del conflicto de los sentidos, el cuerpo redondeado y flexible se sumió en la cadencia lenta y majestuosa de la danza cósmica.”

Swami Prajnyananda

Photo by: Juan Carlos Castrillon
Ardhanarishwar

Los estudiosos no han llegado a un acuerdo común acerca de los orígenes exactos del Chhow, un nombre genérico atribuido a una familia de tres danzas que tienen una raíz común pero estilos diferentes.  Sin embargo, los especialistas han podido extraer algunas teorías acerca de su origen.

No es simple rastrear el origen basado en datos de un arte o una ciencia india.  No puede ser unidimensional puesto que en esta cultura las realidades humanas y divinas están profundamente entrelazadas.  Encontraremos que la gente acepta lo histórico y lo mitológico conjuntamente como una muestra del nexo entre lo humano y lo divino (Svoboda 37,38). Ante esta visión bifásica, los estudiosos extraen dos fuentes para el nacimiento de esta danza: una fuente marcial y una fuente religiosa. Guruji (mi maestro – Guru – y a quien siempre me debo dirigir con la palabra que denota respeto: ji) tiene una forma muy especial de unir ambas teorias en una historia mitológica.  “En realidad el Chhow comienza a existir desde el tiempo del Mahabhárata..” me dice, “y el gran guerrero Arjuna fue el primer bailarín de Chhow.  Él lo aprendió de Chitrasena, un rey de los Gandharva que le enseñó a cantar y bailar.  También lo aprendió de la danzarina celestial – apsara – Urvashi a quien vio danzar en la corte de su padre, Indra.  Una noche Urvashi se le insinuó a Arjuna quien no tuvo más remedio que recharzarla puesto que la consideraba como su madre.  Ella le puso una maldición en la que lo condenaba a convertirse en eunuco.  Esta maldición tuvo también consecuencias positivas más adelante cuando en el año decimotercero de su exilio los Padavas tuvieron que vivir en el anonimato ocultándose de los Kauravas.  Arjuna se convirtió entonces en un transexual llamado Brihannala quien le enseñaba danza y artes a Uttara, la hija del rey Virata en el reino de Matsya. Siendo un guerrero, Arjuna combinó de forma perfecta el lenguaje marcial y el vigor con la suavidad y la expresión lírica al tener un cuerpo femenino.”

Judith Blank también intuye de forma interesante que los orígenes marciales y religiosos están entrecruzados al decir en su tesis:”Se cree que el Chou se originó a partir de las enseñanzas de Bhairab.  Es una forma de danza ligada al arte de la guerra.  El pueblo Kshatriya lo llevaba a cabo como parte de su entrenamiento para convertirse en guerreros aristocráticos.”  Kala Bhairav es una manifestación del señor Shiva quien a su vez es el rey de la danza en su aspecto como Nataraj, y el señor de las artes marciales y el yoga.  Aquí encontramos nuevamente una conexión inseparable entre las motivaciones humanas y los rituales religiosos y es por esto que la danza Chhow al ser la más alta expresión de la cultura guerrera se practicaba como parte de un voto hacia el dios Bhairav.

Image result for bhairava
Imagen de Kala Bhairav en Kopan Durbar Square en Kathmandu, Nepal.  Tomado de IndiaDivine.org. No es una coincidencia que Él lleve una espada y un escudo y adopte una de las posiciones más notorias del Chhau de Mayurbhanj: Adda.

Guruji retoma su versión de la historia y encuentra otra conexión entre la danza, la deidad y lo marcial en otro relato del Mahabhárata (Libro 3, Vana Parva): la historia de cuando Arjuna se encamina hacia los himalayas para hacer austeridades y obtener el arma celestial del señor Shiva llamada Pasupatastra. “En su trayecto los otros sabios vieron a este guerrero armado de piel morena vestido con harapos y se sentó en una postura para meditar.  Ellos se sorprendieron y rápidamente se le acercaron para deternerlo diciendo ‘Este no es un lugar para las armas hijo mío.  ¡Este es un lugar para meditar y hacer penitencia! Este es un lugar de paz.  ¡O dejas tus armas, o te vas a otro lugar!’ Arjuna los escuchó, pero no les prestó atención.  Hizo una figura de barro en forma de linga  y se sentó frente a ella en meditación profunda…”

Todas estas referencias anteriores sustentan que hay una presencia inseparable entre la dimension divina y los asuntos humanos (Svoboda 37).  Al mismo tiempo nos recuerdan que  para la cultura india las artes y en particular el  Natya (danza/teatro) tienen un origen divino. No obstante, no aportan luz y claridad acerca de detalles tales como fechas, lugares y fuentes.  Por lo tanto, para tratar de explicar el nacimiento y el proceso de evolución de esta danza, los estudiosos han defendido una de las dos fuentes mencionadas anteriormente.  Un grupo de eruditos que incluye a D.N Pattnaik y a Sri G.C Mohanta,sostiene que este estilo se origina a partir de los movimientos marciales que ejecutaban los ejércitos de nobles conformados por militantes provenientes de las tribus (Biswal 2-5).  El otro grupo argumenta que antes de ser una danza guerrera, durante su desarrollo se llevaba a cabo como un ritual religioso y una práctica de preparación espiritual en honor a las deidades Shiva y Shakti (Biswal 5).

Personalmente sigo tanto la intuición de Judith como la de mi Guru, así como la línea de pensamiento del Dr. Svoboda, que unifican ambas teorias acerca del origen de esta danza.  De hecho, esta cualidad incluyente la ha convertido en una danza marcial ligada a rituales religiosos particulares en lugar de ser sólo una práctica marcial con fines de ataque y defensa.

Bibliografía:

Svoboda, Robert E. Life, Health and Longevity. Bombai: Penguin Books,  1992: 37-39.

Biswal, Kanhu Charan.  An introduction to Chhau Dance of Mayurbhanj.  Orissa: Subra         Pratik Prakashan, 1998: 2-5.

Blank, Judith.  The Story of the Chou Dance of the Former Mayurbhanj State, Orissa.  (A Dissertation in Candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy).  Illinois: Department of Anthropology, 1973: 102.

http://hindumythologyforgennext.blogspot.com.es/2013/01/arjunaand-pasupatastra.html

Light on the Origins

“Free from the conflict of the senses, the body pliable and rounded, engaged in the slow majestic cadence of the cosmic dance”

Swami Prajnyananda

Photo by: Juan Carlos Castrillon
Ardhanarishwar

The exact information about the origins of Chhow, a generic name given to a family of three stylistically varying dances that have a common root, has not been academically agreed upon by scholars.  In spite of this, they have been able to coincide in appointing possible sources.  Tracing the factual origin of an Indian art or science is never simple, or one-dimensional, for human and divine realities are deeply intertwined.  We will find that the historical and the mythical are acknowledged together as a bond between humanity and divinity. (Svoboda 37,38) Thus scholars find themselves with two sources for this dance form: a martial origin and a religious origin. Guruji has a very special way of blending both together with a  mythological story.  “Actually Chhow comes into existence during the Mahabharat time…” he says, “and the great warrior Arjuna was the first Chhow dancer.  He first learned the art from Chitrasena, a Gandharva king who taught him song and dance and also from watching the celestial apsara Urvashi dancing in the court of his father, Indra. One night Urvashi offered herself to Arjuna who considered her as his mother, so the apsara cursed him to become a eunuch for having rejected her.  Later however, the curse proved to be a blessing during  the 13th year of exile of the Pandavas while living in disguise. Arjuna then assumed the name Brihannala, a transgender, who taught dance and fine arts to King Virata’s daughter Uttara, the princess of the Kingdom of Matsya. As Arjuna was a warrior, he combined perfectly the martial language and vigour with the softness and lyrical expression of the feminine embodiment.”  Judith Blank (1973) also has an interesting way to acknowledge both the religious and the martial origin by stating in her dissertation that “The Chou dance is believed to have originated from Bhairab’s teachings; it is a form of dancing akin to the art of warfare.  The Kshatriya Peoples performed it as part of their training in being aristocratic warriors.” Kala Bhairav is a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, who is the lord of dance (Nataraja), yoga and martial arts.  Here we find once again an inseparable connection between human motives and religious observance, where Chhow dance as the highest expression of the Kshatriya (warrior) culture, is performed as part of a vow to lord Bhairav.

Image result for bhairava
Image of Kala Bhairav in Kopan Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Taken from IndiaDivine.org. Coincidentally enough, he holds a sword and shield and stands in one of the most important postures of Chhau: Adda

Guruji returns to his version of the story and illustrates this link through another tale from the Mahabharat (Book 3,  Vana Parva): the tale of where Arjuna sets out to the Himalayas to perform penance and obtain the celestial weapon Pasupatastra from Lord Shiva himself. “As he went to the Himalayas, the other sages saw the dark warrior, dressed in rags carrying his weapons and sit down in a posture ready for penance.They were surprised and hurriedly went before him, trying to stop him. ‘This is not a place for weapons, my son! This is place for performing meditation and penance! This is a place of peace. Either leave your weapons or go somewhere else!’ Arjuna heard them, but he did not heed to any of them. He made a linga out of the mud and sat before it, deep in meditation….”

These prior references sustain the inseparable presence of the divine dimension in human affairs (Svoboda 37) and remind us once again that Natya (dance/drama) comes from the gods. However, they don’t shed much light on details such as dates, places and actual sources. Therefore scholars who have tried to explain the birth and process of evolution of this dance form, have supported one of the two sources mentioned previously.  One group of scholars, including D.N Pattnaik and Sri G.C Mohanta, maintain that the dance originates from the martial movements executed by the armies of feudatory chiefs that were constituted by tribal militia (Biswal 2-5). The other group avails that before being a war dance, in its formative period, it was executed as a religious ritual and a spiritual preparation practice in honor of the deities Shiva and Shakti (Biswal 5).

Personally, I follow the line of thought stated before by both Dr. Svoboda and Judith Blank, where both theories are linked with one another. In fact, it is this inclusive quality that has made Chhau a ritualistic martial dance and not only a martial practice with attack and defense purposes.

Works Cited:

Svoboda, Robert E. Life, Health and Longevity. Mumbai: Penguin Books,  1992: 37-39.

Biswal, Kanhu Charan.  An introduction to Chhau Dance of Mayurbhanj.  Orissa: Subra         Pratik Prakashan, 1998: 2-5.

Blank, Judith.  The Story of the Chou Dance of the Former Mayurbhanj State, Orissa.  (A Dissertation in Candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy).  Illinois: Department of Anthropology, 1973: 102.

http://hindumythologyforgennext.blogspot.com.es/2013/01/arjunaand-pasupatastra.html

 

Chhau or Chhow?

Either one is correct.  In Delhi especially people will write it as Chhau and pronounce it in the same way.   The actual spelling that I found in Hindi most recently is छउ, which could be transcribed and pronounced as Chhu.  This would actually be closer to the Odiya pronunciation of Chhow where the sound is much more narrow.  However, it certainly puzzles me why the Hindi spelling is not छऔ (Chhau), or even छओ (Chho).  All languages change over time and vary according to place and social setting. The pronunciation of a particular vowel sound or consonant sound can change gradually across successive generations. A change in pronunciation might initially take place only in one particular geographic location and remain local.  In this particular field it is very difficult to keep track of how phonetical change occured since there is not much written record related to the dance and the tradition has been mainly oral.  We can even say that the different pronunciations are irrelevant or not important enough to debate upon them.  However, for me it is just another indicator of the lack of connection and communication between the homeland of this dance (Mayurbhanj) and the capital, the writers/scholars and the actual dancers,  the theoretical and the practical.

oriya_vowelcomp

Nataraj: The Cosmic Dancer

“…This was the Ananda-Tandava, the dance of bliss.  Shiva struck a whole series of poses to stir the imagination.  He finally froze.  This final pose contained the wisdom of the Vedas.  What had not been realized by priests and ascetics after performing hundreds of rituals, was realized by that one pose.” – Devdutt Patnaik, Seven Secrets of Shiva

As the Lord of Dance, the King of Dancers, Lord Shiva is the ultimate teacher.   He teaches through dance because words are too literal to capture the essence of the formless; it can be heard and read, it entices the senses, arouses the emotions of the viewers and invites the mind to analyze it intellectually.  “In this process, tools to deconstruct Maya are passed on.”  However, how many of us dancers really meditate on his teachings, really trust his liberating blows?  When we go up on stage,  how can we experience Lord Shiva as a live entity, as the energy itself that keeps the planets revolving?  How to forget ourselves, forget our fears, and stand unshakable on one leg? This traditional item can be the door that leads to a path of realization that invites the practitioner to dissolve and become as fluid as water and as vigorous as fire.

The item consists of three different moments that ultimately reveal the nature of the deity, and act as a metaphor for the neverhlf-danza-marcial-chhau-3 ending phenomenon of creation and destruction in the universe.  The first portion known as “sthai” depicts a series of poses, or asanas in which Lord Shiva stands to witness the cosmos, dwelling in his infinite, meditating self. Between pose and pose, he shifts through space with ondulating movements that give account to his fluctuating identity: the one who can become water, ever flowing, giving the substance for birth and washing away with death.  The gestures of the hands in each asana communicate qualities, states of mind, elements and the reassuring blessings that invite us not to fear.  His stance is generally on one leg, disclosing the balanced, calm and composed state of the self, where he is comfortable, again free from fear.

The dance then follows to represent the story when a group of Mimansikas (those who yearn to understand the meaning of life) were performing rituals in the forest and Shiva walked past them.  Seeing such an oblivious state of bliss, they were distracted, blamed him, and feared him, for he was so content and blissful that he did not seek wealth, power, or even knowledge.  In Shiva, they saw a threat to all they greedily aspired for and so they decided to destroy him.  Consequently, they used their knowledge to invoke creatures from the fire: first came a tiger, then a serpent and finally a dwarf demon.  Shiva feared none, but instead defeated each and ultimately ripped the demon apart, hence starting to dance.

Third eye opensIn the item, this part starts when The Dancer sits down to meditate, and with the upbeat change of the music is shown to have been disturbed by a demonic entity.  This demon is precisely our ego, the fear of the Mimansikas, our pride, or greed and ambition, even for spiritual attainment. As of that moment, Shiva unleashes the fire of his third eye to burn and destroy our attachments and petty illusions. The demon is elusive, hard to catch, so He chases him around the stage, until with a swift jump he stands on his back.   This forceful dancing is known as Tandava, demanding attention through realization, evoking thought and img_4279provoking consciousness.  After having ripped out the insides of the demon, he proceeds to throw him at each of the four corners of the world.  This is enlightenment, thus the dance of bliss starts.

The last part of the dance, known as Nataki, is supossed to disclose the mesmerizing ecstasy in which Nataraja lingers.  Once again, this is the chance for the Dancer to let go.  I imagine his form expanding, the locks of his hair flowing through the universe, his hands juggling planets.  By the time I finish my last round of paltas, just about to take the chouk stance and turn quickly and taking up that final pose. The mastery lies in holding it a little after the music has finished, so that iShiva's dance of blisss can unfold its mysteries in stillness. The most mystifying thing is that the dance really begins after having finished.

The music for this traditional item of the Northern School (Uttar Sahi) follows a 12 beat pattern in the sthai part, then a 7 beat in the antara and 16 beats in the Nataki. One of its best exponents was Guru Sri Hari Nayak.

On the white hill tops of eternity, he reveals his infinite soul behind a peaceful veil of fire.  Blissful just to be, he witnesses the unfathomable deepness and watches over us in compassionate silence.  “Oh Lord Shiva, do not hurt your feet by dancing on the rocky slopes of Himalayas, instead, come and dance in my heart.”

Perspectives of Chhau by a Performing Artist – By Sharon Lowen

Jumping ShivaSharon Lowen-1982

Sharon Lowen has dedicated her life to presenting and promoting excellence in Indian performing arts. She is hailed today as one of the leading international performing artists of three forms of Indian dance: Odissi, Chhau and Manipuri.  in Mayurbhanj Chhau she was trained by theSangeet Natak Academy Awardee (1975), Late Guru Krishna Chandra Naik.

She was the first woman soloist, responsible for introducing Mayurbhanj Chhau to the United States at the 1978 Asian Dance Festival in Hawaii and later at the Olympic Arts Festival of Masks in Los Angeles and is singularly responsible for getting Chhau presented on Doordarshan’ s National Broadcasts.

I feel fortunate and grateful to be able to share her article from the book Chhau Dance of Mayurbhanj, written by Sitakant Mahapatra, published in October 1993 by Vidyapuri, Cuttack, Orissa.

great teachers
Priceless Photo: Guru Madan Mohan Lenka, Guru Krushna Chandra Naik, Guru Sri Hari Nayak, Sharon Lowen 1976 Baripada, Mayurbhanj District, Orissa

Dandi: The Dance of the Wandering Ascetic

Dance with a Wooden stickMoments before going onstage I pick up my dandi (wooden stick) and kamandal (small pot).  Naturally the memories of those I have left behind, to embark on this journey of dance, start coming.  I remember my mother’s face as I cross the emigration gates at the airport, she wonders when she will see me again.  She is happy that I have taken this path, but sad to let me go. My sister, holding her beautiful son who calls me “antie Tonina” looks at me hopefully as small tears roll down her cheeks.  To my father I have said goodbye the night before.  Dancer and all, he accepts me now, he believes in me…”Live your life, do your best” he has said.

As I take the steps for the entry and sit in dharan (basic chhau position), my eyes get watery and then I know that the dance will be real.

Dandi is a solo dance item of the Southern school of Mayurbhanj Chhau.  It is based on the traditional ritual carried out by Brahmins and Kshatriyas to celebrate the development of a boy into manhood and his possibility to become a Brahmacharia (a celibate saint).  This custom is well known as Branatopayan, Upanayanam, or sacred thread ceremony.  Priorly, in the time of the Yajurveda it was conducted for boys (tying the thread) as well as for girls (ear lobe piercing) just before they would leave their homes to begin a process of training or education in a Gurukul.  Later on as the role of women changed in the society, it was only directed to boys between 7 and 14 years of age. Nowadays, if for some reason it can not take place then, it is mandatory to be done before marriage.

Meditation StanceBefore the ritual, the boys take bath, shave their heads, apply turmeric on their bodies, and wear saffron colored loin clothes, the color of ascetism and renunciation.   The thread, also known as janeu is worn underneath the clothes in the company of a group chant of ‘Gayatri’ mantra. It is twisted in an upward direction to make certain that ‘Sattwaguna’ (good quality of truth) prevails.  After tying janeu, the initiate goes around soliciting alms from his relatives, as this is the time when he can decide to leave home, and renounce the world to live the life of a wondering ascetic, carrying only a wooden stick taken from the branch of a holy tree, and a small pot with water.  The Priest whispers three “magic” mantras into his ears.  These, encouraged by the hypnotic sound of the dhol will empower him to cross the three lines drawn outside the house with rice paste and turmeric.  The uncle usually stands here as a protector to make sure that he doesn’t.  The three lines represent our worldly attachments: to our loved ones, to material goods and to our own ego. They can also be associated with triplets such as the three qualities: sattva, rajas and tamas; the three states: wakefulness, dream and deep sleep and the three dimensions of Heaven (swarga), Earth (mrityuloka) and Nether Regions (pataloka).  If he decides to cross them, he can never come back and must dedicate his life to seek for the immortal Supreme Soul.

In the dance we cross the lines

the wandering asceticAs I symbolically draw them with my leg movements and lightly jump above them, I look back to see what I am leaving behind: a secure family life, material luxuries and economic stability.  Still I cross them.  I breath deeply.  Though I know the movements that will follow and the effort required, the journey through the item is always unknown.  The fear and sad departure of the beginning slowly changes into a streak of hope, “will I be able to make it this time?” and a gush of energy that motivates me to continue.  Avartam by avartam (complete dance cycles) I travel through forests, cross rivers, jump over rocks and stumble upon my ego, breathing through my weaknesses and discovering new strengths.  Suddenly the transition of the music comes and as I jump to take the sitting position, I close my eyes and wait for the uplifting music that will carry my body till the end of the item.  The nataki (celebration part) starts: the Brahmachari has discovered the joys of meditating and now he indulges in the ecstasy of being one with the Higher Self.  Sometimes the dance gives me the blessing of experiencing a bit of this feeling.  And as I very slowly exit the stage with a feeling of togetherness, I know my journey continues.

Dandi is one of the items that draws upon traditional Odiya music and it is set to Dhamar taal with 14 beats.  The movements involved, express the softest quality of the Mayurbhanj style called Kalibhanga, thus back bends and deep sitting are utilized.  Guru K.C Naik (a guru brother of Guruji) was said to be the best exponent of this item.  Guruji tells us that his expression was so powerful and real in the beginning of the dance that people used to cry and then they would be amazed at how supple he was and how he could bend touching his head to the ground.

Celebration

Visual Poetry

showing movements in class
writing with the body

Sunil Kothari, a great dance scholar and critic has described Mayurbhanj Chhau as “visual poetry”.  Would you agree? Well Guruji certainly does, and believe me it’s not very often that he does.  But why does he agree? Every now and then something suddenly inspires him, and he tells me:

“Chhau is an alphabet with which words are written, but in cursive.  The letters are not separated one from the other because the movements never stop completely; there are certain exclamation marks, and comas, and pauses, but rarely a full stop.  Does water ever stop running? Does the wind ever stay still? Just like this, the limbs are used continuously, drawing patterns in the air; patterns that should be composed in the same manner as a sentence: subject, verb and complement (in the case of English for instance).  This way, the different movements, such as ufli, chali, upufli and other grammatical elements of Chhau, should be put together to form a sentence of dance, a paragraph, and finally an inspiring story. But the flow of the letters that make up the words, that make up the sentences and so on, should never be interrupted. Between inhaling and exhaling there is a small gap, but does the process of breathing ever stop?  Even a jump joins immediately with a turn, which then lands in a squat that bounces back into the air, to jump three more times before establishing for a moment in a stretched position called Ada. This is how my uncle, Anant Charan Sai used to compose, this is how I connect the dots of dance, this is the vision he left me.”

I take a breath and marvel at nature, at this wonderful dance I’m learning, at him. After this I realize that this continuity of movement is one the greatest difficulties that new comers encounter when they start learning under Guruji because they can’t identify the movements separately, therefore it is much more difficult to execute them and also to remember the sequences.  However if they are patient enough, their body will start opening up to this overflowing body language, after which joining other kinds of movements will come easily. However, it’s quite amusing to see everybody’s face after Guruji has demonstrated a new sequence in class… you will find all kinds of abhinaya (facial expressions), almost all the Navarasa (nine emotions):

Firstly adbhut (wonder: what was that???), secondly bhayanak (fear: Oh God, how can I do that!), and then others like hasya (laughter: hahaha, nobody can do that!) and the one I usually opt for, vira (heroic: Ok, now show the others what he just did).

But it is necessary to understand this continuous flow of the Mayurbhanj style, because it is a great part of why the dancers look so light and appear to be floating on stage.  Many people misunderstand and think that because it is a masculine martial form it has to be hard, when instead the real strength comes from letting the body relax so that it can be light enough to toss and turn, or leap and drop swiftly.  However, this comes with a proper training and discipline that will make the legs so strong that the effort doesn’t show.  So “Chhau dancers”, start doing your baithaka danda (squating practice) every day!  Guruji used to do 1000 daily.  And it’s also good to practice standing on one leg and writing your name (for starters), with the other one in the air.  After a while you can write phrases or even a whole poem.  That will get your standing leg really solid and ready for all kinds of balance, and then you will definitely be doing justice to the expression: “visual poetry”.

These are some of my Chhau brothers in Rairangpur, even though their movements are not very polished, it’s a small taste of what I was talking about.  It’s a very small portion of the item Kalachakra.

Three styles in a word

Ratri

Long time back so it seems, well actually two years ago, there was a wonderful Chhau performance in Meghdhoot Theater in which the three styles were presented, each with its distinctive orquestra for live music.  It was then that I got the glimpse of how all of them came into one family and yet why they were each so different and unique.  It is known that every coin has two sides, well in Chhau’s case, it has three.

The first performance was that of Seraikela, and as the dim blue light filled the stage, I began to feel the “hidden”, mysterious, introverted nature of the dance.  The body language, sometimes broad and sometimes contained revealed the mood of the character, the tala (rhythm) flowing with calm dhol beats and then suddenly with vigorous strokes, enlivened him and gave me a very strong feeling of that which is not shown, but can be seen; which is not said but can be heard.  The dancer in a mask conveyed more than any other facial expression, because his message came from the inside.

War dance

Then came my favorite, off course, Mayurbhanj, with its free flowing movements and vibrant energy.  Here nothing was contained, but instead softly released: sometimes slowly and sometimes vigorously and swiftly, as a feather dancing in the breeze, delighting in the entrancing cadence of the beat.  Even when the faster part started, the dancer maintained his inner lightness as he leaped and turned.  He had become Lord Shiva calmly destroying the universe with the blink of an eye.

And thirdly Purulia with its funny looking masks and tremendously enthusiastic dhol players, gave the final thrilling and comical touch to the performance.  Aside from the seriously difficult summersaults executed by the artists, the way the story was represented and how the characters moved about, filled the audience with a humoristic, joyful atmosphere.

So there I was: complete, having seen the three sides that made up this huge art form. Each of them with such a different energy, yet complementing each other, fulfilling the different needs that an audience

Mahisarura mardini

has.

And well, apart from my own appreciation of the dances, I would like to share a more academical description of the latter.  The three representative styles of Chhau are named according to the places where they developed, thus they are known as Seraikela Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau.  Having many similarities, primarily their martial strain, and consistently their religious rituals, system of music, their theatrical nature and the sources of their stories, the three forms differs stylistically from one another. Despite this, each one has its own charm and aesthetic appeal. The most distinctive aspect differentiating the three styles is the use  of mask; Mayurbhanj Chhau does not use masks, whereas Seraikela and Purulia do, however the way it is used in these two styles  also differs greatly in terms of their function and appearance.

The most highlighted aspect of Seraikela Chhau are the masks, which are more sophisticated both concept and design wise than those of Purulia.  The face depicted in the mask has a neutralized expression, since it is only through the course of dance that it will become expressive according to the different standing postures, gestures, ways of walking and body positioning.  In this way, the same mask can express various ranges of emotions altogether in the course of one dance.

Purulia Chhau, uses masks with towering headgears, as a theatrical tool to bring more life to the athletic somersaults, leaps, stamps and iconographic poses that comprise the grammar of the dance.  Thus, the mythological characters often represented acquire a “fascinating palpability”.

As mentioned before, Mayurbhanj Chhhau, has discarded the use of masks as opposed to the prior two.  This gives more freedom for movement and elaborate personal expression of the characters portrayed.  Thus, this style has developed an exquisite utilization of the complete body language and it excels in choreography with movements that are said to be ” visual poetry.”

So which style have you seen?

Our Performing Group

Our teaching center and performing group is directed by Guru, Janmejoy Sai Babu.  It is composed by  permanent dancers, professionals in different forms of dance both classical and modern, and with different artistic backgrounds, learning the style of Mayurbhanj Chhau under the guidance of Guruji.

In our performances we display the elements of this attractive discipline through its traditional context, molding them with innovative and creative compositions.  Some of the items  we perform are the traditional versions of the dance that have been carried out for generations with few changes here and there, yet others are complete modifications of the original versions that have been choreographed by Guruji, refining the movements and adding gestures,  facial expressions and even mudra (hand gestures) to convey the message of slokas or other narrative sources.  The costumes of the characters played have also been revised in order to give them a more classical look, fit for the Delhi or the international stage.  Since it is not always easy to put together a Chhau orchestra, we can perform on recorded music, but we always prefer the live sound of the Dhol.

Wanting to deliver Mayurbhanj Chhau at a higher performing level, our repertories are varied and consist of group dances, solos or duets.  Some of them are:

One of the many asanas executed in the item.

Nataraj: Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance is recreated through this item showing various types of Tandava.  Begining with the shant ras (peaceful mood) he displays his mastery over yogic asanas. As his meditation is disturbed by the demon Apasmara, he diplays his force of destruction with the Roudra tandava.  This is followed by an ecstatic whirl of re-creation in his blissful dance of Ananda Tandava.  Solo dance item.

Geeta: Revisiting the epic scene where the Pandavas and Kaurvas are assembled to engage in warfare, this dance composition tells how Lord Krishna reveals his divine identity and instructs Arjun to fulfill his dharmic duty even by fighting his own kin. Duet Dance.

The brahmin boy (girl in this case) leaving home after the Upanayanam ritual to embark on a journey of self discovery.

Dandi: Item enacting the path following the ritual of the sacred thread (Janeu) when the Brahmin steps into the world of celibacy, having to leave his relatives and all material possessions to search for the knowledge of the immortal self. Solo dance item, or also performed in group. This is also one of my personal favorites, it’s really touching.

Martial Art: The passionate warriors reproduce the martial movements in a most graceful way as a means of entertainment and celebration, displaying the heroic array of attack and defense movements. Group dance.