Interview Carolina Prada Mayurbhanj Chhau (disciple of Guru Janmejoy Saibabu) & Odissi dancer (from Colombia, currently living in Madrid). Carolina publishes about Chhau on her own blog: With t…
Source: The Writing’s of recovery
Interview Carolina Prada Mayurbhanj Chhau (disciple of Guru Janmejoy Saibabu) & Odissi dancer (from Colombia, currently living in Madrid). Carolina publishes about Chhau on her own blog: With t…
Source: The Writing’s of recovery
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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:
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.
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.
My good friend Nora Lamadrid, a Seraikela Chhau dancer, learning under Guru Shashadhar Acharya, asked a very renown Indian dance critic at a conference held in Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, what our scope as foreigners in the field of classical dance was, and if she could give her any suggestions of how to approach our future here other than just waiting for our reencarnation as Indians. The answer that she got was something like: “Well, you know, we appreciate your efforts, but please come back in your next life.”
Is this really true? Does only a nationality give true authenticity to the performance of an art? Does the gift of an indian performer lie only in the right size and shape of the eyes? In the straight long, black hair? Can only slim boys from the Mayurbhanj district jump with a certain lightness because of the natural shape of their bodies? Will we always appear foreign, no matter how much surrender, effort, dedication and love we invest in the art?
Apparently even if we are victims of circumstance, context, language and several few other limitations, our hearts keep waking up to the beat of the dhol, and we are still the first ones to come to class and the last ones to leave. We are the ones to ask “annoying” questions, such as “is this hand one inch more to the left, or to the right?” or like “why does Nataraj kill the demon by opening up its guts in the dance, instead of jumping on it, as says the story?” We are the only ones who don’t really feel happy whenever there is chutti (holiday) and we don’t have to come to class. Drawn by the outer beauty, the jumps, the flare and other attractive props like the mask, or the sword and shield, we came into the dance and before we knew it, it was as if our eyes had been open to a whole new reality, in fact, a whole new responsibility. We became the listeners, the note takers, the recorders, the writers, in the hope of becoming the memory banks of our Gurus. Every disciple needs a Guru, but better yet, every guru needs a disciple. Like a mirror, we reflect whatever they have taught us and encourage them to polish and groom the final image. Without the intention of being critical, we question them with our questions, just because we feel the need to understand with words and concepts, or because we can’t help wanting to be perfectionists and for this we need to clarify every single detail, or because someday we wish to be able to have the answers, in case someone else asks. Otherwise, who would be Guruji’s wake up call everyday?
Against the odds, some of us took up this opportunity, adventured into this male oriented dance form and accepted the challenge to play this role: to be the witnesses and the stenographers of the process of our Gurus in the art. So I guess regarding the question of whether we will someday be accepted or recognized in the field of Indian dance, I think that if can achieve to take a place in our Gurus heart, then we have done something worthwhile and surely with his blessing the art will continue to speak for itself, hopefully through us.
Guru Janmejoy was born in the Mayurbhanj District of Orissa on 29th October, 1948, in a family of traditional Chhau dancers. Guided since childhood by his illustrious family members, particularly his eminent uncle, late Guru Anant Charan Sai Babu (Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee), Guruji studied with some of the most significant Gurus of his time, becoming versatile in the different styles concerning Chhau, allowing him to portray various roles, including both male and female characters. After graduating from Utkal University in 1972, he came to Delhi and joined Bal Bhawan Society under a project of the Ministry of Education until 1976, when he decided to expand his horizons in the art of Chhau. Armed with a deep knowledge of the tradition and a keen desire to create, throughout the course of his career he has experimented with Odissi and Chhau items, creating a beautiful balance of tandava and lasya. Also he has associated with many eminent gurus, composing successful productions. Some of them include: Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, (Bhakta Prahalad Charitra), Shri Guru Mayadhar Raut (Krishna Charitra Manassa), Sonal Mansingh (Sudama Charitra), Ranjana Gauhar (Nall Damayanti, Geeta Govinda, Udaya Astha, Vasundhara). He also conducted workshops with Protima Gaouri Bedi in Nrutyagram, Kathak exponent Maya Rao in Bangalore, and taught in Natya Ballet Center (1993-2009) and Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra (1985-87, 2004-08), thus training many renowned dancers both from India and abroad. As the first to introduce Mayurbhanj Chhau choreography in NSD theater plays, he collaborated with important theater directors and personalities like Rabin Das (Janmejay Ka Nag Youngya, Muchha Katti Kam, Anamdas ki Potha, Raja Abu), V. M. Saha (Abhimanyu), Anamika Hakssar (Dak Ghar), and Anuradha Goel, among others. Promoting Chhau and bringing this art to youngsters, he has worked with important schools such as Green Field Public School, St. Columbus School, Modern Junior School, creating ballets based on various themes (Nari Shakti, Samudra Manthan, Journey of the Dawn, Ram Charitra Manassa).
As a true art lover, he has made it his special aim to research, improve and develop the different elements concerning the dance with the intention of giving it a classical scope and presenting it in such a way fit for national and international audiences. As a result, he has enriched the repertoire, adding his own refinement of the body language to the style, and bringing more beauty and elegance to the costumes. As a recipient of the NATIONAL INTEGRATION AWARD from the Utsav Cultural Society, New Delhi 1994, and the Nritya Siramani Award from Delhi Oriya Sangeet Sabha, Guruji has proved to be a profound exponent of this unique dance form and his versatile teaching demonstrates the depth of his lineage. Adding up to more than 39 years of experience in the field, in the effort of carving the way for the classical forthcoming and evolution of Chhau, he continues to teach and choreograph devoting his life to this traditional art form.
As a dancer, my fundamental purpose has been to deliver beauty and meaning into the display of movement in order for it to be artistic, entertaining, and rich in moods, flavors and experiences that can touch the audience. The motive behind my learning process and exposure as a female performer, has been Guruji’s dream to promote Mayurbhanj Chhau, not as the existing local dance form, but as the vastly rich, unique art that it is, with all the potential of becoming a classical dance.
The movements and elements of this attractive discipline have been mostly exposed along with the display of other dance forms, ballets or have been fused into contemporary dance styles, enhancing them and contributing to the overall success of the productions made. However, a true showcase of the Mayurbhanj style, with its versatile repertory and exquisite traditional body language, very occasionally reaches the Delhi stage. A rigorous training is required to embody the strength, fluidity and lightness essential to the dance, the characteristic body disposition of the Mayurbhanj style, and the refined details that a particular guru gives to the movements. Therefore outside the traditional villages where this art has lived, not many follow this path thoroughly and instead are content to simulate poses, walks or stances of mayurbhanj chhau, but in reality they lack the quality, the depth and the energy that distinguishes it.
Following Guruji’s direction, and through much individual searching and dedication I have intended to represent this art form and be one of the few, or maybe the only female exponent who actually aims for a professional level. I amaze myself when I see the great scope in this demanding blend of refined dance, martial character, and classical representation, and hope to be able to live up to mine and Guruji’s dream of delighting more audiences with this millenary art form.