Tradiciones, Transiciones y Bailarines de Chhau

Actualmente el término “bailarín de Chhau” tiene amplias formas de entenderse puesto que los que aprenden o representan este género de danza, abordan su práctica, interpretación y su enseñanza desde diferentes ángulos, intereses y métodos.  Personalmente no tomo esta denominación como algo ligero, por el contrario, es un término cargado de significados e imágenes de palacios, bosques, saltos que se suspenden en el aire, espadas, ríos, el Señor Bhairav1, heroismo y las muchas otras cosas que vienen con esta tradición de raíces profundas.  De hecho creo que es un título que se llega a merecer después de comprometerse con el estilo y reafirmar este compromiso con amor, tiempo y práctica (como sucede con todas las artes).  Es como un sadhana, una práctica espiritual, en la cual el ejercicio físico y el movimiento son una parte de la disciplina y los rituales, la devoción y la tradición lo complementan.

En mi camino con esta danza y en mi ávido intento de poder decir que soy “bailarina de Chhau”, he descubierto que es esencial ahondar en las raíces del lugar de origen del estilo que practico, Mayurbhanj.  También que es necesario vivir su cultura y sus festividades desde adentro, particularmente el festival Chaitra Parva2.  He sido afortunada de escuchar a Guruji (Guru Janmejoy Sai Babu) contándome las muchas historias del festival en tiempos antiguos: como visitaban un lugar secreto alejado del pueblo para hacer oraciones y un voto ante el dios Bhairav;

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Puja (oración ritual) a la deidad del Chhau, Lord Bhairav, en el templo de Uttar Sahi a la afueras del pueblo. (Loknath Das y el sacerdote. Derecha a izquierda)

cómo danzaban toda la noche; cómo siendo uno de los principales bailarines, participaba en casi todas las danzas; cómo los mejores maestros de cada Sahi3 se retaban unos a otros; cómo los de Uttar Sahi presentaban la pieza de danza Nataraj y los de Dakhina Sahi respondían con

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Guru Shri Hari Nayak como Nataraj (Nataraj: The Cosmic Dancer)  Bailarín de Uttar Sahi. Premio SNA en 1988.Article

Mahadev; cómo la danza Navagraha se medía con Dashavatar4,; y cómo solían practicar durante meses casi que en secreto, con una integridad y una devoción inquebrantable hacia su rey, su dios y su ética guerrera.  No obstante, también le escucho decir que “el festival ya no es como antes”.  Este cambio inevitable comenzó desde el momento en que la realeza dejó de patrocinar el arte. Como consecuencia, la danza ha enfrentado dificultades y recaidas que la han llevado includo a ser catalogada por la UNESCO como “un arte de gran valor cultural en peligro de desaparecer” .  Sin embargo, aunque es verdad que es difícil encontrar el tipo de bailarines que habían en la época de la monarquía, que mucha parte del público e incluso de los artistas lo toman como un festival folclórico5, y local y que la danza se encuentra en un nivel de calidad muy inferior al que una vez tuvo, considero que un “bailarín de Chhau” debe honrar la tradición del Chaitra Parva que ha acompañado la danza durante 200 años.

Guru Sambhunath Jhena as Mahadev
Guru Sambhunath Jhena como Mahadev.

Siendo una bailarina de Chhau de Mayurbhanj pero viviendo en Delhi, percibo que la ciudad y el medio de la danza clásica demandan ciertas modificaciones y cambios en la interpretación de la danza que en mi opinión son positivos.  Esto nos dirije a un periodo de transición en el que este arte toma múltiples dimensiones y desde mi punto de vista no se puede decir que es sólo una danza folclórica.  ¿Acaso hay otros estilos folclóricos pasando por una situación similar?  Creo que esto le sucede al Chhau y en particular al estilo de Mayurbhanj porque no es un género limitado por sólo mudras, golpes con los pies o movimientos circulares en grupo y al mismo tiempo tiene una técnica variada, codíficada e interesante que puede incluir elementos clásicos incluso como los mudras.  También permite la representación de muchos temas, emociones y personajes.

Por estas razones considero firmemente que es importante que los académicos, críticos, artistas y expertos reconozcan que el Chhau es un género en expansión, que ha salido de su contexto original y que está pasando por un periodo de transición muy valioso e interesante.  Sin embargo, al intentar preservar la danza y su patrimonio, no podemos desapegarnos de sus raíces locales.  Más aún, no podemos permanecer ignorantes ante algunas de las cualidades intrínsicas y las tradiciones que se preservan en su tierra natal.  Para tener una visión más completa de la danza, siento la necesidad de conocerlas y de ver las diferencias con las que se vive y se presenta la danza en diferentes contextos.  He sido afortunada de que Guruji me inspire con las historias de cómo solía ser la danza y cómo los maestros antiguos eran casi seres con poderes sobrenaturales que podían sentarse en la rama de un árbol de un salto.   Él me ha transmitido estas visiones de épocas memorables y bailarines legendarios y yo confío en que estos tiempos pueden revivir.  De hecho, creo que no han muerto.

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Danza Dandi (Dandi: The Dance of the Wandering Ascetic) Su postura es profunda.  !Mira cómo se dobla!

Por lo tanto, mi búsqueda actual consiste en encontrar un eslabón entre esta tradición perdida aparentemente, lo que he aprendido con Guruji, su situación presente en las áreas rurales y su interpretación modificada, contemporánea, y hasta abstracta en las grandes ciudades o los eventos clásicos y culturales.  El primer paso que tomo para ir en esta dirección es viajar a su tierra de origen y vivir el Chaitra Parva desde adentro gracias a mis anfitriones de la escuela de norte y en especial a uno de sus principales artisitas, Loknath Das y Madhusmita Das y su familia con quien me hospedé durante 7 días.  He estado ya tres veces en el festival.  En una ocasión incluso presentamos dos danzas con el hijo de Guruji, Rakesh y otros chicos del grupo Gurukul Chhau Dance Sangam.

Chaitra Parva 2012
GCDS en el Chaitra Parva 2012. Carolina Prada, Rakesh Sai Babu, Sunil Mehra en Martial Art

Fue un sueño hecho realidad el poder danzar en ese escenario tan lleno de grandes leyendas.  Sin embargo esta vez fue una bendición danzar siendo parte de la escuela del norte, siguiendo su estilo como cualquier otra “chica de Baripada”.17904322_162093720981785_5152151004771814878_n Quisiera contarles acerca de este emocionante viaje…

NOTAS AL PIE:

1. Bhairav es una de la formas terroríficas (grandiosas, que causan terror) del Señor Shiva. Es el padre de la danza Chhau.

2.Chaitra Parva es el festival de la primavera que se celebra el 11, 12, 13 de abril con  danza Chhau .

3.Sahi se refiere a los grupos o escuelas de danza. Hay dos: Uttar Sahi – la escuela del norte y Dakhina Sahi – la escuela del sur.

4.Nataraj y Mahadev son diferentes piezas de danza que representan al dios Shiva. Navagraha es una danza acerca de los nueve planetas. Dashavatar es una pieza que representa las 10 encarnaciones del dios Vishnu.

5. Las palabras  “solo una danza folclórica” no tienen la intención de ser peyorativas.  Según el diccionario Merriam-Webster, se llama folclórico a una danza que “se origina como un ritual y tiene las características de un pueblo o un país y que se transmite de generación en generación.”  Esto es parcialmente verdad para el Chhau porque a pesar de que hay muchos rituales ligados a él, su naturaleza no es puramente ritual.  Wikipedia expone que una característica de las danzas folclóricas es que “no están destinadas o diseñadas para ser presentadas ante un público o que posteriormente pueden adaptarse para un escenario.  Esto no se aplica al Chhau puesto que floreció en las cortes de los reyes de Mayurbhanj y luego la tradición del Chaitra Parva reafirma que es un arte escénico.  El siguiente artículo cataloga diferentes tipos de danzas folclóricas.  Según él, el Chhau sería una danza tradicional o una danza de la corte que tiene orígenes o caracteríticas folclóricas.  Definitivamente agregaría “danza marcial” a la descripción, al igual que “con inlfuencias clásicas y todavía en proceso de evolución.” What is Folk Dance

Traditions, Transitions and Chhau Dancers

Nowadays the term “Chhau dancer” is used in many different ways because people approach the dance, its practice, its performance and even its teaching from many different angles, attitudes and methods.  For me the term is not a light one, but on the contrary a heavy word loaded with images of palaces, forests, air-suspended jumps, swords, rivers, Lord Bhairav1, heroism and the many more things that come with this deeply rooted tradition.  In fact, I believe it is a title that one eventually gains after committing to the style and reaffirming it with love, time and practice (like all arts).  It is like a sadhana, a spiritual practice, where physical exercise and movement is one part of the discipline, and rituals, devotion and traditions complement it.

On my avid path to be able to call myself a Chhau dancer I have discovered that it is essential to dwell into the roots of the birthplace of the style I practice, Mayurbhanj, and to live its culture and its festivities from the inside, particularly the Chaitra Parva2. I have been very fortunate to have Guruji (Guru Janmejoy Sai Babu) tell me the many stories about how the festival used to happen.  How they would visit their secret place to perform Puja and offer a vow to Lord Bhairav;

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Puja (prayer ritual) to the deity of Chhau, Lord Bhairav, in the secluded place of Uttar Sahi. (Loknath Das, senior dancer and the priest. Right to left)

how they used to dance throughout the night; how as a leading dancer he would take part in most of the repertoire; how the best gurus from each Sahi3 would challenge each other; how Uttar Sahi would present Nataraj and Dakhina Sahi would respond with

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Guru Shri Hari Nayak as Nataraj (Nataraj: The Cosmic Dancer)  Dancer from Uttar Sahi.  SNA Awardee 1988.Article

Mahadev; how Navagraha was rivaled with Dashavatar4,; and how the dancers would practice for months in secret, with an unbending thoroughness and devotion to Patron, Deity and to their warrior ethos. However he has also told me in a sad note, that in Mayurbhanj “the parva is not what it once was”.  This change has been inevitable, because since the withdrawal of the royal patronage it has had pittfalls that have even lead to it be classifyed as “a dying art form of immense cultural value” by UNESCO. Still, though it is true that we cannot find the type of dancers there once was during the royal administration, that many of the viewers as well as the artists see it only as a folk5,, local festival and that the dance finds itself struggling to live up to the standards it once had, I believe it is a Chhau dancer’s duty to honor the Chaitra Parva tradition that has been part of the dance for around 200 years.

Guru Sambhunath Jhena as Mahadev
Guru Sambhunath Jhena as Mahadev.

As a Mayurbhanj Chhau dancer staying in Delhi, I see how the city and the needs of the classical milieu demand certain modifications and changes that in my opinion are positive.  This is also leading the way to a transition period where the dance is taking multiple dimensions and in my view it can no longer be said that it is only a folk dance.  Are other folk dances in similar situations?  I reckon this happens with Chhau and in particular with the Mayurbhanj style because it is dance that is not bounded by mudras, footwork or circular group movements and yet it has a rich, codified and interesting technique that can include classical elements while at the same time giving scope to the representation of various themes, moods and characters.

For the above stated reasons I strongly consider that it is necessary for connoisseurs, critics, artists and scholars to acknowledge that it is an art form in expansion, that it has come out from its context of origin and is going through a highly important and interesting transition period.  However, in an attempt to preserve the dance and its heritage, we cannot detach ourselves from its local roots. Moreover, we should not remain oblivious to some of the intrinsic qualities and traditions of the dance which are preserved only in its native land.  To have a more complete vision of the dance I feel the need to be aware of them and to know the difference between how the dance is experienced and presented in different contexts.  I’ve been lucky to have Guruji inspire me with the stories of how the dance used to be and how the great gurus were almost like supernatural beings who could jump and sit on the branch of a tree.  He has transferred these visions of glorious times and mesmerizing dancers to me, and I believe they can live again.

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A dancer in the item Dandi (Dandi: The Dance of the Wandering Ascetic) His sitting stance is deep.  Look at how he is bending!

As a matter of fact, they are not dead. Therefore my current search is to find a link between this apparently long lost tradition that I have been learning from Guruji, its current situation in the rural locations and its contemporary, abstract and even modified representation in the big cities and cultural or classical  venues.

The first step in this search is to go to its homeland and live the Chaitra Parva as an insider thanks to the welcoming reception of my hosts from Uttar Sahi, especially one of its Senior artists Loknath Das and to Madhusmita Das and her family with whom I stayed for 7 days. I have witnessed the festival twice already and on one occasion I was part of it with Guruji’s son Rakesh Sai Babu and a few of us from Gurukul Chhau Dance Sangam group.

Chaitra Parva 2012
GCDS in Chaitra Parva 2012. Carolina Prada, Rakesh Sai Babu, Sunil Mehra. in Martial Art

It was a dream come true dancing finally on that stage, however this time it was a blessing to dance with the group of Uttar Sahi, following their style, just like another “Baripada girl”.17904322_162093720981785_5152151004771814878_n Let me tell you about that exciting journey…

FOOTNOTES:

1. Bhairav is one of Lord Shiva’s terrific (mighty, great, causing terror) forms. He is the deity to which Chhau dancers pay tribute.

2.Chaitra Parva is the festival of Spring celebrated on 11, 12, 13 April with Chhau Dance.

3.Sahi refers to the troupe of dancers. There are two: Uttar Sahi – the Northern troupe and Dakhina Sahi – the Southern troupe.

4.Nataraj and Mahadev are different items that depict Lord Shiva. Navagraha is an item about the nine planets. Dashavatar is an item showing the 10 incarnations of the God Vishnu.

5.The words “only a folk dance” are not meant to be pejorative. According to Merriam-Webster a folk dance is “a dance that originates as ritual among and is characteristic of the common people of a country and that is transmitted from generation to generation.” This is partly true for Chhau dance, since it has many rituals that are attached to it, however its nature is not purely ritualistic. Wikipedia lists that one characteristic of folk dances is that they are “dances not generally designed for public performance or the stage, though they may later be arranged and set for stage performances.” This is not the case with Chhau since it flourished in the courts of the kings and the Chaitra Parva tradition reaffirms it is a performing art. The article I will link you to has some clear ways to categorize different types of folk dances. According to it Chhau could be a traditional dance, or a court dance with folk origins or characteristics. I would definitely add “martial dance” to the description as well as “influenced by classical elements and still evolving.”What is Folk Dance

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.”

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.