Chhau Folk-dance, also spelled as ” Chau “. It is one of the most famous folk dance forms of India. Semi-classical Indian dance with Martial, Tribal and Folk traditions. It originated in Eastern India, in the Rarh region and is a unique form of masked dance. Three styles named after the locations where they are performed . Firstly the Purulia Chhau of Bengal, secondly the Seraikella Chhau of Jharkhand and finally Mayurbhanj Chhau of Odisha. There are different theories regarding the etymology of the term “chhau”. According to some, it may have been derived from Sanskrit “chhaya” which means shadow/image . While according to others, it is derived from the word ” chhauni “, which means military camp/armor in Odiya language.


CHHAU : FOLK-DANCE has a significant role in the celebration of the Spring festival ” Chaitra Parva “, . It is prevalent in the tribal belt of the bordering areas of the provinces of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal in Eastern India. While, the Seraikela and Purulia subgenres of chhau use masks during the dance, the Mayurbhanj chhau uses no mask. Thus there are three distinct froms of chhau –

            • Firstly , Seraikela chhau of Jharkhand
            •Secondly , Mayurbhanj chhau of Orissa
            • Thirdly , Purulia chhau of West Bengal

The Seraikella Chhau –

CHHAU : FOLK-DANCE . This chhau’s technique and repertoire were developed by the erstwhile royal family of the former state of Seraikela in Jharkhand. They were both its performers as well as its choreographers; while in the modern era people from all walks of life participate in the dance. The dancer impersonates a God, animal, bird, hunter, rainbow, night or flower. The Seraikella chhau is performed with symbolic masks and the actiing establishes the role the actor is playing. The knowledge of dance, music and mask-making is transmitted orally from one generation to another.

The Purulia chhau –

The Purulia chhau uses masks shaped in the form of the characters being played. This type of chhau has imbibed in itself, the forms of both dance and martial practices . Employ’s mock combat techniques called ” khel ” and stylised gaits of birds and animals called ” chalis ” and ” topkas “. Performed by male dancers at open space, called ” akhada ” or “asar”. The dance is rhythmic and set to traditional folk music, played on the reed pipes ” Mohuri ” and “Shehnai”. A variety of drums also accompany the performance including the “Dhol”, “Dhumsha” and “Kharka”. The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes.

Usually, there are three types of characters – Gods and Goddesses, Demons and Monsters.

When depicting Gods and Goddesses, the color red is a prominent aspect of the clothing . Along with this elaborate costume jewelry around the neck and the headgear. The costume for Gods and Goddesses . It includes sets of arms along with weapons that a particular God or Goddess was known for wielding. For instance, Kali Ma would be accompanied by a string of decapitated human heads.

Demons, while also elaborately dressed, are most likely to have different colored faces, for example, a blue face. Apart from this, the costume itself does not vary that much.

For monsters and animals, suits made to depict an animal or monster . For instance, while depicting a lion, a dancer will don a lion suit along with a lion mask. This may or may not be accompanied by a weapon such as a sword.

The Mayurbhanj chhau

•- Mayurbhanj chhau dance form has a long history. Originally a tribal dance which originated from the forests of Mayurbhanj, Odisha, in the 18th century . It got the status of a Martial art form in the 19th century. However, with the passage of time, slowly and steadily Mayurbhanj chhau left its martial character and mellowed. Under the royal patronage it flourished as a dance of excellent style in the cultural field of India. The most conspicuous characteristic of Mayurbhanj chhau is that, it does not use any mask.


Chhau dance, with its martial origin snd strenuous body movements, was once a strictly-guarded male domain. Now, several all-women troupes are performing chhau with equal aplomb. The female dance elements in chhau has introduced the aspects of Lasya Bhava from Natya-Shastra . That has brought elegance, sensuality and beauty in the dance form. However Virile male dance movement attributed to the Shiva’s Tandav .

It is mention worthy, that in our latest production of Kolahal Theatre Workshop,  Mukhoshtantra . Mukhoshtantra , a pastiche adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth , we have made extensive use of chhau. Hugely appreciated by the audience.

1 Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.