The Martial Dance
Depicting immense vitality and virility, Chhau is the most vibrant and popular dance form of Bihar. The word 'Chhau' comes from the Sanskrit root 'Chhaya' meaning shade. As masks form an important feature of this dance it is called 'Chhau', which means mask. The technique of the dance, in fact, draws on steps and gait, which have stemmed from the `Pharikhanda System', which is a system of exercise.
Full of spontenity and vitality, Chhau dance is performed by only the men of the region. Though mask is the most important ingredient of this art, the performers also carry swords and shields with them, during the dance. The dance is performed on a well-lit dais, which is decorated and brilliantly lit with a large number of torches, lanterns and flickering oil lamps.
The Body Language
It is basically a martial dance where the mask holds the dominant Rasa while the body creates, projects, and develops the moods. Chhau dance is a dance full of vitality and robustness, unlike any of the Indian dances. The body language is extremely poetic and powerful. The legs form an effective means of communicating the expression.
It can be performed solo, in a group or in a dance-drama fashion. The themes are taken from nature, mythology. The footwork involves a wide range of extensions and sweeps while the torso makes sudden emphatic turns and thrusts.
The themes are based on mythology, everyday life, aspects of nature or just a mood or emotion. Purulia Chhau, however, has a single focus - good triumphs over evil. They also depict nature and the animal world. Sagara Nritya (ocean dance), Sarpa Nritya (serpent dance), Mayura Nritya (peacock dance), etc., are examples of the different forms of dances.
The music is based on Hindustani ragas and the accompaniment is with a Nagara, a huge kettledrum, Dhol, a cylindrical drum, and a Shehnai or a reed pipe. The strenuous nature of the dance restricts performances to brief periods, but in Purulia Chhau a single item could be for forty minutes and a performance night-long.