When a dance develops on more prominent lines more and more techniques are evolved, some kind of codification by naming them becomes necessary, so that it does deviate from the set pattern. Chhau Dance followed the same process and evolved its own code of movements still handed down by oral tradition.
The basic in Chhau is called "Chhuk" where legs bent on the knees form a quadrangle in a straight line. The right hand is held aloft and the left is held below. The hands suggest holding of a sword and a shield. In the Chhau dance movement of hands is a little bit restricted for holding weapons leaving the feet and body predominantly flexible. When actually held the dance is called "Dharan". Every unit of dance culminates in 'Dharan' with jerk of the shoulders. The eight basic gaits are called 'Topka' and the twenty-eight dance-movements are called 'Ufli'. Each of the movements has a suggestive name.
Besides these basic movements there are many peculiar movements known as 'Hana' (to cut with force), 'Matha' (thrusting movement), 'Habsa' (crushing movements), 'Chmka' (jerky movements), 'Ghoora' (whirling movement) etc.
With permutation and combination of all these movements a 'Bhangi' or a unit of dance is born and with a series of such woven 'Bhangis' a full dance is created. Therefore, all the dances of this style are well knit with dramatically structured movements and with these sharp movements of the dancers the narrative grows and there is a sense of dramatic progression.
When Chhau was exclusively under the royal patronage, it was being presented to the audience only once in a year for three consecutive nights during the last three days of the Hindu new year coming in mid-April. But, the undeveloped village groups used to perform during Dusserah festival, which had the religious sanction. As the dance is full of acrobatic stunts in which the dancers are required to balance their feet, the dance is held in the open ground specially prepared with soft earth and sand.
A performance of Chhau Dance begins with a musical prelude with intense drumming known as "Ranga Vadya". This short piece of vigorous music charges the atmosphere and the dancers get inspired.
Like the classical dances of India Chhau Dance has three stages of development, one in slow tempo - 'Chali', second in middle tempo - 'Nata, and the third in fast tempo - 'Natki', which brings about the climax. In 'Chali' the dancer enters the stage with majestic gaits posing dramatically in the beats of the drums. In 'Nata', the mood of the character is developed with suggestive as well as expressive movements. The climax 'Natki' is characterised by fast movements and intricate choreographic patterns.
The orchestra is generally provided by the traditional drummers and musicians of 'Dom' community whose profession is also to provide music during marriage and other religious celebrations. Following are the instruments they play:
1. 'Dhol' - A barrel-shaped drum played with the palm and fingers of the left hand and a blunt stick in the right.
2. 'Chadchadi' or 'Kadra' - A short cylindrical drum played with two lean sticks to produce vibrating sound.
3. 'Dhumsa' - A huge bowl-shaped kettledrum of iron case covered with buffalo skin played with two heavy and blunt sticks. It produces reverberating sound.
4. 'Mahuri' - A local variety of wind instrument in which all the tunes are played out.
While the music is provided by a number of 'Mahurias' playing in unison, the 'Dholias' provide the fairly complicated rhythmic designs with great enthusiasm. Thus the plaintive cry of the 'Mahuri' and the sound of various drums combine to produce the loud orchestra of Chhau.
CHHAU DANCE OF DHENKANAL
The Chhau Dance of Dhenkanal has till today retains traces of its glory and sophistication. Though it is of the same mask-less pattern as that of the present Chhau Dance of Mayurbhanj, it has retained its distinct identifications and peculiarities in its stylization, choreography and its repertoire.
While the Princes and the Royal families are the participants in the Seraikela Chhau and the commoners in the Mayurbhanj Chhau teams, it has remained with the traditional 'Paika's of Dhenkanal, whose ancestors themselves formed the infantry-men of the Dhenkanal Kings, before the merger of the States.
Paika's Of Dhenkanal
The martial traditions of the 'Paika's of Dhenkanal occupy a very important place in the history of Orissa. The detailed descriptions of the real battles they fought, which took place between the Maratha army of 'Rajaram' and the army of Dhenkanal's King 'Bira Trilochana Mahindra Bahadur' in 1779 and how the Maratha army was defeated have been recorded in the famous book ``Samara Taranga" by the great poet Brajanath Bada Jena (1730-1795) of Dhenkanal. Amongst the Oriya literature on war, this book therefore stands unique and the foremost.
Culture flourished with patronisation of the state and no wonder the militant 'Paika's of Dhenkanal nourished a beautiful institution of Chhau Dance.
Before the year 1890, amongst the numerous 'Paika' villages of Dhenkanal, two villages namely Balarampur and Chandra Sekhar Prasad had become very prominent for their Chhau Dances in their 'Paika' Akhadas. By then Chhau Dance was also very famous at 'Bonai' state from which royalty, the mother of 'Raja Sura Pratap' of Dhenkanal hailed. It is therefore assumed that there was some exchange of culture between Bonai and Dhenkanal. It was during the rule of Maharaj Sura Pratap Mahindra Bahadur that these institutions got the real boost they deserved. The King, in order to encourage the art and the artists gave monetary grants for purchase of costumes and musical instruments and conferred special titles on the Gurus and the artists.
In 1902 Raja Sura Pratap Mahindra Bahadur married in the royal family of Seraikela and to the Chhau Dance of Dhenkanal, it was an added advantage because Seraikela was also then very famous for its masked Chhau Dance.
Though Chhau Dance of Dhenkanal never had the masks, nor adopted the pattern it enriched its repertoire by adding other technicalities such as music & costuming, Chhau Dance had become an item of "Must" in all state functions. Regular performances were conducted at the palace of Dhenkanal during the month of 'Chaitra' after the "Dola Jatra" in the presence of the royal gathering and VIPs. Ustad Bhagawat Sardar Singh of Jhumpudia village earned a reputation as a great Guru of Chhau Dance.
In 1916, a Chhau Dance competition was held at Cuttack in aid of War-fund where Chhau teams of both Mayurbhanj and Dhenkanal had participated. The impresario of the Dhenkanal Chhau was Chandrasekhar Pani and it is reported that the Dhenkanal Chhau team won the medal.
King Sura Pratap died in the year 1918 and the state was brought under the court of wards by the British government. There was a dull moment for Dhenkanal Chhau during this period. Although feverish activities continued, the Chhau dance of Dhenkanal had to wait for its restoration until the year 1925 when Maharaj Shankar Pratap occupied the throne. To the good fortune for all, Shankar Pratap also got married in the royal family of Seraikela which event again helped the promotion of Dhenkanal Chhau.
A real connoisseur of art and discipline, Shankar Pratap did his best to bring back the Chhau dance of Dhenkanal to the limelight again. He established the palace programmes of Chhau with added glamour. He deputed the following Gurus and artists to Seraikela for refresher training - Bula Ranjan Singh, Shri Lingaraj Mohapatra, Shri Ballav Mohapatra, Dhruba Charan Bhuyan, Nath Naik (Drummer).
Shri Ballav Mohapatra and Shri Lingaraj Mohapatra are alive, though at a very old age, it is a feast for the eyes to see these old maestros demonstrating. Although physically with run-down muscles, these maestros spring-up on their toes as the drums beat.
Shankar Pratap went further. He granted freedom from forced labour for the participants of the Chhau Dance. Thus, with adequate royal patronage, the fame of the Chhau Dance of Dhenkanal spread far and wide.