What is South Asian dance?


A guide to Chhau

Chhau dance originated as a martial art and contains vigorous movements and leaps. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the princely rulers of the Orissa region took a keen interest in the development of this art. They maintained troupes that performed on special occasions and festivals.

Some Chhau dances use large stylized masks. The depiction of birds and animals is a distinctive feature. There are also heroic dances with sword, bow or shield, with which dancers demonstrate their dexterity. In keeping with the martial origins of Chhau, some of the themes include the depiction of mythological heroes, such as Parashurama, Mahadev, Indrajit and others, from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. Over the course of time, female characters and more diverse themes were added.

There are three recognized schools or styles of Chhau. These are the Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj varieties. Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers do not wear masks. In recent times, Mayurbhanj Chhau has become popular as a medium of choreography, with its wide range of postures and movements that adapt well to modern as well as traditional treatment.

South Asian dancers in ornate costumes outdoors
Chhau dance. Photo courtesy Wikimedi Commons

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