New Delhi: Dance has always been an integral part of the rich culture of India. Several unique and interesting dance forms have emerged in the past and one such dance form is Chhau.
Chhau is a very unique classical dance form which requires a lot of energy and devotion.
Though it is an Indian dance form, it has been well-received and praised internationally. Over the years, this dance form has created its position among the theatre artists. Chhau was invented in Jharkhand, popularly performed in Seraikella district of Jharkhand.
When CitySpidey spoke to Guru Sapan Acharya, 55, a guru of Chhau dance, he spoke about his family lineage of teaching this dance form for generations. Sapan Acharya’s family has been in the profession of teaching Chhau for generations now and he is the fifth generation to do so. They are four siblings now, all performing and teaching Chhau which has become a family legacy for them. During the conversation, Sapan Acharaya enlightened us with the history of this ancient dance form which was passed onto him by his ancestors.
While talking about the history and origin of Chhau, he said that in the past, in King’s cantonment in jungles, when soldiers were off duty after finishing their work, they used to imitate the gait of different animals like monkeys, tiger and so on as an amusement activity. Little did they know that it will transform into a dance form in future.
Evolution of Chhau dance
The evolution of this dance form has three phases. The initial first phase marks the recognition of the dance by Raja Bikram Singh of Seraikella who asked the soldiers to perform the dance in his palace’s premises. According to Sapan Acharaya, the soldiers at that time used to wear a mask associated with their king to be distinguished in the war. This further transformed into them wearing the mask of whom they are imitating while performing.
Further, eight schools were built for specifically teaching and learning Chhau which marked the second phase. Eight different teachers were allotted different open fields where people would come to learn this dance.
After 1930, Vijay Pratap Singh hailing from the same royal family of Seraikella learned this dance and further started teaching his own version of it which became internationally acclaimed. Between 1934-35, the first world tour was marked to perform Chhau in European countries where it was well praised.
Also, earlier, girls were prohibited from performing this dance but with time as the society evolved and became more accepting of girls performing, they have been participating in it equally. Over the years, Chhau has become an integral part of theatre and thus, theatre artists have been learning it.
Ram Yadav, a theatre artist who hails from Uttar Pradesh but has been performing in theatres since 2016 shared his experience of learning Chhau. He said, “I belong to an Army family, my body used to be very rigid and very stiff but in the art form, you need a very flexible and smooth body. I went for an audition and the judge asked me to perform on one of the beats. When I performed, he said I need to work on myself and also suggested that I should learn Chhau dance form if I want to do something in theatre.”
He also added that it is very important for any theatre person to learn Chhau or else it becomes difficult for an artist to work with his expression. Chhau is a dance form that fills you up with energy and concentration on its beat relaxes your mind and makes you forget everything apart from that beat.
Kiran, another theatre artist who has been performing Chhau for three years now said, “As a theatre artist it is very important that you learn Chhau as it opens up your body and makes you flexible.” In the lockdown, as artists performed online, Kiran is of the view that Chhau is a dance form that requires physical presence to leave impact which can’t be achieved through an online session.