Puruliya is a district in the state of West Bengal, India. It is located in the eastern part of the country near Bengal- Jharkhand border. Chhau is a form of dance that has become very popular in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Orissa. Based on place of origin and development, this dance can be classified in three subgenres—Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau, and Purulia Chhau.
Seraikella Chhau is from Jharkhand, Purulia Chhau is performed in West Bengal, Mayurbhanj Chhau is performed in Orissa. The Purulia Chhau and Seraikella Chhau are more popular than Mayurbhanj among the three, cause Seraikella and Purulia use masks but Mayurbhanj Chhau does not and these chouu quite different from each other by look.
This form of dance performed duringthe March-April months. The locals gathered around the dancers for entertainment, and performers performs various episodes from the epics; Ramayana, Mahabharata and from Puranas to communicate with the people by using the Chhau dance. You will often see the incredibly fit dancers dressed up as Hindu deities such as Durga, Ganesh, Kartik and dancing around effortlessly in their heavy costumes and masks.
Paper, Mud,and clay are used to make the Chhau masks. The masks are painted in pastel shades and have a frank, simple, and bold look. The eye- brows, mouth, and eyes are painted to give completeness to the looks. Around 150 years ago during the rule of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Bagmundi the tradition of making chau masks started in the CHARIDA village of Purulia. Presently there are around 300 traditional Artists in the village known as “SUTRADHAR” community
Why we called it chauu? there is a fact to explain it, that long ago this dance was performed by the military of the local kingdom in their leisure time. The themes included their heroic deeds and traditional folklore. They performed this dance for their own entertainment as well as to encourage themselves. As it was performed in their camps (locally known as “Chhauni”), the name “Chhau” came from that term.
It is mainly performed at night in an open space, called “akhada” or “asor” along with traditional and folk music on the reed pipes “mohuri” and “shehnai” (locally shaina) and traditional drums “dhol” dhumsa” and “kharka”.
Besides its importance to culture, Chhau is crucial to the local economy. There is a global audience for this folk art form, and a large number of families earn their livelihood by performing and selling masks and dresses.