Ancient World

Wedding Rituals of India

Weddings are big affair in India; a land of multiple religious sects, culture and rituals, Indian weddings bond family. Every region will have different rituals which are unique in nature but the essence remains the same; they bond the family. We talk about some of the unique wedding rituals of India in this story.

WORDS: SANGEETA S

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Indian weddings are the occasions when the entire family comes together and enjoys the fun. It is usually 3-4 days occasion where the atmosphere is culturally and emotionally charged. Rituals have a big role to play in bringing the family together. Every ritual has its own relevance and adds meaning to the ceremony.

Indians believe in astrology and usually weddings are fixed based on the astronomical charts of the bride and the groom. Though not all follow this norm but generally this is done and even the wedding date is fixed based on the charts.

If we talk about the unique rituals, there is a ritual done by Hindus where the bride is married to a tree. It is believed that a woman born under certain astrological combination is cursed and can cause death of her husband.

In such cases she is first married to a tree which is later destroyed to break the curse. Though many may find the ritual strange but the faith is strong and that keeps the rituals alive.

Kashmir
Kashmiri wedding is called Lagan. In the Kashmiri wedding, when the bride is brought to the mandap the bride and the groom are made to sit together and a cover is put around their heads. A large mirror is placed inside the cover and the couple is supposed to see each other for the first time in the mirror.

Rajasthan
A unique custom seen in Rajasthani wedding is that the father-in-law drops a money bag on to the bride’s lap. This signifies that the bride is given the responsibility to take charge of the finances of her new household.

She then gives some of the money to the groom’s sister and some to her husband. This ceremony is called Aanjhala Bharaaj.

Gujarat
In Gujarati weddings the mother-in-law first welcomes the groom by doing traditional aarti and then playfully pulls his nose. This is called Ponkvu or Ponkhana and in a playful way the groom is reminded that since he has come to marry the daughter he should learn to be grateful and humble.

Bihar
During Grihpravesh of the bride in her new home the bride has to keep earthen pots on her head given by her mother-in-law. With all the pots on her head she is supposed to bow down to take blessing of the elders. The number of pots she manages indicates her ability to maintain balance in the family.
Paunpooji is a pre-wedding ritual, which is seen in Bihar. This is basically seeking of the blessings of ancestors and the elders of the family. This ritual takes place in both the bride as well as the groom’s house. The parents of the bride and the groom present money and clothes to the elders of the family.
Another special feature of Bihar wedding is the ritual of Imli Ghutai. It is believed to protect against the Burinazar evil eye. This again takes place at the bride as well as the groom’s place. Here the maternal uncle i.e. mama, has a very important role to play. He gives a betel nut or a mango tree leaf to the girl/boy to hold between the teeth. The mother is then supposed to eat that betel nut/mango tree leaf.

Tamil Brahmin
They have a ritual where just before the wedding the groom refuses to get married. He gets scared and decides to follow asceticism and runs away. The father of the bride then tries to convince him with the help of unusual things like umbrella, hand-fans, sandals etc. This is called Kasi Yaatrai where the father makes him understand the importance of marriage.

Odisha
In Odisha weddings the hands of the bride and the groom are tied together on top of a water pot. This is called Hastaghanti. The bride’s sister gets the privilege of opening this knot. This is a fun ritual where the she demands gifts from the groom’s family for the untying the knot.
Sala Bidha is another fun ritual observed in Odisha weddings. In this the girl’s brother gets to punch the groom on his back.

Kerala
Kerala Nair weddings are a very simple affair with very few rituals.

Their mehndi function is different in the sense that here it is the privilege of the bride’s aunt to apply mehndi on the bride’s hands and feet. Of course these days the aunt starts the mehndi and then the professional artists take over.
The Kerala Nairs follow a ritual where the groom gifts a saree to the bride. This implies that he would be providing for her forever. This ceremony is called Pudamuri.
Kudivep is the ritual where the bride holds a traditional lamp in her hand as she enters her husband’s house. This is the Griha Pravesh of the new bride.

Maharashtra
In Maharashtrian weddings when the groom takes his place in the Mandap an Antarpat i.e., a curtain restricts him from viewing the bride who takes her place in front of him. The Antarpat is pulled out at the auspicious moment and then the garland is exchanged between the bride and the groom. The bride is also given a new name by the groom.
Also there is a custom where the brother of the bride twists the groom’s ear. It is like a warning to him to take care of his sister.

Bengali
Traditionally, on the afternoon or the night prior to the wedding night, the bride enjoys a feast which marks her last meal as a spinster. The meal mainly includes rice, fish and other vegetables. This ritual is called Aiburobhat. Similar ritual takes place at the groom’s side also.
The bride is carried to the mandap by 4 or 5 young men of the family, on a wooden platform, called piri. She holds betel leaves in front of her face so that her face cannot be seen. She is taken around the groom seven times, like this. This is Saat Paak. Thereafter when the bride and the groom are in front of each other, the bride removes the betel leaves to reveal her face to the groom. The two of them then look at each other. This is called Subho Drishti.

Sindhi
There are rituals to ward off the evil eye in almost all communities. The Sindhis also do it in a different way. The ritual is called Saanth where an anklet is tied on the right foot of the bride and groom by a priest. Members of the family especially married women pour oil on their head and then the bride and the groom are supposed to wear a new shoe and break the earthen pot. It is a unique ritual where later the groom’s relatives tear off his clothes to ward off evil eye.

Manipur
A Taki fish is released in a pond by a woman from groom and as well as the bride’s side. If the fishes move side by side in the river it is considered a good omen. Some places the fishes are released by the bride and the groom.

Tribal weddings
India is a country with huge tribal population too. The wedding custom and rituals they follow are different and unique. In a town called Sarsaul the groom and the relatives are welcomed tomatoes and potatoes instead of flowers. Even abuses are used with the belief that a relationship that begins on a bad note always culminates in love.
Abduction is also used as a ritual in some ancient tribes where the man abducts the woman and keeps her hidden for a year after which wedding rituals are carried out with the consent of the bride’s family.
All these unusual rituals have a meaning. They keep us connected to the roots and also help in bonding the family.

The Legend of the Sarhul Festival

Tribal festival of Jharkhand, Sarhul is a spring festival which is celebrated when the Sal tress get new flowers.

WORDS: SANGEETA S

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The Sarhul festival is celebrated mostly by the Oraon, the Munda and the Ho tribes, of the Jharkhand region is a unique tribal festival which marks the beginning of New Year.

The festival is celebrated every year in the first month of the Hindu calendar, on the third day of the moon or the fortnight of ‘Chaitra’.

It marks the beginning of spring or ‘Phaagun’ when people dance, sing and enjoy and commence harvest. It is during this time of the year that Sal trees get new flowers and the same flower is used to worship village deities.

As the name suggests it is a festival where nature is worshipped; Sarhul means worship of trees. Since the tribes of Jharkhand were nomadic and depended on nature for their livelihood, they still look up to nature for blessing.

They pray to nature for sufficient rainfall and mild summers so that they have good harvest. They worship nature so that the Mother Nature blesses them and spares them from her rage.
The Sal trees signify life to the tribes.

It is believed that the Sal tree is their provider and protector.

The tree provided them with firewood, shelter and protection and it continues doing so.

People worship this tree with the belief that Mother Nature resides in this tree. Offerings are made to this tree. The deity is appeased by making the first offerings of fruits, vegetables and paddy.Only after offering to deity the tribal people consume these gifts of nature.

The festival continues with plenty of dance and music. The local priest called ‘Pahan’ carries out all the rituals. The whole clan comes together to worship the deity and only after the festival ends that seeds are sown with the hope that Mother Nature will gift them a bountiful harvest.

The rituals are performed by the local priest under the sacred grove of Sal tree.
A day before the main festival the Pahan brings three new pots made of clay and fills them with water. The next morning after bathing early in the morning he observes these earthen pots and water level inside. If the water level decreases he predicts that there would be famine or less rain, and if the water level is normal, that is the signal of a good rain.

The ritual starts with washing the feet of deity which is done by the wife of the priest. Then the priest offers three young roosters of different colours, one to the God the Almighty, known to the Munda, Ho and Orsan tribes as Singbonga or Dharmesh; another to the village Gods and Goddesses; and the third to the ancestors of the tribes.

Offerings are made, flowers of Sal tree are offered to the deity. These flowers have lot of significance; they represent brotherhood among villagers. The priest distributes flowers to all and also puts the flower on every house roof which is called “phool khonsi”. Later people carry these flowers home with the belief that it will bring good luck to the family.

In one ritual the priest puts some grains on the head of a chosen hen. It is believed that if the hen eats those grains when they fall on the ground then it signifies good luck and if the hen walks off without eating the grain then it is not considered a good sign.

The beliefs are many but the main essence of this festival is in the way people come together to celebrate this festival. The discipline of people is amazing and later they all enjoy with music, dance, food and drinks.

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Tribes of Jharkhand
Jharkhand a state in eastern India is known for waterfalls, Betla National Park and Jain temples of Parasnath Hill. It is the leading producer of mineral. Jharkhand has around 32 tribes, each with its own unique history and culture. Around 70% of the state of Jharkhand consists of tribal population. Today if Jharkhand stands out as one of the most naturally beautiful state then the credit can be given to nature loving tribes of the state.
Some of the famous tribal communities of Jharkhand include –
• The Mundas – Known for their compassion and kindness they are great tourist attraction and are majority among the tribal communities.
• The Santhals – Largest tribal group in the whole of India, they are known for their faith in the forest Goddess.
• Baiga – Many members of this tribe make medicines for a living; this gets them the title of the ‘ojha’ tribe.
• Asur – They are known for their centuries-old iron-smelting skills.
• Banjaras – They are known for their skills in weaving, making baskets, embroidery etc.
• Ho – They are more into agriculture and farming.
• Oraon – Also known as the Kurukh tribe, they are known for their hospitality.
• Kharia – They are the most advance tribes in the nation. The three groups, the Hill Kharia, the Delki Kharia, and the Dudh Kharia make up the tribe.
• Gond – They are the forest fringe dwellers.
• Khonds and koras – Known for their ability to protect flora and the fauna.
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After all the rituals are over they enjoy a special drink made by processing rice, which is locally called ‘handia’. And then all celebrate the festival with lot of enthusiasm and it continues for weeks together.

There is a firm belief that after this festival the earth gets blessed and the harvest is good.Being a part of this unique festival is an experience in itself. Especially the last day when after all rituals the festivities start.

Men dressed in white vests and dhotis, and women in padiyas (white saris with red borders) look amazingly beautiful.
The tradition is very old and has lasted for many centuries and still continues. In fact this is getting popular in other regions of north-east where Sal trees grow in abundance.

The Inimitable Lives of THE AGHORI MONKS

The Aghori monks are ash-smeared ascetic Shiva sadhus, found mostly near charnel grounds seeking a different way of life as per the teachings of Lord Shiva. They practice black magic, eat flesh from corpses, wear jewellery made from human bones and meditate at cremation grounds to attain their true calling. Found in small groups in Varanasai, their lives are both simple and unique…

WORDS: SANGEETA S

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AGHORI Sadhus (or monks) are a small group of ascetics who indulge in after-death (post mortem) rituals. These Lord Shiva worshippers are generally found in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and can be identified by their ash smeared bodies with human bones in hand. The Aghoris believe in Lord Shiva manifested as Bhairava who seek moksha from the cycle of reincarnation. They often use human bones to make jewellery and can be found with Kapalas (skullcups) in hand.

It is believed that they have lot of healing powers which they gain through renunciation and tapasya (deep meditation). They are mostly found influence of dope and alcohol and, can be found in cremation grounds or in the Himalayas or in hot deserts. They are mostly found where normal civilization cannot habitate.They are often feared because of their extreme practices; they eat human flesh and drink from skulls. It is the combination of alcohol, marijuana and meditation that helps them attain their enlightenment. They are often seen without clothes and with their faces painted. They discourage attachment to anything materialistic and believe that a human body is transitory medium for the soul. This is the reason why they surround themselves with decay and death. They believe in doing things that is taboo for others that helps them achieve enlightenment and bring them closer to Lord Shiva. However, it is because of these practices that they are looked upon with fear and disgust.
These devotees of Lord Shiva seek self-realization with absolute spiritual enlightenment. For them, reaching Lord Shiva is the ultimate; they believe that Shiva is perfect and is responsible for everything that happens. Since Lord Shiva is responsible for everything according to them, calling anything imperfect would mean denying Lord Shiva. As per the Aghoris, every human soul is Shiva but it is because of sensual pleasure, anger, greed, fear, hatred, and obsession that soul becomes impure. They do sadhana to remove these bonds. Staying in cremation ground removes fear, staying naked removes shame and similar such practices help them remove all the bonds and they become one with Shiva.
Aghoris are respected as well as feared. Their rituals using human skulls and sex with corpses arouse curiosity. They are also associated with cannibalism and other bizarre rituals. Like sex, alcohol and meat is something one does not associate with sadhus but Aghoris are exceptions. According to them, it is Goddess Kali who demands these things and to satisfy her, they consume alcohol and meat. They do not believe in any discrimination and that is the reason they eat everything, including things like faeces, human flesh etc.
They live a life of celibacy but according to them, when Goddess Kali demands sex then they have to comply. And to appease the Goddess, they have intercourse with corpses. Their focus is on finding purity even in filthy objects. They remain focused on God even while having sex with corpse or while eating meat. Everything is pure for them.
There are also other rituals related to sex which do not sound normal but for them, it is sacred. They have rituals for intercourse and it is believed that sex amongst the dead gives rise to supernatural powers. The Aghoris often assemble in a graveyard to perform special sex ritual amidst the dead.
To conclude, one can say that we find Aghoris unnatural because they do not fall in line with our regular (socially acceptable) way of life. They have their own logic and thinking which is different from ours but they do not mean harm to anyone.

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QUICK FACTS ABOUT AGHORIS:
 An Aghori has no hatred in his heart. He believes that one who hates cannot meditate
 They share meals with dogs and cows and, they eat from the same bowl
 They believe that worrying about little things will move their focus away from their higher goal of becoming one with Lord Shiva
 Aghoris are fearless; they do not fear the dead or the cremation ground
 They fearlessly smear ashes of burnt corpses on their bodies to be like Lord Shiva
 They will always have human skull or kapal with them. Before a sadhu starts his life as an Aghori, he must acquire the skull
 He also has to eat human flesh and take baths in the icy, chilled waters of the Ganga
 He will meditate in cremation grounds at night which normally people fear
 They eat what normal people find filthy; faeces, urine, human flesh etc. They believe that eating such things destroys the ego
 They practice cannibalism but they do not kill humans for their needs; they consume flesh from the corpses at cremation grounds
 They are mostly nude or with minimum clothes
 They claim to have miracle medicines which they make by extracting oils from corpses. However, the authenticity of their claim has not been tested
 They practice black magic which they never use to harm anyone
 The Aghoris believe that though they follow a different way to reach God, their way is quicker

TWIRL LIKE A SERPENT IN THE KALBELIA FOLK DANCE

The Kalbelia Dance is one of the famous dances of Rajasthan. The dance is performed by the local Kalbelia tribe who are known for this dance. While women are dressed resplendently in stunning traditional attires, men play the musical instruments and compose lyrics on the spot. This dance forms an important part of their culture, and is a must-watch in your ‘To Do’ list for Rajasthan.

WORDS BY- SANGEETA S

KALBELIA, which is one of the most famous folk dances of Rajasthan, is also called the ‘snake charmer dance’ or the ‘sapera dance’ as it is popularly known locally. Originating from the Kalebalia tribe, this dance is a form of their expression.
For them, no occasion or celebration is complete without this dance which is a part of their pride, identity and culture. The theme of the dance is based on mythology and folktales.
While there are no institutes or books to teach this art, the art is passed from one generation to another whilst amalgamating the sequences of the present. The dance is spontaneous and often lyrics are composed on the spot during performances.
This is also a sensuous dance wherein men play instruments and women dance in beautiful colourful attires. Different musical instruments used by men include pungi, which is mainly played to capture snakes, dufli, dholak, khanjari, jhanjhar, sarangi etc.
Men keep increasing the beat as the dance progresses and women make faster and faster movements.

Watching this dance is a wonderful experience, and the steps used in the dance displays the agility, flexibility and high energy levels of the dancers.

The whole attire of dancers is a treat for the audience. The dress is mainly black combined with red laces and silver threads. The whole outfit is combined with mirrors that gives the effect of a twirling black snake. The long, colourful skirt with wide circumference looks divine when the women swirl around replicating the movement of a serpent. And the best part is that women make the dress themselves. The accessories which go with their dresses are worth noticing. The traditional jewellery they wear consists of beads, necklace, bangles and armlets. The bangles go up to their elbow and make them look stunning. One can even see beautiful elaborate tattoo designs on their bodies.
The dance has been added to UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity from the year 2010. The combination of music, colours and dance movements is beautiful to watch.

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THE KALEBELIA TRIBE
The Kalebelia tribe is a nomadic tribe who live in makeshift camps in the outskirts of villages or cities in Rajasthan. They follow Hinduism and are known as snake charmers also. They have expertise in snake catching and are often called upon by locals to catch snakes. Their connection with snakes is evident in their dance movements and costumes too.
After the Wildlife Act of 1972, the tribe had to stop handling snakes as a profession and since then they have moved on to performing this splendid art for their living. Though they have received recognition worldwide but performance opportunities are limited which has led to many moving out of the trade to look for alternate sources of income. The India and State Government is making efforts to keep this tradition alive by providing opportunities to them in national festivals and fairs which attract global audience.

WHERE TO SEE KALEBELIA?
Kalebelia dance can be seen all across Rajasthan. Since the dance is performed only by Kalebelia tribe who are nomads and who move all across the state, this dance is popular all through the state. Whenever you visit Rajasthan, find out where you can watch this beautiful dance. Many hotels organize shows in their premises for their guests which include these dancers. Check with them or your travel agent about this show. You may even contact them directly or talk to them if you find them roaming in the market place or desert area. Your visit to Rajasthan cannot be complete without attending a show of Kalebelia dance.

TPOPULAR RAJASTHANI FOLK DANCES:
GHOOMAR – It originated from the indigenous Bhil community and was mainly performed as entertainment for Kings in ancient times.

CHANG – Also called Dhamal, it is a fast paced dance on the rhythm of Chang – a musical instrument that resembles a tambourine.

BHAVAI – In this dance, women balance many pots on their head and twirl to traditional moves. With up to eight pots on their head, they move around on a plate or glass.

KATHPUTLI (PUPPET SHOW) – Mythological stories are narrated through this dance form where puppets are held by the strings. The beauty lies in the way the artists control the strings.

CHARI – In this dance, stunt balancing is done with brass pots on the head.

KACHCHHI GHODI – This dance indicates bravery where men ride on a puppet horse in traditional costumes.

GAIR – The origin of this dance can be traced to Bhil community where both men and women dance in attractive and colourful attire.

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Kancha Sport

If colourful marbles remind you of your childhood then you belong to the generation which played traditional outdoor sports. Yes we are talking about Kancha – the traditional Indian sport.

WORDS BY- SANGEETA S

Among the various traditional games, Kancha or the Marble game was amongst one of the popular games and is still played in villages. For those who have grown up playing kancha the story on Kancha Sport will be a nostalgia trip and our current generation may also find it interesting.

KANCHA THE GAME
Kancha also called ‘Goli’ or ‘Goti’ or ‘Marbles’ is a popular street game of our country. Often while passing through villages you can see kids with bags of marbles in hand, aiming at other marbles; they would be wearing a serious look while aiming with precision and typical technique. Yes, they are enjoying the game of Kancha. This ancient game was once played across the country before our children got totally digitized.
The game is played using colourful marbles called kancha. Kancha or marbles are balls made of glass that come in various colours. Many collect them even today just for memory and some use it for decoration also.
The game of kancha is ancient and can be counted in the list of traditional games of our country. Going by some, it seems the game originated in the Dwapar Yug when Lord Krishna used to play this game with his friends. Initially stones were used to play this game and marbles were introduced later.
Of course the game has been forgotten in the cities but marbles can still be seen in some houses as decorative items; people fill their vases with colourful marbles or use them to make beautiful pieces like candle holders etc. But apart from using it as decorative items if marble game can be revived our city children will definitely benefit in more ways than one. And also remain rooted to culture.
Once it used to be a favourite game of children in cities as well as villages; the game is still played in villages.

RULES OF THE GAME
There are many versions of the game. Some are simple versions while some little complicated. The simple way kids play this game is by just hitting the target kancha using their own kancha. With one eye closed the player would aim at the target kancha from a distance. If he hits he collects the kancha. A particular type of technique is used to hit the marbles. It used to be a matter of pride as to who owns maximum kanchas; some kids would collect more than 100 kanchas. Children had passion for this game.
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In another version of the game, a small hole is dug and from a distance the player kneels down and tries to send the marble into the hole. The person who is able to send all the kanchas into the hole is the winner.

BENEFITS OF THIS GAME
The nature of the game is such that it helps in the overall development of the child; both physical and mental. This game of Kancha involves body movements which is good for physical fitness. The game involves a typical posture and one has to kneel and bend on the ground to play this game with precision, this helps the child in being physically

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fit. Since it is an outdoor game, played in the grounds, the kids who play this get to enjoy lot of fresh air, sun and open environment. And finally the game also improves focus and concentration. A target is set and the person has to hit the target (marble) from a distance. The person or child trying to hit the target requires lot of focus and concentration; this helps hone the concentration of the child.
Another big plus point of Kancha is that one doesn’t require any special gadget or infrastructure to play this simple yet interesting game. Children from all social status can easily enjoy this game. Most of the traditional games can be played anywhere.
The game also helps children develop their social interaction skills. Social interaction confined to the virtual world is not helping our children grow as desired. To be able to handle the challenges of the life one needs actual life interactions.

THE GAME NEEDS REVIVAL
With the mobile era coming in lot of our traditional games are getting lost; Kancha being one of them. These days even in villages you can find children playing games in their mobiles. Many online kancha games are available which children are playing all the time.
Though it is still played in some villages but it seems if efforts are not made to revive the game it may get lost completely. And with these dying games we may also lose touch with our culture.

Small efforts are being made but bigger effort is the need.
Most of our societies don’t have enough space for children to play. It is the job of adults to provide space, time and opportunity for children to be able to play such games. Once the necessary environment and motivation is provided, children will definitely move outdoors.

Revival of ancient games
Global Kancha Marble Sports For All is working to revive the game. With trained referees, they keep organizing tournaments and seminars. The organization wants the kancha Marble sport to get recognition by MAYAS (Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports) and IOA (Indian Olympic Association).
The Indian Traditional Games Festival was conceptualized in 2010 to propagate and make people aware about ancient Indian Games and our rich culture. The festival held every year includes games like kho-kho, langadi, kabaddi, gilli-danda, lagori etc.

Why Traditional Games
• Allows more social interaction
• Builds interpersonal skills and social bonding
• Improves physical fitness of the child
• Improves focus and concentration
• Helps child remain rooted to culture

CHHAU DANCE

Chhau dance is a popular form of tribal dance that integrates martial arts into its movements. The majestic performance is a must watch at least once in your life…

WORDS BY- SANGEETA S

Listed in UNESCO’s world heritage list of dances, the Chhau Dance belongs to the people residing in the eastern parts of India. It is a tribal martial dance known for its vigour and vitality, predominantly practised in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. There is not much difference in the dance forms in these different geographic locations; they are mostly characterised by the look and dance style. The folk dancers use sword, bow, or shield which demonstrates the dancer’s dexterity. The dance brings together people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in a festive and religious spirit.

Chhau’s Origin
The Chhau Dance is believed to have many origins. Perhaps, it has originated from the martial dance Phari Khanda Khela which involves playing with a sword and shield. Some even believe that the word ‘Chhau’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chhaya’ meaning ‘shadow or image’ and it is therefore performed to influence Sun God. Chhau also means ‘mask’ because the dance is performed by wearing a mask. The narrative of Dance includes the depiction of birds, animals and other epic characters. There is another interpretation from Oriya language, where the meaning of three colloquial terms gives the perfect interpretation: ‘Chhauka’ – the quality of attacking stealthily; ‘Chhari’ – an armour and ‘Chhauni’ – military camp.The Chhau Dance is usually performed during important ceremonies – Gajan and the Sun Festival. Mostly, these dances are performed on the floor and the performers recreate a magical enactment for the audience as they sit in a circle or a semi-circle around them to watch the performance. As the dance is considered to be sacred, the participants take a bath and perform certain holy rituals before the performance starts. The dance mostly happens at night in an open area which is lit by fire poles called ‘mashaals.’

The dancers wear a mask and different moods are shown through various body movements. The costume and music are an important part of the performance. The rhythms are traditional and various musical instruments are used but drums are considered as an important part of the performance. The dance begins with the invocation to Lord Ganesha by beating the traditional drums. The dance starts with the impersonation of Lord Ganesha along with other mythical and natural characters like other Gods, demons, animals and birds.

The Chhau can be described as a colourful dance with various bright colourful costumes being used. The style and variety of the costume of the dancers largely depends upon the characters being portrayed by them. Different colours are used by the dancers playing the roles of Gods and for those playing the roles of demons. Goddess Kali has a black costume. In order to create a distinct identity, the characters of animals and birds use suitable type of masks and costumes.

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purulia-chhauDifferent Styles
The dance is found in three different styles named after the location where they are performed. The styles are –
Purulia Chau of Bengal – This is known for its energetic and dramatic characteristics. Asura masks are used that have fierce countenance and are painted bright green and red.
Seraikella Chau of Jharkhand – The dancers cover their face with mask and emphasize on expressing their Rasa (sentiments) and Bhav (mood) through body movements. There is no emphasis on Drishti Bhedo (movements of the eye and glances).
Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha – This is different from other dance forms as it is performed without masks and has highly evolved techniques of its own.
Recognition
The Government of Odisha established a Government Chhau Dance Centre in 1960 in Seraikella and The Mayurbhanj Chhau Nritya Pratisthan at Baripada in 1962. These institutions engage in training and sponsor performances. The Chaitra Parva festival, significant to the Chhau Dance, is also sponsored by the Odisha State Government. The Sangeet Natak Akademi has established a National Centre for Chhau Dance at Baripada, Odisha.
In 2010, the Chhau Dance was inscribed in the UNESCO‘s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Chhau Dance and Research Centre
With an aim to re-establish this age-old art, ‘The Chhau Dance and Research Centre’ was inaugurated at Chandankiyari in Bokaro district, Jharkhand. The Centre will facilitate the development of research initiatives and give a new boost to this traditional dance. This research centre will cover three eastern states of the country including Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal for the promotion and research of Chhau Dance.
Natya Veda
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma created the fifth scripture in addition to the four vedas, which is the Natya Veda. Certain elements from all the four Vedas were taken to create the fifth veda: speech from the Rig Veda, Abhinaya (speech, body, dress and facial expressions) from the Yajur Veda, music from the Sama Veda and aesthetic experiences from the Atharva Veda. Chhau is one such dance which reflects all these elements.
Chhau Mask
The beauty of the Chhau Dance depends on the masks they use. Made of paper, mud and clay the masks are painted to give bold look; the eye- brows, mouth, and eyes are painted to give those special effects. You can buy the masks; they are even available online. You can use them for the Chhau Dance being organized locally in your area. These colourful masks can be used to decorate your home or can be given away as gifts. The epic characters symbolise the Indian culture. The vibrant colours of the mask will add to the beauty of your home.

The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes. The Dance has evolved over the years – from showcasing the mythologies of the Jain and the Buddhist era, to the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Sometimes a few episodes of Indian Puranas are also depicted. The Dance requires lot of energy and vigorous movements throughout. Though there is no discrimination against women to perform the dance, it is usually performed by men and boys as Chhau requires a lot of energy and is difficult to dance that long wearing a mask.