February 19, 2011
Students and faculty sat enthralled on the grass lawns of the School of Engineering at Amritapuri, even as the Chhau dancers invited by the campus Spicmacay chapter, performed graceful, brisk movements to enthusiastic applause.
Beginning with an energetic beating of the drums, the performance moved on to a spell-binding rendition of the puranic story of Mahishasuramardini.
The leader of the 35-member dance troupe, Tarapada Rajak, explained.
“We dedicate our performance to Lord Shiva. That is why we start each performance with a beating of the drums followed by an invocation to Ganesha, Lord Shiva’s son.”
The dancers, all male, dressed in colorful costumes and adorned with glittering jewelry, portrayed a fierce battle between Goddess Durga and the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura.
As dancers moved on the open-air stage, jumping, performing quick somersaults and otherwise depicting a vigorous fight, the audience cheered.
“We give a lot of importance to quick movements,” stated Tarapada Rajak. We feel that these martial arts-like movements attract viewers and make the performance lively.”
“We practice vigorously for three hours a day for weeks at a stretch, before our performances.”
A form of Indian tribal dance, Chhau was developed in the Indian states of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Now as awareness grows about the rich folk traditions of India, the dancers are invited to perform all over the country.
And even abroad. Later this year, in September, the troupe will travel to perform in Norway.
This will be a long way from their home in the Purulia district of West Bengal.
And also a far cry from performing in their own villages, where there are no daises or raised platforms; dancers dance on the bare ground and spectators sit around them in a circle.
Scenes from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata are usually performed. Stories from the Puranas are depicted as well. Vira and Rudra form the dominant rasas.
In the end, forces of evil are vanquished and the righteous triumph.
As the divine Goddess Durga defeated the wicked demon Mahishasura on the Amritapuri grounds, students reveled in the visual delight that helped them understand more about their country and culture.
“We are seeing such a folk art form for the first time,” shared Nicy Vincent, final-year student from the Amrita School of Ayurveda. “We really liked it.”