G. Chandrashekhar

Mumbai, Feb. 26

BIHAR and Jharkhand are too far away from the bustling city of Mumbai. Only the political theatre in those backward States occasionally becomes the matter of interest to people in the megapolis.

But a traditional performing art form called Chhau, the mask dance, native to southern Bihar, performed recently in the city showed how rich the cultural ethos of these backward regions are.

At a time when numerous traditional dance forms are on the wane, partly because of lack of patronage, especially in commercial hotbeds such as Mumbai, it was a pleasure to watch the mask dance of Saraikella, performed on the full moon day that marks the beginning of spring season.

The origin of the dance is traced to a small town named Saraikella in Singhbum district (earlier in Bihar, but now in Jharkhand). Royal patronage ensured that the dance form was passed on from generation to generation. Its history shows that it was not trained artistes but warriors who designed this dance form. No wonder, Chhau has its roots in parikanda, a form of sword and shield exercise, and war dance practised by the military of Saraikella.

The colourfully painted mask has expressive features that symbolise the mood. For instance, the face of a wounded deer exhibits despair, while that of a hunter shows ferocity and cunning.

Performing the dance, Urvashi Makharia, the only artiste from Maharashtra to have received a young talent scholarship award for Saraikella Chhau from the Union Government, demonstrated how emotions could be expressed through fluid movements of the body.

Bihar may be far away from Mumbai; but in recent years, Biharis have invaded this city in droves. Looks like it is only a matter of time before Bihar's rich cultural tradition seizes Mumbai; and if it does, it is only too welcome.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 27, 2005)
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