Odisha: Discovering the legend of Mayurbhanj Chhau through project Chhauni

Bhubaneswar: If Mayurbhanj is the epitome of the essence of a rich cultural tradition in the Eastern part of Odisha, Chhau would be the jewel on its crown.
Besides Similipal, the war dance form Chhau, perhaps creates another identity for this tribal dominated district, also known for its green cover and a wide spectrum of wildlife stock besides many art and handicrafts.
Thanks to the efforts of the district administration and especially the dynamic district magistrate and collector, Sri Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, the Project Chhauni has become the cynosure of a cultural conservation as since its launch (a year ago) it has helped in recollecting the lost roots and pulse of Chhau and again making it refreshingly vibrant in the Chaitra Parva from Monday onwards, during the annual Chhau festival in the city of culture.
Project Chhauni:
Project Chauni was initiated with an idea of facilitating the artistes of Mayurbhanj Chhau with an innovative module of training and subsequent performance leading to a respectable livelihood. So it was, since its launch wanted to devise a monetizing formula with a refreshing discovery of Chhau’s dying ties with all those, who were once living with a hope to shine with this distinct and unique dance form, from the land of the Bhanjas.
It was launched on May 19, 2016, by the district collector. The project was conceived and prepared by Subhasree Mukherjee, a Chhau dancer herself and resident of Baripada, who has also worked closely with Chhau artistes and organizers in the past.
To initiate a developmental approach in the training and performance of Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj a detailed survey of the socio economic status of the artists was conducted in the length and breadth of the district . The survey team and its members visited every single village where an organisations promoting and practicing Chhau were present and interacted with them with the shortcomings they face. With the help of the data collected in the survey interventional measures were planned to improve the condition of living of numerous artistes of Chhau in the district and plans were prepared to further promote the dance world-wide.
Curriculum and Techniques:
As primarily it was noticed during the survey that the organizations in the rural belt of the district, who have high motivation towards learning the dance, lacked a curriculum for proper training in dance and music, a curriculum was prepared after much research with the current Gurus and senior artistes. All the basic techniques called as the ‘Topka’ ‘Ufli’ and ‘Upa Ufli’ were recorded in a video shoot.
As team Chhauni interacted in due course with the musicians of Mayurbhanj Chhau, it was found that the music created for several dance items by renowned Ustads of Mayurbhanj Chhau is on the verge of extinction as it is not conserved so far in a recorded form. Therefore, after much research and practice with a group of senior music Gurus of Mayurbhanj Chhau, it was decided to record more than 80 dance items for its preservation. Also in the same workshop a curriculum for standardized training of `Mahuri’ and `Dhola’ was recorded to train the upcoming musicians in the same process the classical musicians are trained.
Re-building Lost Traditions by New Academy:
To reinitiate the Guru-Sishya Parampara , ideally practiced in the past to infuse the artistic values and competitive spirit among the students , Project Chhauni has established “Mayurbhanj Chhau Academy”(MCA). Under this academy there will be training classes at various places of the district which will impart proper standardize training to the next generation and prepare them.
As it was evident that the number of performances of artistes from Mayurbhanj have gone through a subsequent fall in the past few years and Project Chhauni was committed towards creating a “Mayurbhanj Chhau Performing Unit” (MCPU). For this, a selection process was put in place and artiste were categorized according to their talent and experience to get appropriate chances of performance and apt reputation and remuneration.
Audition For Artists:
On February 27 and 28, 2017, an audition was organised for select dancers and musicians from 213 organisations practicing Chhau across Mayurbhanj and out of them 60 artistes were chosen for MCPU. These artistes were then further trained in a 12-days-workshop. Exponents like Santosh Nair from “Sadhya”, New Delhi, trained the local artistes. Subrat Pattanayak from Bhubaneswar also worked with the artistes. The local Gurus from Baripada played a major part in training of both Mayurbhanj Chhau dance and music.
In the coming days the project will come up with interactional training workshops to choreograph both traditional and contemporary Chhau repertoire. Project Chhauni will always create scope of training and proper exposure to the artistes. It will strive to provide better costumes and other inputs to upgrade the current scenario. It will work to provide Mayurbhanj Chhau the status it deserves in the national and international map of art and culture.
The Origin of Chhau:
Many Scholars down the years have deeply followed the colloquial stories about the origin of Mayurbhanj chhau , and connecting one leading fact to another they have come with some conceivable theories behind the evolution of this dance form. Although these theories are contradictory in themselves, the truth behind Origin of Chhau partially belongs to all these theories.
A group of historians and scholars feel that Chhau in the past and present has been prevalent in the Eastern zone of India, primarily in the Odia speaking region. The geographical names of these area are Bhanjabhum (now-Mayurbhanj), Singhbhum (now-Sareikela) and Manabhu (now –Purulia). They further mention that in the past all these areas were under the rule of the Gajapati Kings of Odisha. Some of the regions were directly ruled by them and some were managed and controlled by their feudatory chiefs. These feudatory chiefs were the Maharajas of Mayurbhanj , Sareikela and the Rajas of Dhalbhum, Manabhum and Kharasuan. Perhaps for this reason, the cultural practices of these places are identical in nature.
Chhau’s Genesis and Progress:
In the early years of its evolvement Chhau was purely martial, but when it attracted the royal families, the travelers to these regions it started getting characters. Mythological stories became the main subject around which it was choreographed. Similarly, the martial music started incorporating folk songs of Jhumar, and the excerpts from Hindustani classical music and Odissi music.
The Mayurbhanj Chhau dance grew and developed with the royal patronage of the rulers of the erstwhile Mayurbhanj State. It reached its pinnacle due to the proper financial assistance and personal involvement of the members of the Royals.
In the past years the dance has witnessed many changes. Foreign artistes have embraced it with complete dedication and also artistes from other dance forms have experimented with Chhau in their contemporary creations.

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