Chhau Dance & Paryavaran Mela in Ranchi

I saw the poster for the Paryavaran Mela (Environment Fair) would be held in Ranchi. Yugantar Bharti, a non-profit organization, in collaboration with Nature Foundation is hosting a state-level environment fair at Morhabadi Ground from 22 February to 03 March. I decided to visit the fair on 23 February 2023 with my mom and wife.

There were many stalls on environment conservation, nurseries, etc.

There were many stalls selling handicraft items by the artisans from Jharkhand and other states as far as Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Mom and my wife made some shopping. Some of the stalls were opened on the second day which is the date of our visit. We purchased some handicraft items and plants for our house.

Fair and cultural programmes are inseparable parts. We were present during their cultural events at the Paryavaran Mela and witnessed the mesmerizing Chhau dance performance depicting Mahishasuramardini. It was breathtaking! The troupe also told us the history of Chhau dance and mask dance before they started.

Chhau dance is a semi-classical dance with martial and folk traditions, that originated in Saraikela, now in Jharkhand. The name Chhau comes from the word ‘Chhaya,’ which means shadow.

Three legendary dance Gurus Upendra Biswal, Banabali Das, and Rajendra Pattanayak ushered in the Chhau tradition in the royal court of Saraikela. Later, Banabali Das shifted to Mayurbhanj and started his form of Chhau which came to be known later as the Mayurbhanj Shaili of Chhau Nritya. While Guru Upendra Biswal continued to propagate his Chhau Shaili in Saraikela, Guru Rajendra Pattanayak moved over to Ichagarh where another school of Chhau expression developed. It came to be known as Purulia Shaili.

Chhau dance is intimately connected to regional festivals, notably the spring festival Chaitra Parva. Its origin is traceable to indigenous forms of dance and martial practices. Its vocabulary of movement includes mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals, and movements modeled on the chores of village housewives.

The dance is performed at night in an open space to traditional and folk melodies, played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai. The reverberating drumbeats of a variety of drums dominate the accompanying music ensemble.

Masks are an integral part of the dances of Seraikela and Purulia. Chhau dance has a significant role in the celebration of the spring festival Chaitra Parva, being innately connected to its rituals. It is a people’s art as it involves the entire community. Mayurbhanj Chhau does not have masks thereby adding facial expressions with body movements and gestures.

Chhau dance depicting Mahishasuramardini

Chhau Dance was inscribed in 2010 on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Chhau dance in Eastern India involves each member of the community in its performance and is recognized by them as a symbol of their identity and continuity. Chhau dance is included in the inventory of the Sangeet Natak Academy, as well as in the inventory of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, a national repository of Indian arts and culture under the Ministry of Culture.

It was a nice evening that we spent together enjoying the fair, watched the lovely Chhau dance. Chhau binds together people from different social strata and ethnic backgrounds with diverse social practices, beliefs, professions, and languages. However, increasing industrialization, economic pressures, and new media are leading to a decrease in collective participation with communities becoming disconnected from their roots.

10 thoughts on “Chhau Dance & Paryavaran Mela in Ranchi

  1. Your last line captures the issues of ‘development’ very well 😦
    I grew up in Meerut in UP. The Nauchandi Mela was a popular annual event held just after Holi. Everyone participated, rich and poor. Unfortunately, over the years, society has become polarized. Today, hardly anyone who is rich (from the material possessions perspective) goes there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, sir. I love to visit melas and so do my son and family. Nauchandi Mela was very famous. I went there from Aligarh, where I was posted at the beginning of my banking career. Special Nauchadi Mela trains used to run those days from Aligarh Junction, such were its reach and popularity. The mela then used to shift to Aligarh.
      True, melas are not attracting the crowd they used to in earlier days. People have other sources of entertainment and supplies, besides the change of preference from handicrafts to fancy milled items. With the melas, the folk arts and folk dances are finding it difficult to survive.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. That’s very nice description of the environment fair and the Chhau dance. I love to watch the mask dances from my childhood. It;s good that you shared, it re-lived my memory.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow, it’s nice to see that you went to a mela and enjoyed it. Chhau dance video and narrative are quite interesting. Nice post.

    Liked by 3 people

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