Definition of Chhau Dance and the word meaning of Chhau: -

The Chhau Dance follows the basic principles of Hindu Dance. Chhau Dance is prevalent not only in Seraikela but also in the same form or the other in many parts of Orissa and West Bengal.

The word Chhau is interpreted in different ways by different quarters and persons: -

In the opinion of Late Bijay Pratap Singh Deo of Seraikela who was an architect of Chhau dance of Seraikella school, Chhau is a masked dance, the motif of which has been drawn from the mythological picturesque.

In the opinion of some people "Chhau" is a dialect which meams six faces, Viz. fore head, eyes, nose, cheeks, lips and chin and a mask bears the six parts of the face. The word "Chhau" ordinarily means mask and because the dance is performed by use of mask, it is called "Chhau Dance".

According to yet another school of thought the word "Chhau" has been derived from the Sanskrit word "Chhabi" which means image or picture. Several others say that as the dance is characterized by variety it is called Chhau dance and therefore the word meaning of "Chhau" is Chhabila in Sanskrit and fancy or picturesque in English.

According to Sitakanta Mohapatra (I.A.S.), Chhau is concocted pronunciation of the word Chhauni (Military Barrack or Cantonment). In his views, the militia man (Paikas) staged and performed in Chhauni (cantonments) for amusement during leisure time and enjoy their success or victory in battle field, so the people called it as "Chhauni dance", Which in course of time has changed to Chhau dance by mispronunciation. 


"Chhau" dance flourished at eight Akhadas on the basis of Parikhanda and is not only the means of recreation but is related with the religion beliefs of the people. 13 Bhaktas from different sects of society with "Stubble Bhat" in last 13 days of the month of Chaitra start with "Habissanna" in this function and the dance starts in last four days with "Yatra Ghat" and concludes in the last night with "Kalika Ghat".


The beginning of Chhau dances is lost in hoary past and the rulers have been intimately associated with religious festivals known as "Chaitra Parva" celebrated every year for several centuries. Not only have they been actively associated with religious festivals, they have nurtured the art of dance. They have nurtured the art of dance that blossomed underthe royal patronage. Invariably every year the Chhau dances are performed during the spring and members of the royal family and commoners dance together without distinction of rank and creed. The prince and pauper join each other freely and express their feelings through dance. In early days the dancers used masks of bamboos and gourds and these dances were related with mythological tales of Mahabharata, Ramayana and the life and nature of human beings. Later on masks made of paper mache were used.

The present style of dance is given to its shape by the untiring efforts of Kunwar Bijay Pratap Singhdeo in 1920s. Hence after he is said to be the Father of Modern Saraikela Chhau. Since 1938, Seraikella Chhau dance has added to it's glory by exhibiting the dance to corners of far and near till this date.

The Govt. has given new dimension to the art and culture by establishing state Chhau Dance Centre. The in exhaustive effort of the dancers of Chhau; Seraikela keeps a special position in global world of art.

Our country is predominantly based on religion. People worship different Gods and Goddesses to invoke their blessings to ward off evils. To please the Gods, there was necessity of rejoicing through music and dance in harmony with rituals.

As such the Chhau dance in general and that of Searikela in particular relates this dance with the worship of Lord Shiva in the month of "Chaitra" (Mid April) ushering spring when the hearts of the people are filled with cosmic joy in tune with the "Basant Ritu" the spring.



The Chhau dance of Searikela is a traditional dance from with classical base. The Chhau dance of Seraikela is a highly specialized masked dance having a rich cultural heritage.

The word 'Chhau' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Chhaya' meaning 'shade image mask' which is an essential features of this art. In Seraikela Chhau, the mask in the center of attraction, Vachikabhinaya is absent and the elements of speech there is greater scope for expression through mime and body language. Different Bhavas (Moods) and Rasas (sentiments) are exquisitely expressed through the movements of the limbs in Chhau. The Searikela Chhau has evolved from a distinct martial art called "Pharikhanda" play of (sword and shield) and has a few distinguished manners of execution. The style, posture, movements and footwork confirms to positive martial art from bestowed with grace. In this dance form the mask covers the face exerting the dancers to express his Bhava (Mood) and Rasa (sentiments) through body movements like Siro Bhedo (Head gesture) and Griba Bhedo (neck gesture) leaving no room for "Dristi Bhedo" (eye movements and glances).

Natya Shastra enumerates one hundred eight (108) Karanas. In Seraikela these are known as upalayas or uphle, make up basic vocabulary in Chhau dance uphlu (meaning lips and motion).

The music of Chhau in many cases is based on the ragas of the Hindustani classical music as also from folk lure. In some cases it has been borrowed from the composition of outstanding Oriya poets of the past where some cases folk melodies (Dashi) are utilized.

Chhau dance is essentially open-air offer; all the special instruments used for the accompaniment emit loud or sharp songs. Traditional musical instrument used for Chhau in Clude Dhol, Nagara or Dhumsa (kettle dance), Jhanj (brass cymbals), flute, Mohuri, conch shells, Turi and Bheri (Long bamboo pipes) some classical music instruments like Shenal, Veena, Pakhwaj, Mridanga etc.

The subject of matter of Chhau assumed artistic proposals and it's themes are drawn from great epics ?The Ramayana and Mahabharata, Nature and human existence giving rise to dances like Duryodhan ?Urubhanga "Goda Yuddh"(club duel) Astra Dwanada (sword duel) and the sort.

Nature played a significant role in the composition of dance numbers like Mayur (Peacock ? the glorious national bird), Hansa (swan) Prajapati (Butterfly), Sagar(ocean) and all that.

The historical episodes like "Rani of Jhansi"(Laxmibai), Hamara Desh Mahan added in 1995 shows interesting features of the art.

Romance is equally incorporated in the art "sringar" sentiments play a Dominant role in the numbers like "Barsa ghama ghama"(when rains pours in showers)."chandra bhaga"(the eternal love of sun god with maiden chandrabhaga) depicting in episode a "Konark" in Orissa? kach debjani in the lyrics of immortal visvakabi Rabindra Nath Tagore "Biday Abhisaap" has been portrayed to render a romantic and so and so forth.

The great choreographer and a dozen of this celebrated art Kumar Bijay Pratap Singh Deo the illustrious brother of late Maharaja Aditya Pratap Singh Deo is hailed to be the author of the latest treasure in Chhau dance style by invoking the elements of lasya (feminine grace) in its original. To the development of chhau are the most evolved and have a well-structured grammar. The Mayurbhanj Chhau is a beautiful mosaic comprising elements from folk, martial and classical art. The dancers uses basic steps "Topkas", Ufils, Chali.

The word Chhau, now obsolete means to attack stealthily in Oriya.A few derivative words of Chhau such as Chhauri and Chhaurani and Chhamka (meaning resopectively the armor, a military camp and the quality of attacking stealthily) are in still in currency. The rudimentary Chhau dance in Mayurbhanj was called rook-maar ?naacha, literally meaning: the dance of defense and attack.

In Mayubhanj (Orissa) Chhau the great exponents are shri Madan Mohan Lenka ,Sri Hari Nayak recipient academy awards by the president of India.



This is perhaps the best-known style of Chhau largely due to it energetic and dramatic characteristics. As regards the masks and the mask-makers of Manbhum Chhau much as already been described and discussed.

he vigorous aspects of Purulia Chhau are based illustrated in a series of Asura masks having a fierce countenance and painted bright green and red. In general the range of colour used to symbolize character types in framework and giving a classical touch assisted by local ustad.

Performers of different school's of chhau have achieved World Wide acclamation and bestowed with national and international trophies.

It is worthwhile to mention that living legend late Rajkumar Suddhandra Narayan Singh Deo (Seraikela chhau) who was honoured with PadmashreeAward by the president of India, Guru Kedar Nath Sahu recipient of academy award from the president of India are brilliant exponents of Seraikela style. Ustad Bikram Kumbhkar exponent of Seraikela chhau is a recipient of academy award from the president of India.



Chhau is usually though to be a mask dance. However, that performed Baripada in Mayurbhanj, Orissa, does not use any distinctive masks though the face remains quite immobile. The Mayurbhanj chhau the movements are quite vigorous. Maintaining the basic spirit and style of chhau dance the rulers of Mayurbhanj, cultivated the chhau dance to develop it to a unique from with the support the Govt.

Mayurbhanj chhau seems to be closely related to Seraikela chhau. Because the two Guru's/Ustad had gone to Mayurbhanj and trained the Pharikhanda style dance/martial art name Upendra Biswal and Banamali Das. Seraikela and Mayurbhanj were princely states and their rulers extended enthusiastic patronage. consistent with that used in other forms of traditional Indian performing arts. Purulia masks with towering headgears are more dramatic influenced by the Jatra/theatre of Bengal, Purulia/Manbhum.

Chhau vibrates with a powerful theatrically and imparts to the dance mythical episodes a rare kind of palpability. The themes are drawn from Ramayana (written by Krittibas) and mahabharata or the mythological character. The music of Manbhum chhau in many cases based on the folk melodies and Jhoomer and musical instrument are Dhol, Nagara, and Mahuri etc.

The Manbhum school exhibit of vigorous body movements acrobatics their vigorous dance forms suggests martial origin of Chhau much akin to military exercises.

The revered master and choreographers Guru Gambhir Singh Munda and Nepal Mahto of Mnbhum/Purulia school are greatest exponents of the art and recipient of Padmashree from the president of India.



The Kharsawan chhau does not used in any masks except in a single item "Ganesh Bandana" in which mask is used to represent the facial expressions of lord Ganesh. Once a time Kharsawan was also a princely state. The Kharsawan style of chhau dance is in fact a product of fashion of the Mayurbhanj and Purulia style of Chhau. The Kharsawan style of chhau is also a martial art form. The purity of the martial art form has been preserved by these indigenous people of this area who constant exchange among the villagers and the communities. It is more modern form owes much to the active intervention of the kings of Kharsawan. Unfortunately these style is not very popular due to some circumstances. 

The main three style Seraikela, Mayurbhanj and Manbhum/Purulia are recognized but Kharsawan till date not recognized. Whether Kharsawan Chhau is very beautiful. The movements chali locomotion ufles and steps are full of the velour and dynamism. The costumes and appearance of these dancers are very distinctive.

The music of Kharsawan chhau in many cases based on local folk melodies of and jhoomur. The Kharsawan chhau also used Dhol, Dhumsa, mohuri etc. which traditional musical instrument.

It in significant that not only Seraikela but all the different style of chhau culminate in a festival called CHAITRAPARVA celebrated on the last day of the month of Chaitra. Corresponding with April.The festival proper begins with the Jatraghat ceremony whenever the chaitraparve or the Chhau dance performed whether it is in Seraikela, Mayurbhanj, Kharsawan and Purulia/Manbhum. The jatraghat ceremony must be performed.

The underlying rituals (lord Shiva and Shakti) of the chaitraparava are the same as those of the "DANDAJATRA" or "DANDANATA"

The Chhau dance is of the people

By the people and for the people

Dance of mother of arts

Music and poetry exists in time




V. Kumar Vijay Pratap Singhdeo                             Late Raj Kumar Sudhendra Narayan Singhdeo                                   Late B.B. Pattanaik

Modern Architect of Seraikela Chhau                                          Padmashree                                                  st Director of Saraikela Chhau Center



Late Raj Kumar Sudhendra Narayan Singhdeo                                                                                                                  Ustad Vikram Kumbhakar