Former Chhau dancer Sanatan Bauri (60) having fun with his grandchildren at his residence. In recent days his age and health condition do not support him to perform. Nowadays, he favour to spend his time with family members.
BEHIND THE MASK – A TALE OF DECLINE
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Chhau dance is a genre of martial dance performed by some tribal communities (mostly Bhumij and Kurmi tribes) in the state Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa in India. In Purulia and Jharkhand Chhau is performed mainly in the festive season during spring known as “Chaitra Porob” which last for about 13 days.
A craftsman is working on a chhau mask in Charida, a small village in Purulia in the state of West Bengal, India. The mask makers, who are Sutradhars or woodcarvers by caste are mostly dependent on making Chhau mask for their livelihood.
Mainly little huts or shanties are the workshops of making chhau masks in Charida village of Purulia located in West Bengal. Finacial condition of the chhau artistes and the mask makers are not worth mentioning nowadays.
The masks are painted with various colours to give a bold look. The effectiveness, originality, and beauty of the Chhau dance are dependant on the Chhau masks. Each mask represents a character from the epics, the Puranas, and from mythology. The eye- brows, mouth, and eyes are painted to give those special effects and give completeness to the looks of the Chhau dancers. Children of each artist’s family in this region are getting trained with the forms, typical movements of the dance from very little age.
A local store of Chhau mask at Charida village in Purulia, WestBengal, India.
Sanatan Bauri (60), a former Chhau dancer is standing outside of his house. He is a farmer by profession and used to play roll of lion in the show of Chhau dance. He wanted to earn his livelihood as a Chhau dancer but ended as a farmer for not getting any financial security from this traditional dance.
Sanatan Bauri (right) with his group members are getting ready before a performance two years ago. He performs as a lion character in chhau shows. The elaborate costumes mean that it takes a group an hour or two before they are ready for the show.
Sanatan Bauri, dressed in lion character is having fun with villege children while going to attend a show.
A Chhau dancer waits for the show to begin after worshipping the local deity.
A chhau dancer in getting ready inside a hut. Chhau dancers use this kind of hut as their greenroom as well as the store room to keep their cotumes, masks, drums, and other materials used during the Chhau shows.
Village children are having fun with Chhau mask.
A young Chhau dancer in his attire before a show.
Most artistes are initiated into the art form by virtue of birth, continuing the family tradition. Chhau calls for great athleticism as it is a martial dance that employs mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and the movements of daily chores that women perform.
Two Chhau dancers are helping each others to get ready before show.
Two Chhau dancers in their full attire are moving towards a nearby village to perticipate in a show. Though it is very hard to carry the heavy costumes, but most of the time they have to carry them by own. Most of the artists have no such financial condition to hire a vehicle to carry their custumes.
Practice is going on at a field near the villages. With the traditional instruments such as ‘shehnai’ (locally known as ‘shaina’), a variety of traditional drums like ‘dhol’ (a cylindrical drum), ‘dhumsa’ (a large kettle drum) and ‘kharka’, it is performed in an open area called ‘akhada’ or ‘asor’.
A mirror reflects a performer’s face during make up before a show. It’s time to powder and paint to come on as show time gets closer. The artistes have to do their own make-up as there are no dressers for the job.
Chhau dancers helping each others to get ready before a show.
A traditional banner of Chhau shows.
A chhau performer is helping in tying a mask to his colleague. The nomenclature of this dance form has many versions. In local term conceal something in reality or act of hiding the real appearance is known as ‘Chhau’. Most people agree that the term gives the form its name.
Chhau dancers helping each others to get ready for their show.
Two chhau permormers are in their full attire. It take s a lot of effort during performance as the chhau masks and the dresses are too heavy to carry.
A chhau performer in the greenroom just before his performance.
Two performers are waiting for their turn to come.
Chhau is mostly performed at night as the dance form includes display of physical skills, exercises and very hard working in nature.
Two Chhau dancers are performing together by dressed as a big lion in a show.
The themes of Chhau dance are mainly based on folklores or the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Nowadays, the young generation is no more interested in taking up the dance or its music professionally as it seems not lucrative enough to them.
In spite of so many aspects, chhau remain confined to being local entertainment because it lacks glamour and state support that has promoted the development and evolution of the other traditional dance forms.
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Exhibition :

“Behind the mask” was exhibited in 9th edition of Angkor Photo Festival (A Southeast Asia’s longest-running international photography event) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Exhibition duration – 23rd November, 2013 to 20th January, 2014