Folk behind the of Mask
Upon asking about the Chhau, Sunil explains that Manbhum Chau is a martial art dance performed by all communities of Jharkhand where the group of dance use heavy masks and brightly coloured costumes and traditional ornaments to give an attractive look. The mask is used for the description of the character. What is typical of this dance form is that there are hardly any words spoken and the entire story is performed with the help of body actions and movements. Be it Veer Ras or Karun Ras, the dancer depicts them only through his actions. The dance form can also be called a martial art because of the extreme movements like Ucchlan (jumping), Baaji (springing) etc.
Sunil Kumar Singh is the Chief Trainer at State Manbhum Chhau Dance Artistic Centre in Jharkhand. It is a training and research centre with musicians and dancers from across the country and the world coming to understand the nuances of Chau dance. Apart from Manbhum Chhau, they can also learn about other traditional dance forms of Jharkhand like Paika, Jhoomar, Damkach, Karma, Sarahul etc. Although Chhau doesn’t need an introduction for the one world who don’t know what it is, they should get to know about it. Sunil Kumar Singh manages all the artists and their performance with his double doctorate degree on Chhau. He is a very knowable man and believes in imparting the same to different people.
Traditionally, Manbhum Chhau began in Jharkhand during Chait Sankranti (13 or 14 April as per lunar calendar) and went on till the beginning of monsoons. This was the period when farmers were a little relaxed and spent their time dancing and listening to stories of Ramayana. Manbhum Chhau in its original form is Shiv Upasana (Worshipping Lord Shiva). However nowadays it is performed around the year and the stories revolve around social issues, government schemes or other good causes to motivate people in villages.
The masks are an important part of the Manbhum Chhau dance form. They are big in size, very colourful and depict characters of the story. Although they look heavy, they are light and handmade. Artists themselves make these masks out of paper mache, clay and cotton cloth. Each made in the layer and it may take from 15 to 30 day to make one. Chhau dance has been recognized by UNESCO as an intangible international heritage. It is believed that the dance form began in Jharkhand hundreds of years ago, and is now popular in Odisha and West Bengal too. Depending on the area, the dance form has ‘gharanas’ or specialist schools or methods. Some popular types of Chhau dance are Manbhum Chhau (with big masks), Saraikela Chhau (smaller masks), Kharsawan Chhau and Khunti Chau all from Jharkhand. Mayurbhanj Chhau of Odisha and Purliya Chhau of West Bengal are also other forms.