'Odissi', the traditional dance of Orissa, has been accepted as
an important classical form of Indian dance for its exquisite beauty and charm.
Among the folk dances of Orissa, 'chhau' has earned world-wide reputation.
The basic postures and stance
of this dance resemble the
postures of a combatant in a traditional fight. In its rudimentary form it is
generally referred to as Phari Khanda Khela ( the game of sword and shield) or
Rookmar Nacha ( the dance of offence and defence). Thematically, Chhau draws substantially from the Ramayana and
the Mahabharata. Themes drawn from the Krishna legend are also many. Most of the
themes are puranic episodes like the fight of 'Abhimanyu' with the 'Sapta Rathis',
the killing of 'Mahishasura', 'Shiva Tandav', 'Kirat Arjuna', 'Jambeb', 'Garuda
Bahana', etc. The Krishna themes like 'Bastraharan', 'Kalanka Bhanjan', 'Nisitha
Milan', 'Banshi Chori' and 'Tamudia Krishna' are predominantly erotic in mood
and draw heavily on the local folk tradition. There are also significant tribal
themes like 'Sabara Toka', 'Kala Chakra', 'Sabara Sabaruni'.
The themes of Chhau are thus largely drawn from the puranic and
combine elements of tremendous kinetic fury and very fast footwork with mellowed
elegance and lyricism which is at times indistinguishable from visual poetry.
The dancer has a heroic feature and wears a
special dress. He dances with a heavy load of weapons to the sound of the battle
drums. He has ten main requirements, Viz. 1) A shield of the hide of the
rhinoceros, 2) a sword, 3) a Kukri, 4) a gun, 5) a horn used as a whistle, 6) an
iron shield, 7) a toilet box, 8) bow and arrows, 9) tiger skin, and 10) a bell.
His bow bears the face of a tiger and looks awesome. He possesses a long
crown with a big flower at he end decorated with glittering peacock feathers. He
has a string of beads on the neck, feathers of 'ara' ( a bird with brown
feathers found in lake Chilka) on his arms, a mirror and a string of beads on
his wrist, flags on the arrows, handkerchief tied to the hands, a small bell
attached to the thigh. He smears his body with 'rama raja' ( a powder of yellow
colour) to save himself from the scorching heat of summer. He decorates his
forehead with vermilion. He wears an artificial beard and moustache. Dressed up
he looks very ferocious. This dance is not accompanied by any song.
'Ghumra' - a kind of drum of the size
of a pitcher - produces a deep musical sound. The drummer ties the rope of the
ghumra round his neck, makes it hang and plays on it, sings and dances to its
tune at social functions like marriages or any religious festival. Sometimes a
competition is held between two parties. Each party consists of twenty to
twenty-five men and the dance goes on the whole night. Ghumra is prevalent among
the 'Sahara' and other Aborigines and Harijans and songs have love as
their main theme. The other forms of folk dance like 'Humo', 'Bauli', 'Jhulki',
'Jamudali', 'Mayalajar', 'Gunjikata', 'Rasarkeli' and 'Puchi' are prevalent among the Oriyas
and Aborigines of Orissa.