The Folk element - Animal Mask Dance
Animal Mask Dances are prevalent in village of south Odisha especially in the district of Ganjam. Particularly during Thankurani Yatra, when the idols are taken out on the streets, the animal mask dancers go dancing before the procession. During the marriage ceremonies too, they lead the bridegroom's procession to the bride's house.
The three animal mask dances typical of the area are the tiger, bull and horse. Two persons get into cane frame and conceal themselves within it. Their own legs and feet become the legs of the animals they are representing.
Baunsa Rani literally means "The Bamboo Queen". Mainly little girls exhibit various acrobatic postures on the crossed bamboo bar as well as on the floor with exquisite scintillating movement synchronized with the beat of drums and songs.
Odisha has earned name and fame in the international arena for its famous martial Chhau dance. This variety of dance is prevalent in the princely states of Mayurbhanja and Sareikala (now in Jharkhand). This dance was once performed exclusively by men. The origin of Chhau dance is shrouded in obscurity and no historical document in this context has yet been recovered. Etymologically, Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word chhaya which means a mask but some scholars are of opinion that Chhau is an independent colloquial Odissi word, meaning to attack or hunt stealthily. It is evidently a war dance. The steps and movements, the attack and defence, the performers, each holding a sword and shield, dividing themselves into two parties, the drums and their mode of play, the huge kettle drum known as 'Dhumusa' a must in the orchestra, its reverberating powerful beats energizing the dancers, all signify that Chhau dance is unmistakably originated from martial practices.
The rituals connected with Chhau spread throughout the year beginning from Dasahara. The initiation for the newly recruits by putting a red-thread on the wrist starts from this day. The actual training of the Chhau starts from the day of Sri Panchami after paying homage to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. A number of rituals are performed primarily to call down the divine blessing. The thirteen Bhoktas (devotees) held from different castes perform all the connected rituals. The actual performance takes place on the occasion of Chaitra Parva or Chhau Festival. All these rituals have a deep symbolic meaning according to the Hindu philosophy. From the various rituals interlaced together, it is apparent that Chhau as an institution was meant to achieve religious, social, and cultural integration. Shaivites, persons adhering so Shakt-cult, Sun worshippers, Vaishnavites, all are integrated together admirably in a few festive atmosphere.
This dance, heroic and histrionic in character, is a way of life with the people living in the princely states of Mayurbhanja and Sareikala. The royal patronage in development of this art is mainly responsible. The kings of these states with artistic leanings had participated in dance performance. Chhau in general even today serves three fold purposes: (1) It perpetuates on art, (2) Maintains the age-old martial customs, and (3) Provides on opportunity for the integration of tribal culture with the culture of the sophisticated society.
The Chhau dance was too hard to include women to play roles; hence women roles are played by male dancers who are extremely masculine in appearance. However, of late, women are also included in the group for some special choreography. The use of mask by every character is the specialty of Sareikala Chhau whereas Mayurbhanja Chhau is totally devoid of it. The Sareikala Chhau for stylization appears to be less virile and conditioned by mask. On the other hand, the Mayurbhanja school of Chhau retains extreme virility of the original movement with martial trend.
It is a type of dance which takes utmost care in expressing emotion and feeling - anger, fear, laughter, wonder or sorrow. The rhythmic variations of these stances even in the same performance, the linear relating to the intricate foot work, and the complicated gamut of inspired stances are vital, charming, subtle and replete with sinuous grace.