Masks in Serikella Chhau Dance

Mask Ganesha

It is commonly believed that the word Chhau has evolved from the term “Chhaya” which means shadow in Oriya. The usage of this Chhau on mask was to create various images. To briefly trace the evolution and usage of masks in Seraikella Chhau dance on can reflect back to the period of 1205 AD when the Singh dynasty was established by King Darpan Narayan Singh in the Porehat region of, Singh bhum. According to the book Sraikella Khoraswan through the ages we learn that the Purana has reference to Singhbhum, which includes Seraikella and Khoraswan as part of Orissa or Tuvalu, the land where Chhau dance evolved and developed. This area was initially dense forest also called Saranda Jungle, which were inhabited by various tribal communities who were basically hunters. The only serving tribes out of these are Sarkas and Bhuiyan. These tribals were absorbed as soldiers when the 45th king of Poreahat established the Seraikella house. These soldiers were well versed in artillery, spear fights, and bamboo fights, and sword fights and practiced martial arts also. These inhabitants of the jungle were used to covering their for the protection while fighting or killing. This practice of covering the faces gradually gave birth to the concept wearing masks.

Initially in the developing stages of the mask, the faces were coveredwith small bunches of leaves and turbans etc. Various Gurus and Scholars from time to time have cited different opinions with regard to the concept the usage of masks.

While tracing the various stages in the development of mask on also comes across the information that the masks were gradually took shapes from usage of shells of pumpkin, watermelon and similar fruits and vegetables which were painted and given shape of birds and beasts. Consequently, wooden masks began to be used. The wooden masks worn on the head were heavier, strong and durable. However, owing to its heaviness, these wooden masks were uncomfortable for the dancer and hence were replaced by masks made out of baskets of bamboo called “BansTatra Mohoda”.

The next stage in the development of Seraikella Chhau masks was clay masks. Clay was used to make masks and head gears. The clay masks without the headgears were called “Homapatiya Mohoda”.

The characteristic features of the “Homapatiya” type masks was that it had no eyeholes and the opening of the mouth portion was quite large and the dancers could see through this opening. The next in the development came the ‘Thath Mohoda’, which were also made out of clay. The ‘Thath Mohoda’ was also big in size and usually depicted faces of demons, animals and beasts. The change was that it had eyeholes and a similar opening at the mouth portion. This masks looked like the Purulia masks of present times, which is also called that Mohoda.

The pioneers in the field of mask making are known to belong to the Panigrahi Family of Seraikella. Panigrahis and Mahapatras --- Such as kumar Mahapatra and now Sushant Mahapatra, adopted the tradition of making bamboo masks. Other mask makers are Dhirolal Bhat, Kanhaia Lal Maharana, Basant Basik, and Biswanth Sahu. It was in 1920’s under the reign of Kumar Bijoy Pratap Sing Deo, that the mask of Seraikella received a new dimension under the artistry of Prasanna Kumar Mahapatra. The masks of this period captured mood and features of the character, thus completely refining the range of masks. King Aditya Pratap Singh Deo also took interest in the art of mask making.

Thus the mask, which is light, made according to the sentiments and used in symbolic manner, became a distinctive feature of Seraikella Chhau Dance.

The technique and essence of Seraikella Chhau dance now focus, especially on the masks. Apart and adding beauty, colour and décor to the dance from, the mask has given the Seraikella Chhau dance a unique place in the world of dance.