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Chhau centre on hold after protest

Jamshedpur, July 15: Protests in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa have forced Sangeet Natak Akademi to put a halt to its plans to open a national chhau centre in the steel city.

Akademi secretary Jayant Kastuar had announced the proposal during the national chhau festival in Bhubaneswar on February 20, 2009. Kastuar had met East Singhbhum district administration in 2008 and had sought land on the outskirts of the city to set up the centre. The idea was to provide quality training by renowned chhau gurus in different forms of the dance, namely Seraikela Chhau (Seraikela-Kharsawan, Jharkhand), Mayurbhanj Chhau (Baripada, Orissa) and Manbhum Chhau (Purulia, Bengal).

There were also plans to build an auditorium at the centre along a hostel, where budding dancers from across the country could stay and practise under the guidance of experts.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Kastuar admitted that protests compelled them to go slow on the project. “There was a misunderstanding that we would be closing down the existing chhau centre at Baripada, which led to strong protests. In fact, we were planning on giving a centralised touch to improving different chhau dance forms at the new centre. However, not much headway was made in this direction so far,” he said.

Several Delhi-based cultural outfits promoting the Oriya cause — Orissa Sanskriti Parishad operating from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Odia Development Forum and Odia Pua — had been spearheading an agitation in Delhi for the past one year against the Akademi’s move.

The Akademi’s deputy secretary (dance) Helen Acharya, in a reply to an RTI filed by editor of a Orissa vernacular, (a copy of which is with The Telegraph) has categorically stated, “We do not propose to set up any national centre of chhau anywhere. We may however set up an office to look after and develop our existing centres in the respective regions of the three styles of chhau.”

The Akademi has a centre at Baripada while the Jharkhand government has a training centre at Seraikela. A state-owned centre is also functioning in Purulia.

Last month a socio-cultural outfit of Baripada known as Bhanj Sena staged a sit-in-agitation at Bhubaneshwar to protest against setting up of the new centre in Jamshedpur.

The agitators had argued that Jamshedpur is not known for chhau while Seraikela is so the centre should be set up either at Seraikela or at Baripada.

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