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Royal chhau festival begins
- No special events, Lok Sabha polls prompt organisers to keep function low-key

The courtyard of Seraikela Palace wore a festive look, as the century-old Seraikela Chhau Mahotsav and the popular Chaitra Parva kicked off on Wednesday.

While the erstwhile Singhdeo dynasty hosts the Chaitra Parva, a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, Chhau dancers clad in colourful costumes and striking masks get ready to portray popular myths.

Keeping Lok Sabha election in mind, organisers have decided to keep the festival low-key this time.

No major highlights, the five-day event will see performances by 40 dancers of Srikalapith — the cultural wing of the royal family that was formed in 1941 to conduct chhau competitions — everyday till April 13.

The competitors will perform the modern form of Seraikela Chhau, which was introduced by Vijay Pratap Singhdeo in 1930s. Before that Seriakela Chhau was more of a martial art.

“Chaitra Parva is as much about religion, as it is about dance. The festival starts today (Wednesday) and will continue for five days. Since the rituals are all held at night, we have the dance performances after that,” said Pratap Aditya Singhdeo, the eldest member of the Singhdeo dynasty.

The festival will begin with worshipping of the kalash (pot) that signifies the four yugs (periods) — Satyayug, Tretayug, Dwaparyug and Kalyug. Each day is dedicated to a particular ritual and has a particular name.

For instance, the first day is called akhada mada, which means when dancers get acquainted with the dancing arena without the mask and the costume. The second day is jatra ghat that is when rituals are performed on the banks of river Kharkai. After the puja, the dance festival begins.

The following day is called Brindavani, referring to the rituals of Lord Hanuman and how he destroyed the Ashok Vatika of Ravana. The fourth day is called Goriabahar and is dedicated to Lord Krishna and gopis. The last and final day is about dancing. A photography exhibition is also held on that day.

As is customary, the chhau dancers will fast for all four days of performance. The revelries end with ratri jagaran, when dancers and devotees stay awake all night to worship Shiva and Shakti.

“Chhau competitions have always been organised by Srikalapith,” Singhdeo, said, adding the family has decided to help the dancers with costumes, masks and accessories. Queen Arunima Singhdeo has personally taken interest.