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Girls rip gender mask off chhau tradition

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JOY SENGUPTA   |   Ranchi   |   Published 25.05.03, 12:00 AM

Ranchi, May 25: Another male bastion has been stormed by women.

This time it is Chhau, the 200-year-old tribal dance which is performed only by men. Chhau being a tribal war dance was restricted to only the king’s paikos or security guards. But times have changed and so have age-old rules.

A workshop on the Seraikela chhau dance is a case in point. Hundreds of girls from the city are making a beeline for the workshop to learn chhau under the aegis of Guru Shyama Charan Pati.

“This dance form was originally for men. Women were not allowed to take part in it owing to several reasons. In those days, the condition of women was deplorable. They had practically no right or privilege. They were confined to the four walls of their house,” Pati said.

“Girls from respectable families were not allowed to dance or sing. Female dancers were looked down upon. Dancing was confined to only courtesans.. Chhau was performed by soldiers. It is a type of martial art. Women were strictly forbidden to practice it,” he added.

“According to this dance form, girls are impure. Chhau is the worship of Lord Shiva and so women cannot take part in it. Chhau dancers wear masks. One of the reasons behind wearing masks while performing this dance is that the women characters are played by men. Chhau steps are difficult for girls,” Pati said.

However, Popelka Mitra, a student of the Sacred Heart Convent, does not agree with Pati. “Girls are as good as boys. There is nothing that girls cannot do. And chhau is no exception. I think the steps are quite easy,” she said.

Ananya Bose, her friend said, “I have been practicing hard for some days now. It is difficult no doubt but not impossible. I can master it with regular practice and hard work. We will prove to be better than the boys.”

Priyanka agreed with Ananya and said: “At first we thought that we won’t be allowed to take part in the workshop as we are girls. We are thankful to guruji that he gave us a chance to show our talent. We are enjoying every bit of the training session. I want to join guruji’s troupe. ”

Pati, too, praised them. According to him: “The girls are doing a great job. They are hard working and sincere. It has been a pleasure teaching them. In today’s’ world women have excelled in all fields. I am glad I got an opportunity to teach them. I hope they excel in this dance.”


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