Believed to have been derived from the words chhaya (shadow) or chhauni (military camp), Chhau is one of the most vibrant and spectacular dance-theatre traditions of Eastern India. There are three major styles of Chhau, corresponding to the three East Indian States where this dance form is prevalent. Thus, we have the Purulia Chhau of West Bengal, the Seraikella Chhau of Bihar and the Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa. Although the three styles share some similarities, their individual characteristics render them quite distinct from each other. Quite apart from this and other differences in the aharya (costume and make-up) of the three styles, there is varying emphasis on leaps and jumps, leg extensions and upper body inflections. Seen together, the three styles – with a large corpus of hundreds of traditional compositions – seem to traverse the complete range of lasya and tandava. It is possible, perhaps, to integrate the three styles to create a rich and complete language of dance theatre in the larger context of Indian dance traditions. With a distinctive music, Mayurbhanj Chhau incorporates the rich traditions of folk, tribal, martial, traditional and classical arts. The beauty of this dance form lies in its complex juxtaposition of the vigorous as well as the subtle and delicate movements inherent in this style. The Chhau form was recently acknowledged as intangible heritage by UNESCO.

Maitreyee’s childhood fascination for the arts, especially the traditional forms of music and dance, took her into the deep interiors of rural Bengal, Bihar and Orissa so she could fulfil her objective of preserving, promoting and propagating the traditional culture of rural India. On the other hand, she found it necessary to learn a classical form of dance so she could realise her ambition to choreograph. After initially training in Kathak at Kolkata, she joined the Kathak Kendra in Delhi under the tutelage of Smt Vaswati Misra and, later, Pt. Birju Maharaj. A graduate of Rabindra Bharati University, Maitreyee has majored in Manipuri dance. She has performed widely all over India and abroad and also participated in dance festivals such as in Konark, Khajuraho, Rajgir and Gaya in India and abroad. Apart from coordinating and choreographing several events for the ICCR, Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministries of Culture, Tourism, Education, Commerce and External Affairs, she has choreographed several productions for private institutions and organisations. Awarded the Charles Wallace Fellowship in 2003, Maitreyee visited England and Scotland for dance workshops, choreographic collaborations and performances. She has her own repertory, the Lok Chhanda Cultural Unit.

Presentation - Maharaas is a traditional presentation integrating both Kathak and Mayurbhanj Chhau. While the two forms are quite distinct from each other, the performers portray the feminine aspect through Kathak and the masculine, through Chhau, creating a beautiful dimension to the choreography. The three-part presentation begins with Poorvaraga enacted during the Varsha-ritu. The Nayikas dance under the lovely monsoon sky, intoxicated by the rhythmic pitter-patter of raindrops and sweet fragrance of the drenched earth. But soon the joy ends. The magic of the rains is replaced by destruction and devastation. The Nayikas yearn for the rains to stop and the moon to emerge. Anuraga – the second part – is the union, the Maharaas. With the first sighting of the crescent, preparations begin for the special night of the full moon. The overriding emotion is of joy, beauty and affection. The Nayikas adorn themselves with jewellery in anticipation and the air is pregnant with music. Finally, the night of Sharat Purnima - the bright first full moon after the monsoon – is here. After repeated entreaties, Krishna appears and dances with each one of the Nayikas in an air suffused with devotion. Maharaas becomes a divine experience as the Nayikas merge with the all-encompassing supreme playing out his Lila. Finally Viraga – where the pervading mood is of devotion and deep yearning. The realisation that the preceding experience was wrought by Maya dawns with inevitable separation. It symbolises the pangs of parting from the godhead and seeking reunion with the Divine – he, who is the cause of the illusion that he belongs to all; yet, is above them all.

The music for the presentation is Hindustani with a hint of Carnatic. The traditional Chhau music has not been used at all.

Artistes’ Credits
Choreography: Maitreyee Pahari
Music: Sharat Chandra Srivastava
Dancers: Surashree Bhattacharya, Sangita Chatterjee, Shailja Nalwade, Amartyya Chatterjee, Anasua Majumdar, Garima Arya, Atibha Surana, Yamika Mahesh, Rajesh Sai Babu, Rakesh Sai Babu, S. M. Hasan Ishtiaque, Sunil Mehra, Amit Halder, Kuleshwar and Vinod Kumar