Chhau and Dak: Bengali Folk Dances

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Offline Shamim Ansary

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Chhau and Dak: Bengali Folk Dances
« on: August 29, 2010, 10:51:24 AM »
Folk dancing in Bangladesh has been handed down through countless generations, forming an important part of community gatherings. Some folk dances are closely associated with religious beliefs, while others may cross the borders of religion and have meaning on a social level, incorporating elements of daily activities such as planting, harvesting and fishing.

While folk dances are generally less formal than classical dances and allow for a certain amount of freedom of expression through improvised movement, the different dances each have unique and unmistakable characteristics. Folk dances can be performed by an individual, but group dancing is more common, with singing being a prominent feature.

Originating in West Bengal, Chhau dance is based on the Hindu epic of Ramayana and Mahabharata and is performed as a martial arts dance, complete with swords, sticks and shields. Wearing different masks and dresses to depict their various roles of gods, demons or animals, the dancers are generally all men whether playing a male or female role. The musicians form a circle, leaving a gap through which dancers will enter the arena. A prayer is offered to Ganesh, followed by a song to welcome the dancers and then the performance starts. Chhau is a war-like dance, and performers take the stance of warriors in an attack/defense situation, jumping, kneeling and rushing toward one another threateningly, all with intricate footwork, movements of the head, neck, upper torso, hands and legs. In days gone by, Chhau dances were associated with the occasion of Shiva Puja, at the end of Chaitra, or the beginning of Baishakh – the last and first months of the Bengali calendar respectively. Today, Chhau is not only reserved for bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming in the new, it is performed and enjoyed regardless of the season or occasion.

Another dance with a war-like theme is the Dak dance originating in the Manikganj District of the Dhaka Division of Bangladesh. The dance starts with the team leader calling out that the enemy has launched an attack and his fellow warriors must be ready for battle. At his call (dak), other dancers come running onto the stage and the battle begins, during which martial skills are exhibited to the beating of a drum, which may or may not be accompanied by other instruments.
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Offline Shamim Ansary

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Chhokra, Ghatu and Leto: Bengali Folk Dances
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2010, 10:52:20 AM »
Folk dancing in Bangladesh is a very popular pastime and forms an integral part of many religious, cultural and social gatherings. Chhokra, Ghatu and Leto dances are primarily attended by Muslims, but they also attract people from other communities, showing that music and dance can very often transcend any perceived barriers among people of different religions and backgrounds.

Chhokra dance, literally meaning “dances by young boys”, is performed by youths who take on the roles of women and young girls. The dance is accompanied by Alkap songs and is performed on a stage in an open field or mango grove. The performance includes a large team of singers, musicians and dancers, with a clown forming part of the troupe. The musicians sit along the sides of the canopied stage, while the dancers wait in the dressing room for their cue to perform. As with many other Bangladeshi folk dances, the saga of Radha and Krishna is a well-liked theme.

Ghatu dance, accompanied by Ghatu songs, has no specific religious or social significance. Its purpose is simply to entertain the audience by playing out the story of Radha and Krishna, or other popular love stories. The main instruments used to provide the music for the show include the drum, cymbals, the flute and sarinda – a traditional stringed instrument similar to a fiddle, with three strings and played with a bow. Ghatu dance can get quite risqué and is aimed at an adult audience. In the past these performances would take place in secluded areas away from the general population, but these days Ghatu dance is performed on modern stages in the Dhaka Division’s districts of Kishoreganj and Netrokona.

Leto dance features a boy dressed as a girl, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of Leto songs. This popular form of entertainment is generally presented at poetry contests, which is a fitting venue seeing as in his youth renowned Bangladeshi poet, musician, philosopher and revolutionary, Kazi Nazrul Islam, also known as the “Rebel Poet”, composed Leto songs and even took part in performances.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2010, 10:53:56 AM by Shamim Ansary »
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Offline Shamim Ansary

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Gambhira, Jari and Fakir: Bengali Folk Dances
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2010, 10:53:18 AM »
Gambhira dance is accompanied by Ghambira songs, and while the dance is not as popular as it once was, it is nevertheless still performed and enjoyed in Rajshahi. Through song and dance, the two main performers in their roles of maternal grandfather (nana) and grandson (nati), address issues of social, political, economic and moral concern. The dialogue takes the form of both verse and prose and there is a chorus repeating the refrain of the song. Musical accompaniment for Gambhira dance includes the harmonica, flute and drum, with the nati wearing strings of bells around his ankles.

Jari dance, accompanied by Jari singing, is generally performed by Shi’ah Muslims during the holy month of Muharram. The dance recounts the tragic death of Imam Hossain at Karbala. Between eight and ten youths perform the Jari dance, with the leader of the group being the “ustad” and the other members referred to as “dohar”. The dancers wear ordinary clothing with red cloth tied around their heads across the forehead and around their wrists. Sometimes the dancers will wear strings of bells around their ankles as well. The beat of the dance is maintained by clapping or the playing of the chati and jharni. The dohars move in a circle around the ustad, with the ustad singing the main verses and the dohars singing the song’s refrain, while showing their grief through movements of hands, feet and heads. In keeping with the religious significance of the occasion, Jari dance performances begin with the sighting of the moon. Dance groups then go from house to house with their performance, collecting food and money along the way. On Ashura – the tenth day of Muharram which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hossain - all dance groups gather together at a place which has been designated to represent Karbala, where they give a final performance.

The Fakir dance is performed by the followers of Madar Pir on the occasion of his urs (death anniversary) each year, when they gather to burn candles and incense at Madar Pir’s mausoleum at the end of Chaitra. Distinctive with their long hair, and wearing long, loose garments with strings of bells around their ankles, devotees dedicate a red-draped bamboo pole to their object of devotion. A fire is lit, meat is burnt as an offering, and devotees dance around the fire, swaying their heads to and fro rhythmically to the beat of the music.
"Many thanks to Allah who gave us life after having given us death and (our) final return (on the Day of Qiyaamah (Judgement)) is to Him"