(Last Updated on : 06/02/2012)
Costumes of Chhau dance
during the formative period are not known. However the costumes used today are though they have not yet been thoroughly modernised in any way. From recorded statements it must be admitted that there has been a gradual evolution as far as the costumes are concerned.
There is a possibility that it was a bare body dance and no regular costumes were used in this dance during its pre-mask period. The masks necessitated a regular set of costumes which must have undergone change over a period of time. The costumes that are used today have some special features. A piece of ordinary trouser made most economically of cloth of different colours for gods and demons with stripes, each being about six inches apart, is used by the heroes, both gods and demons, in the course of the dance.
Generally a demon would prefer a black trouser and a divine character would put on a similar trouser of any other colour excepting black. But deep colours are preferred. A demon's trouser would be jet black with deep red stripes on it. A god's trouser would generally be of deep red or green colour with stripes of the alternate colour and equally deep. As most of the parties have poor equipments they cannot provide costumes according to the general practice. They use whatever materials they could obtain. It has not been possible to set any standard as far as the costumes are concerned. There has been a tendency to imitate the artistes of the Yatra. In such cases dancers put on coloured sarees or women's cloth as their lower garments.
There are certain divine characters like Lord Shiva
, Lord Ganesh
and a few others who have other forms of lower garments. Siva would put on a piece of cloth representing a tiger's skin covering only upto his knees and Ganesha would put on, instead of a trouser, a piece of cloth in the fashion of a Bengali gentleman. The idea of Ganesha's putting on a piece of cloth in the style of a Bengali gentleman has been borrowed from the image of the goddess Durga. Siva, who has to dance as vigorously as other characters, would never sacrifice his loin cloth in the course of his dance.
Women characters are rare in Chhau dance. Goddess Kali
appears with a very tight black trouser without any stripes, resembling her own skin colour. This is the only instance of a woman's character putting on men's costume. Kali dances Tandava
or men's dance with a vigorously and wild excitement resembling and even surpassing men's characters. Other divine women characters use Bengali women's cloth according to their status and rank. Durga wears a magnificent ornamental crown on a deep red base. Demonesses wear unconventional cloths or even short trousers or half pants made of deep black coloured cloth of the most ordinary quality. The exposed parts of the bodies are dyed with jet black coloured powder and sometimes anoint their bodies with liquid colours in order to give a realistic look of the characters. There are characters like sages and Brahmins who put on loin cloth dyed in saffron colour. The upper parts of the bodies of the dancers have more elaborate costumes both divine and demonic. Each character wears an embroidered jacket made of either a fine or an ordinary velvet cloth. Embroidery is done by hands with silky thread and all sorts of cheap articles of attractive nature like tinsel and imitation pearls and others. There are beautiful designs at the back and at the two sides of the front or the breast. Minor characters like hunters, sages, ascetics and Brahmins keep the upper part of their bodies bare or wrapped in some cloth which is white or saffron coloured according to the situation. At times the hunters wear jackets with feathers of birds stuck all over in order to give a more realistic colour to the character. The soldiers are minor characters but they wear embroidered jackets.
Characters of birds and animals are represented by human artistes with masks of respective animals and with costumes of realistic nature. For instance Jatayu
is represented with mask of the bird covering his face and two artificial wings on its two sides. The costumes are made of feathers of birds. Hanuman, the ape-devotee of Ramchandra, Sugriva
, the monkey-chief of Kiskindhya and Bali
his royal brother appear with tails. Elephant is formed by two persons jointly.
In some cases the divine characters possess some additional limbs like hands, heads and so on. Goddess Durga
is ten-handed, Ganesha and Kali are four handed each and Ravana
is ten-headed. Additional limbs are supplied which are made of wood and adjusted in the human body.
Characters of birds appear with masks, artificial wings and real feathers of the birds. When any divine character rides on a peacock, its tail is fully spread at the back and the artificial bird with the real feathers and the spread-out tail is adjusted at the back of the dancer. Strings of small bells made of brass worn around the ankle of each and every dancer.