Chhau dance : Goddess Durga and her triumph over buffalo demon ( Mahishasurmardhini). [ Explored at # 1 on 13.8.13 ]
Photographed at annual flower show, organized at Eden garden, Kolkata, by Department of forestry, West Bengal, India.
Chhau dance is a genre of Indian tribal martial dance which is popular in the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. There are three subgenres of the dance, based on its places of origin and development, Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau.
Chhau is perhaps the oldest masked dance in the world having originated in the soldiers barracks (chhauni) of the past when Rarh (part of Bengal and Bihar state of India) was a mighty military nation.
The Chhau dance is mainly performed during regional festivals, especially the spring festival of Chaitra Parva which lasts for thirteen days and in which the whole community participates. The Chhau blends within it forms of both dance and martial practices employing mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and movements based on the chores of village housewives. The dance is performed by male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities and is performed at night in an open space with traditional and folk music, played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai. A variety of drums accompany the music ensemble including the dhol (a cylindrical drum), dhumsa (a large kettle drum) and kharka or chad-chadi. The themes for these dances include local legends, folklore and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other abstract themes like Mahishasura Mardini.
The Chhau dance is mainly performed by the Munda, Mahato, Kalindi, Pattnaik, Samal, Daroga, Mohanty, Acharya, Bhol, Kar, Dubey, and Sahoo communities. The musical accompaniment for the dance is provided by people of communities known as Mukhis, Kalindis, Ghadheis and Dhadas who are also involved in the making of the instruments. Masks form an integral part of Chhau Dance in Purulia and Seraikella where the craft of mask-making is undertaken by communities of traditional painters known as Maharanas, Mohapatras and Sutradhars.
In 2010 the Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
The Story of Mahisasuramardini : The myth.
Durga, meaning "the inaccessible" or "the invincible", is a popular fierce form of the Hindu Goddess or Devi. She is depicted with multiple arms,carrying various weapons and riding a ferocious lion( in Bengal). She is pictured as battling or slaying demons, particularly Mahishasura, the buffalo demon.
Her triumph as Mahishasura Mardini, Slayer of the buffalo Demon is a central episode of the scripture Devi Mahatmya. Her victory is celebrated annually in the festivals of Durga Puja.
The word Shakti means divine energy/force/power, and Durga is the warrior aspect of the Divine Mother/Brahman(Supreme Absolute Godhead).
As a goddess, Durga's feminine power contains the combined energies of all the gods. Each of her weapons was given to her by various gods: Rudra's trident, Vishnu's discus, Indra's thunderbolt, Brahma's kamandalu, Kuber's Ratnahar, etc.
According to a narrative in the Devi Mahatmya story of the Markandeya Purana text, Durga was created as a warrior goddess to fight an asura (demon) named Mahishasura. Brahma had given Mahishasura the power not to be defeated by a male. Mahishasura had unleashed a reign of terror on earth, heaven and the nether worlds, and he could not be defeated by any man or god, anywhere. The gods were helpless. Shiva, realizing that no man or god (male) can defeat Mahishasura, made a request to his wife Parvati(Durga) to take the role of a female goddess warrior in order to slay the demon. Parvati took his request and went to the Ashram of priest disciple named Katyayan to assume the role of a warrior. Meanwhile, the gods went to Brahma for help and, with Brahma, then made their way to Vaikuntha—the place where Vishnu lay on Ananta Naag. They found both Vishnu and Shiva, and Brahma eloquently related the reign of terror Mahishasur had unleashed on the three worlds. To save the worlds, Vishnu, Shiva and all of the gods emitted beams of fierce light from their bodies. The blinding sea of light reached Parvati at the Ashram of the priest Katyayan and Durga emerged from this pool of light. The goddess Durga took the name Katyaayani from the priest. She introduced herself in the language of the Rig-Veda, saying she was the form of the supreme female aspect of Brahman (Prakriti) who had created all the gods. Now she had come to fight the demon to save the three Worlds. They did not create her; it was her lila that she emerged from their combined energy. The gods were blessed with her compassion.
To combat the evil Mahishasura, she had appeared in a great blinding light, to combat this demon and end it for all to be in peace. The terrible Mahishasura rampaged against her, changing forms many times. First he was a buffalo demon, and she defeated him with her sword. Then he changed forms and became an elephant that tied up the goddess's lion and began to pull it towards him. The goddess cut off his trunk with her sword. The demon Mahishasur continued his terrorizing, taking the form of a lion, and then the form of a man, but both of them were gracefully slain by Durga.
Then Mahishasur began attacking once more, starting to take the form of a buffalo again. When Mahishasur had half emerged into his buffalo form, he was paralyzed by the extreme light emitting from the goddess's body. The goddess then resounded with laughter before cutting Mahishasur's head down with her sword.
Thus Durga slew Mahishasur, thus is the power of the fierce compassion of Durga. Hence, MataDurga is also known as Mahishasuramardhini—the slayer of Mahishasur.
Worshiping Durga, As I feel :
To me worshiping goddess Durga encompasses so many deeply seated aspects of human lives and nature. The imagination of such a Goddess-form has its age old story depicted in the Hindu Puranas and that had been fabricated by the wisdom of ages as a symbolic one for Bio-Geo-Socio-Economic-Cultural and Aesthetical upliftment of humankind and its relationship with nature, through the practice of worshiping.
Once in a year She, The Mother Durga, is thought to come from her abode at mount Kailash in Himalaya to the land of Bengal at the time of Autumn, the finest of all six seasons when Bengal turns into a nature’s paradise. The snow white clouds against the deep azure of the sky, the gentle cool breeze carrying the sweet fragrance of flowers, the turning colors of the leaves, the golden sunlit lush green paddy fields and the waving clusters of dazzling white inflorescence of Kash dramatically prepare the minds of Bengal apt for celebration of life. Artists of versatile talents from Bengal and other states culminate their finest ever skill and efforts for making the idols of Durga using conventional natural resources like clay, wood, organic colors, that are all biodegradable. The pandals( the temporary abodes of Devi Durga) all over Bengal, especially in urban cities turn into the finest galleries of art and culture covering an unimaginably wide range of form and traditions, represented by Bengal and neighboring states of India. Durga puja becomes a wide open opportunity to discover and re-discover the art and artistry of Bengal, and not only that, this is the biggest festival of Bengal that provides a great competitive platform for innumerable artists and workers to learn and earn.
The time of Puja is the time for togetherness, is the time for sharing and caring. The traditional concept of making the idols of Durga, her four children and her husband Lord Shiva against a single background structure( which is in Bengali: Ek chalchitra) seems to me a very symbolic one! It implicates to me a strong bondage between the family members, or in a greater sense the relationships between individuals. An example of unity in diversity.
To save the world, Brahmma(the god of creation), Vishnu( the god of sustenance), Moheshwara/ Shiva(the god of destruction) and all of the gods emitted beams of fierce light from their bodies. The blinding sea of light reached Parvati, and Durga emerged from this pool of light. This is very symbolic. I see durga as a domain where there have been convergence of all form of energies; she is the symbolic epitome of unified force, as it is the most cherished theory of modern-day physics- “the unified field theory”. And therefore, She is the Symbolic epitome of concentrated knowledge and wisdom. She can create(sristi), She can sustain( sthiti), and She can destroy(loy). She comes over here to create all good things and to sustain them on this earth, and to destroys all evil power, as depicted by triumph over Mahisasura.
Her four children are very symbolic to me for four aspects of socio-economic- cultural upliftment. These are the four aspects to create a balanced nation or a person as an individual.
“Lakhsmi”, her elder daughter, is a symbol of wealth. She carries with her a bunch of ripe paddy and a container of vermilion. Ripened paddy is the symbol of agricultural success. And vermilion is the symbol of peaceful marriage in Hindu custom.
“Swaraswati”, her younger daughter, is a symbol of art and culture. She carries with her a sitar, a classical Indian instrument depicting music, that is the highest form of the faculty of art.
“Kartika”, her elder son, is the commander-in-chief of the gods for war. He is the warrior and protector from enemies. He carries a bow and arrows. He knows how to target an enemy. And he is the symbol of leadership qualities.
“Ganesha”, her youngest son. He is the symbol of knowledge and wisdom.
And Mother Durga is the creator of all her four children, the four faculties associated with biological, social, cultural and intellectual evolution of man.
Therefore, She is the idealistic epitome of Gunas (qualities), that we all her children should acquire for. And there lies the true meaningfulness of worshiping our mother, Durga.
On the tenth day after the triumph, the day of Vijaya Dashami, mother along with her family sets her journey back to her final adobe in himalaya, leaving the earthly world behind. The clay idol is thus immersed in the holy water of Ganges to symbolize her journey. And thus the whole celebration comes to an end.