Chho Dance : A Technical Analysis

Dr. Basanta Kumar Mohanta



‘Chho’ or ‘Chhow’ is a type of dance among the people living in a contiguous area of Se raikala, (Jharkhand State), Mayurbhanj (Orissa State) and Purulia (West Bengal State). In these three areas, the dance from varies in certain aspects. Many folk dance experts have studied this form of dance from various angels. In spite of minor differences, the overall pattern is similar. In traditional way, only men were performers, but recently many women have joined this dance form.

The Technique


After keenly observing this dance one has to admit that this dance is purely based on physical exercise. To learn this dance one must possess a fit body and prepares to do hard physical exercise. A trainee dancer follows different types of rules and regulations of chho dance and he practices regularly for better performance. To learn all aspects of dance one has to pass through its different stages of training. A brief description of all these stages of training are as follows:

(a) Chhawk
The literary meaning of "Chhawk" is Four Corners. It is the first stage of training. In this stage of training one has to pose in a square form by standing on his two legs. For this pose, a trainee slantingly places both of his feet on the surface and then gradually presses his body in downward direction by folding his toes. Following to it, he hangs his left hand and keeps upward its right hand at a right angle at its both of the elbows. Practice of this exercise is continued for a long period.

(b) Dharana

It is the second stage of learning. The formal meaning of Dharana is to hold. In this stage a trainee learns the basic techniques and positions of holding sword, shield and keep walking. The remaining positions are almost same with the Chhawk. Here a trainee learns to take different types of steps by keeping his upper portion of body constant.

(c) Tobka

The literary meaning of tobka is "stylized movement". In Seraikella and Purulia Chho it is known as Chhalli. On the basis of the techniques of walking this Tobka is further divided into six sub-types namely, Sada Tobka, Lohra Tobka, Duba Tobka, Uska Tobka, Dhew Tobka and Muda Tobka. The details of these Tobkas are as follows:

(i) Sada Tobka

In oriya language 'Sada' means simple (here straight). Here dancer walks straight in Dharna position.

(ii) Lohra Tobka

The word Lohra comes from the oriya word Lohadi or Lohari, meaning the wave of sea. In this tobka a dancer alternatively keeps one foot on the surface and lifts another upwardly. This walking technique of dancer looks like the motion of a wave of the sea and hence, it is known as the Lohra Tobka.

(iii) Duba Tobka

In oriya language 'Duba' means to sink. In this Tobka a dancer keeps his foot very slowly with down head and then takes forward steps with straight head. It looks like awaking of a diver after sinking into deep water.

(iv) Ushka Tobka

Literary meaning of Ushka is to jump. Here a dancer makes o high jump having standing in Chhawk position.

(v) Dheu Tobka

In oriya language 'Dheu' means the wave. At the time of dancing a dancer keeps his foot alternatively one after another in a typical form, which looks like the motion of the sea.

(vi) Muda Tobka

Muda means to turn. For taking this type of movements a dancer takes a forward step after turning his waist.

After completion of Tobka, a dancer moves around the stage with bold steps. In Chho dance the movement of body along with all the limbs is known as Ulfi or Upalaya. According to Chho Ustads (Teachers), there are 36 types of Ulfies practiced in Chho dance. But in his article Pati (1995:60) has mentioned that there are 106 types of Ulfies present in Chho dance. Out of these 60 are main Ulfies and of these 36 are practiced by the present Chho dancers. All these Ulfies are inspired by the daily activities of human being and its surrounding environments.

According to Pati (1995: 60) and Mohanta (1995: 75) out of the 36 presently practiced Ulfies, 17 have been inspired by the daily chores of a rural housewife, five by the play and casual work done by a rural youth, five by the martial art and rest nine by the activities of animals and other creatures. This type of inspiration in dances from daily activities of rural people is very rarely found in other folk dances. This inspiration of the Ulfies by the daily routine work of a typical rural oriya housewife is as follows.

As it is her daily routine work a rural house wife gets up early in the morning and collects fresh cow-dung from the cowshed and mixes it with water. Then she sprinkles it all over the courtyard and mud floor of her houses and sweeps with a bamboo broomstick. Following to it, she soaks a piece of cloth in cow-dung mixed water and mops it on the floor of houses and Tulsi Choura. Then she cleans the utensils at kitchen and grinds turmeric with a Saddle and prepares food for the day. After completion of these home works of early morning she goes to pond to take bath, where she cleans her toe rings and bangles and then bathes by pouring water with her two soft palms. After taking bath she returns to her house and dries her long hair with a typical jerky movement of a towel, followed by combing with a wooden comb and putting a vermilion dot on her forehead. At afternoon, she pounds paddy in a Dhinki and separates the dehusked rice with a winnowing fan. Following to it she prepares a paste of ‘Aarua’ (sundries) rice mixed with water and draws ‘Aalpana’ (a decorative motifs) on the floors and walls of the houses (Pati 1995: 149-50). The details of Ulfies and their source of inspiration are presented in table 1.

"As the cooking process starts first the fire slowly heated the pot with water. With the rise of temperature the sound of water starts like Chheng Chheng, then Son Son, then boiling starts like Sain Sain. At that moment the cook poured rice in the vessel of hot water. Then again with the increase of fire the boiling of rice continues. At certain point the water with rice sounds and Tobki starts. With the continuation of measured fuel, the boiling rice comes to the surface of the neck known as Upli or Ufll. At that point the cook minimises the fire, the boiled rice then sounds like thak thak. Like the cooking, the musical rhythm acts as fuel for the warming up of the body. Then with the rise of the rhythmic beats the body locomotion starts. Then the story contents came and Abhinoy or acting with Tobka and Ulfi combined and with bortd and notkki of the music the dancers finished the dance." (Mahanto n.d. 6)


Gobor kudha / Guti Utha

Collection of cow dung

The daily chores of a typical rural oriya housewife.


Gobor Gola / Gobor Diya

Mixing of cow dung with water



Cleaning / sweeping ogf courtyard with bamboo broom stick


Chuncha diya

Mopping the Chhulha by soaking a piece of water in a mixture of cow dung, soil and water.


Basana maja

Cleaning of utensils


Haldi bata / Holod bata

Making a turmeric paste in a stone slab


Jhuntia maja

Cleaning of toe ring


Khadu maja

Cleaning of bangle





Motha jhoda

Drying of long cascade of hair with a typical jerky movement of a taut towel.


Muh puncha /Muhan pochha

Cleaning of mouth


Sintha phoda

Parting the long hair with a comb


Sindura pindha

Putting vermelion on forehead


Dhana kuta

Pounding of paddy (in dhinki)


Dhana pachhuda

Winnowing the dehusked rice


Jhunti diya

Drawing of aalpana (a decorative motifs on the floor and walls with rice paste and water)


Udhani chhota



Konta kota

Chopping of thorn plant

The casual work is done by a rural youth


Konta kodha

Removing of thorn / nail from sole


Bota chira

Splitting of bamboo into two pieces








Anta muda



Khonda hona

Killing / cutting with a sword


The martial art


Dabsa / Habsa







Jumping upward


Harin diyan

Deer jump

The animal and other creatures


Chheli diyan

Goat jump


Neunla diyan

Mongoose jump


Boga chhali

Heron walking


Bhoga macha khoja

A crave searching for a fish


Mankad chhit

Monkey jump


Bhoga panikhiya

Drinking of water by a tiger


Hanuman panikhiya

Drinking of water by a Hanuman (monkey)


Chingudi chitka

The flashy jerks of a lobster when it is pulled out of water

Mood of Dance:

"Chho dance is basically a virile dance which demonstrates vim and vigor. It reflects a culture of strength with aesthetics " (Dash 1995:124). Both the ‘Taandava’ (vigorous) and ‘Laasya’ (softl) of Bharatmuni's Naatyashatra are reflected in Chho dance. Though the Taandava means a masculine and Laasya means a feminine character, both of these moods are displayed by male performers. For example, in some of the dance theme like 'Mahisamardhini', where goddess Durga dances in Taandava mood to defeat Mahisasura, at other hand in 'Rasalila or 'Banshichori' lord Krishna dances in Laashya mood. Besides, in some of the dance items both the Taandava and Laasya mood are played in a hybrid form. All these three aesthetic moods are very poetically named in oriya language as Hatiyaar-dhara, Kalibhanga and Kalikataa.

  1. Hatiyaar-dhara:

  2. Literary meaning of Hatiyaar-dhara is holdinq of a sword. Symbolically this word is used for the power and strength of a person. By holding this weapon one can charge or strike anybody, hence it can be ‘Taandava’ mood.
  3. Kalibhanga
    It is derived from the Oriya word, where ‘Kali’ means the softest end of a spring and ‘Bhanga’ means bending off. Here Kali is symbolically used for the soft and Bhanga is for the bending off the bodily organ of the dance. It confirms to ‘Laashya’ mood.

  • Kalikataa:
    Like the Hatiyaar-dhara and Kalibhanga, it is also derived from the two Oriya words 'Kali’ and 'Kataa’, where meaning of 'Kali' explained and 'Kataa’ means cut off (here with a sword). It symbolically represents both the power and strength in one side and the softest posture on the other, combining both the Taandava and Laashya moods.


Items of Dance:

From the time of beginning of Mayurbhanj Chho dance there are hundreds of sub-dance items played by the Uttarshai, Dakhinsahi and other Chho troupes of the district. According to Kuanr (1994:15 - 16) they are three dance items: (a) Ekkaka or Daitya Nrutya (solo or duet dance), (b) Charikonia (Chari jonia) Nrutya (dance of four artists) and (c) Group Nrutya (group dance). This classification of Kuanr is contested by some researchers (Patnaik, 1995: 81-84; Pati, 1995: 160 and Mohanta, 1995:77) have also classified the Mayurbhanj Chho dance also of three types. They are (a) Phoot Naacha / Ekkaka Nrutya (solo dance), (b) Jodi Naacha / Daitya Nrutya (duet dance) and (c) Mela Naacha / Dalo Nrutya (Group dance).

As discussed here the Mayurbhanj Chho is enriched with a large number of sub-Chho items. Looking towards the public demand and changing human taste, the Chho Gurus and artists are introducing many new sub-Chho dance items to gain popularity, though this causes neglect of some old sub-dance items, which are ultimately disappearing. The traditional dance has no witten code. In this regard Patnaik's (1995) attempt is quite appreciable. He has tried his best to collect all the sub-dance items played by Mayurbhanj Chho dancers, particularly the two beginner Chho parties of Uttarsahi and Dakhinashi (Table-2). Though he has not been able to collect all the sub-dance items, the given list is very useful for the Chho researchers.

Stages of dance

Alt the three types of dance items (i.e. Phoot Naacha, Joodi Naacha and Mela

Naacha) the dancers follow some dance rules, and every dance items passes through these four stages of development (Pati 1995:161)

    1. Rangabaaja:

It is initial music of Chho dance and inspires the dancers musically prior to the beginning of dance

    1. Chaall:

It is the second stage of development of Chho dance. Here a dancer comesto the stage with a dramatic posture following this music.

    1. Naaha:

This is the real beginning stage of dance where the dancers start, develops and elaborates the thematic content of the dance.

  1. Naatki:
    It indicated the final stage of dance, where the dancers take a fast movement. According to Pati (1995:161), 'the Naatki of Mayurbhanj Chho demands such themes which end either on a heroic or an esthetic note that would go well with its high tempo and fast movements.'

Themes of Chho dance:

There are no scarcities of themes for Chho dance. Each and every year different Chho Gurus are composing new dance items. But each dance item contains a separate theme or story. In Chho dance, each dance items are based on a specific theme or a part of a story. These themes are may be brought from mythology or from the world of fantasy. Like the Kahakali dance, it does not prefer to exhibit the full story, it narrates only a particular event in a dance. The entire dance item played by a troupe is not necessarily related to each other. On the basis of it's thematic content, the Chho dance can be divided into following three types.

(a) Themes of Mythology:

(b) Themes Related to Environment:
In their day to day activities all the Chho dancers and Nrutya Gurus are very closely associated with their surrounding forest, river, spring, stream, trees and flowers along with the different types of animals of domestic and wild variety. These man-nature and man-animal interactions are exhibited through the Chho dance. Probably because of this close relationship, many of the Chho dance items like Mayur Nrutya, Prajapati Nrutya, Seekari Nrutya, etc. contain the theme related to the natural environment.

(c) Themes of Fantasy:
There are a lot of dance items like Akalsalami, Diamond Jubilee, Taashkhela, etc. contain the themes of imaginary aspects.

Apart from these above, the present Chho Guru's are composing many dance items containing the themes from the modern Socio-Political events. For example, in Indira Haatyakanda, the Chho dancers narrate the story of accident of our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Similarly, the other dance items related to the modem Socio-Politicai situation of India are Rajiv Haatyakanda, Kargil Yudha etc.

List of some major dance items of Mayurbhanj Chho practiced by Uttarsahi and Dakhinsahi Chho party. (Source: Patnaik, 1995: 82-84)

Table: 2

Themes of majority of dance items are taken from the mythological stories like, Ramayana, Mahabharat as well as from the different Puranas and Vedas. But as mentioned earlier, a single dance item does not contain the whole story, it only narrates a part of the story. For example, the dance item of Taamudia Krishna narrates only that part of the Krishnalila, where Lord Krishna broke the pot of Radha near the bathing ghat (bank) at river Yamuna. Similarly, the other dance items containing the partial stories from mythology are Natraj, Mahisamardhini, Kailashlila, Sitaswayambara, etc.




Phhot – Naacha (Ekkaka – Nrutya)

1. Ghanighura
2. Ekalabya
3. Nima Panda
4. Manjhora
5. Dulu pecha
6. Sandha mara
7. Dwary Panda
8. Ajaan bahu
9. Mahadeva
10. Molliphool
11. Pawanputra Hanuman
12. Parasuram
13. Mayur
14. Sabar Toka
15. Naba Chhaili
16. Uddam Chhandi
17. Manohara
18. Ramsok
19. Babru Bahan
20. Natraj
21. Narad
22. Jorata Beshya
23. Jonghi Hatnagor
24. Monpiari Hastnagar

1. Chitaghanta
2. Rakta Pichu
3. Thulijong
4. Sisambor
5. Sabor
6. Mayur
7. Goruda Gobinda
8. Jhopotray
9. Madan Gopal
10. Hatnagar
11. Chaila Hatnagar
12. Singha
13. Birabar Panda
14. Jamboban
15. Nepali Bhalu
16. Boraha - Balkrishna
17. Rasikanagar
18. Kancha Lanka
19. Pacca Lanka
20. Lal Konheiya
21. Sikari
22. Basu Ghosh
23. Navidatta
24. Parasuram
25. Santali Parasuram
26. Kancha Dona
27. Dondi
28. Kumbhakarna
29. Holayudha
30. Rushi
31. Yomuna Dashi
32. Bajramaruni
33. Chalak Chhandi
34. Uddam Chhandi
35. Magor
36. Mhadeva
37. Basanta Kumar
38. Ramashoka
39. Ronga Panda
40. Sapta Rathi
41. Nima Panda
42. Babru Bahan.
43. Nagarjjun
44. Nanda Dulal
45. Raj Kumar

Joodi Naacha
(Daitya Nrutya)

1. Ranga Panda
2. Geeta
3. Premiko – Premika
4. Krushna – Balaram
5. Madan – Gopal
6. Makardhwaj
7. Taladhwa
8. Pohilman
9. Bajramaruni

1. Sumbha Nishumbha
2. Krishna - Balaram
3. Nabat Kobocha Bodha
4. Dui Sangata

Mela Naacha (Mela Nrutya)

1. Yudha Nrutya (Paika Nrutya)
2. Tamudia Krishna
3. Odiya
4. Garuda Bahana
5. Kailasha Lila
6. Gangabotarana
7. Deshbidesh
8. Kalachakra
9. Mattrupuja
10. Nabagraha
11. Mrutyur Abhijan
12. Debyani
13. Sangeetmoyai
14. Kelakeluni
15. Kalanka Bhanjana
16. Abala Chakra – Kaliya Dalana
17. Mahisamardhini
18. Ahalya Uddhar
19. Anasuya
20. Bilwadola
21. Aatmo Darshan
22. Aadinatya
23. Meghaduta
24. Sudarshan Chakra
25. Samudra Manthan
26. Goodiuda
27. Uddrajjuna
28. Neesthura Kalia
29. Chandaluni
30. Podmabihar-abhisar
31. Aatmahara
32. Biswamitra
33. Deshar Dako
34. Abhimanyu Badha
35. Madana Bhashma
36. Saptarathi
37. Gomotrash
38. Sibanuraag
39. Sita Bibaha
40. Godhiraj
41. Sita Swayambara
42. Parbati Parinaya
43. Usha Joyanta
44. Rakhal
45. Chandrabhaga
46. Surasur
47. Muktachori
48. Sephali Phuantara
49. Khodia
50. Austom Senapati
51. Hora Gouri
52. Parsuram Matruhatya
53. Narasingha
54. Huanga Bahaghara
55. Harabati
56. Tripura Mohini
57. Girigobardhana
58. Ripustambha
59. Chharisangata
60. Porijata harana
61. Uttara parinaya (1947)
62. Megha mukti
63. Sagar sangam
64. Konark

1. Jhatak bijuli
2. Mojamalum
3. Akal Salami
4. Akol Gudum
5. Bagha Bahadur
6. Maya Sobari
7. Nishith Milan (Birahini Rai Chatur Kanhai)
8. Kiritarjjun
9. Dwary Panda
10. Holi
11. Dasabatar
12. Dwaparlila
13. Raga-Ragini
14. Bonshichori
15. Card Dance
16. Hidimba Bodha
17. Bastra Haran
18. Rasalata
19. Rakhal Raja
20. Neeladri Bije
21. Bhagya Chakra
22. Bhasmasura
23. Sadharutu
24. Nisardaash
25. Record nacha
26. Asthabakra Meelan
27. Sokhigopal
28. Dushmanta-Sakuntala
29. Chandra Kolanka
30. Markanda Rishi
31. Lobanyabati
32. Swayambara
33. Nagardoli
34. Ponkha Naacha
35. Kathia Singa
36. Premilajjuna
37. Aparnna
38. Padmapasha
39. Bijoy Potoka
40. Usha-Anirudhya
41. Gorbaganjana
42. Bowl Krushna
43. Girigobardhana
44. Maana-Birahamilana
45. Basanta - Rajarani
46. Maana-Bhanjana
47. Tikayat Bahadur
48. Hira phool
49. Hindusthani
50. Bidya Sundar
51. Bhairab Chakra
52. Diamond Jublee
53. Madhur Milan
54. BanA Bihar
55. Jogajog
56. Jambuboti
57. Mayaboti
58. Mruguni Stutee
59. Swarna Padma
60. Naaga
61. Baga Panchami
62. Monasa
63. Abhiswapta
64. Panchasakha
65. Dodhibali-Nrushna
66. Kanchi – Bijoy
67. Naachuni
68. Dwajatala

Reasons for Male Dominance in Chho:

As most of the dance items exhibit vim and vigour moods, in the earlier days this Chho dance had been performed only by the mole artists, even if, the role of female characters are also played by the male artists dressed in female costume. Apart from his own view Mohanta (1993:12) has analyzed about five basic causes responsible for the non-participation of female artists in Chho dance. These are the important factor accountable for their non-participation.

(a) Physical Labour:
Most of the dance items express the mood of vim and vigor and because of this these dance items are very painstaking and laborious in nature. For performing a dance item, an artiste has to practice regularly which gives pain to the delicate body of o female artiste.

(b) Degradation in Social Status:
In orthodox society an adult girl going to clubhouse or Akhara for practicing Chho dance or to go outside their village for performing Chho dance, is negatively viewed by the society. These girls are called as ‘Nachini’ – a dancing girl. Nobody agrees to marry a Nachini girl because of her free mixing with boys. Traditional people do not like their women to roam with dance troups and show their body to lustful eyes of men.

(c) Problem in Natural Expression:
In some of the dance items like, Premiko – Premika, Nishith – Milan etc. both the male and female characters jointly express some erotic moods. As because all these male dancers are belonging to their own village and sometimes, from their own kin and relatives, they would not like to dance with the female members of their own relatives. Secondly the grown up girt or elderly girl would not feel easy to express such type of dance items in front of the elderly mole members of their family and relatives.

(d) To Protect from Unsociable Activities:
As discussed above, the rural and tribal people of Mayurbhanj are very orthodox in nature. Looking towards the fast growing crime in society and unsociable activities happening in the day-today life, the parents do not allow to go their matured girls outside their houses which indirectly cause the non-participation of female artists in Chho dance.

(e) Disturbances in Education:
Presently all the parents are interested for female education and accordingly they are sending their girls to schools and colleges. To face their daily routine work and high competition the girls are also spending their time in studying various subjects. As Chho dance needs a regular practice, it makes disturbances in their study. Because of this some guardians do not allow their girls to take part in Chho dance.

(f) Disturbances in Domestic Work:
Until her marriage a girl in a rural family of Mayurbhanj gives a major economic support to her parental family. She helps her mother in her day-to-day household works. This participation in household activities indirectly becomes training for the girl, which gives idea to manage herself in in-laws house after her marriage. A girl should prove to be good homemaker not public entertainer.

New Trends:

Now with changed environment, people have accepted girl’s participation as a source of income. Chho dance has been widely acclaimed. Many Chho Nrutya Prathisthan or dance schools have been established and they are interested to include female artists and train them accordingly. These female artists are also trying their best to perform a good and attractive dance. Viewers also like to see female role to be played by women. The orthodox social views are now melting.

To falsify the concepts of non-participation of female artists in Chho dance, Mohanta (1995:31-32) has opined that "Many persons, even if those who are very closely related to the Chho dance believed that, Chho is such a dance which only express the mood of vim and vigour and hence there is no place for female artists. But from the close study of its Tobkas and Ulfies it is evident that, out of the six tobkas half of the tobkas i.e. Sada, Lohra and Muda tobkas express Loashya mood, whereas others like Dhew, Duba and Uska tobkas express Tandava mood. Like this, out of the 36 Ulfies practised in present time, almost half of the Ulfies express Laashya mood." Now-a-days many of the female artists are exhibiting their dance at different places and getting rewards. Example may be cited from Sulachana Mohanta, a female artiste of Chitrada Chho Nritya Pratistha, who performed wonderful dance in Tamuria Krishna at Banga Sanskriti Sammelan in 1973 at Calcutta and received prize from the honorary President of India (Mahato, 1987:49). The other renowned female Chho dancers are Sumitra Devi, Bimbadhari Sahu, Molly Mohanta, Dipti Das, Usha Mohanta, Susila Mohanta, Jayanti Mohanta and Malabati Mohanta (Mohanta 1995:32).

Photographs : By the Author
Illustrations :
References :