Synopsis: "Legends of Karttikeya in Purulia Chhau"
Dr. Malati Agneswaran
Worship in the context of Hindu traditions may be through
religious incantations and rituals or through expressions of art forms.
A painting on the wall, a drawing on the floor, a song a dance or a
dramatic enactment - any of these may be an act of worship. In some
cases these art forms are themselves a part of a ritual, or else the
mere art expression is an eulogy of a deity and suffices to create a
religious feeling in the artistes and the spectators.
Purulia - The Region and the Artistes
Purulia is a district in West Bengal near the border of Bihar. The Chhau dance is performed by the community of Mundas also known as Bhumij in this region.
Performance of Purulia Chhau
A performance of Purulia Chhau lasts the
whole night long. The artistes are only men, even for the role of female
characters. In Purulia Chhau the message is that good triumphs over evil. The episodes are mainly those of battles. The war is between
the gods and asuras as the tales are derived from the epics and the
puranas. There are no secular themes or narratives from social contexts
in Purulia Chhau. Therefore the martial god Karttikeya is an important
character in several of the episodes of Purulia Chhau.
Technique of the Dance
Although the dancers hail from a folk community
and have no knowledge of the Natya Shatra of Bharata Muni or of any
other texts of classical dances, several of the stances of the body, the
movements of the torso and the limbs are representations of the same as
laid down in Bharata Natya Shastra. Several of these will be described
Legends of Karttikeya in Purulia Chhau
The artistes of Purulia Chhau
believe in the concept of Karttikeya as has been derived
from the Puranas of the Sanskrit tradition. Karttikeya is a martial god
and he is born to kill the demon Tarakasura. The demon is vanquished by
the six-headed god Skanda.
However, in the region of Purulia the god is known as Karttika Bhagavan.
There are legends that are unique to this art form, for there are
regional variations always to be found in any traditional narrative.
These Karttikeya legends are episodes involving Karttika and his
brother Ganesha, Karttika's battle with Mahishasura, although it is his
mother Goddess Durga who fially slays the demon, and the battle between
Karttika And Shankachuda. There is also a presentation of a dance that
summarises the entire narrative of the Karttika legend. A rare narrative
is that of Krishna Karttika Yuddha.
Karttikeya is the only deity who is presented in the different stages of
his life by different artistes ranging from a small child to a man of
great virility. The portrayal of Karttika is a cherished honour for the
There are no special temples for the worship of Karttikeya
in this region, nor are there any major festivals for the deity. And yet, Karttika
is a special character portrayed in Purulia Chhau. This illustrates
the concept of worship underlying the faith of the artistes and
audiences of Purulia Chhau.