In ancient Bengal, dancing was popular entertainment. Courtesans and temple girls (devadasis) were required to be proficient in the art of dance prescribed by Bharata in his 'Natysastra'. Popular forms of dancing were rendered at mundane celebrations and on other occasions by low-caste tribes Nats and Domnis (women of the Dom caste) who practiced dancing and singing as hereditary professions. In the Middle ages, probably the institution of temple girls become obsolescent and class dancing was limited to courtesans. As a result dancing came to be looked down up on in respectable society.
The Chhou is unique form of
masked dance. The dancer impersonates a god,
animal, bird, hunter, flower. He acts out a short theme. And he performs a
series of short themes mailny during the month of Chaitra ( April). Chhou masks
have predominantly human features slightly modified to suggest what they are
portraying. The performer's face being expressionless, the dancer's body
communicates the total emotional and psychological tensions of a character. His
feet have a gesture language, his toes are agile, functional, and expressive,
like those of animal. The dancer is mute, no song is sung. Only, instrumental
music ( bamboo flute, drums ) accompany him. The dance is very vigorus and
Rava dance is from the northern part of West Bengal.
These dances are performed mainly by Rava Women. Their dances include Fai Nang
Mein or Welcome Dance, Nak Chung Baini or the dances evocative of catching
prawn, Baishar Bidan or New Year’s Dance and Larai Lunji or War Dance.
It is a very popular folk theatre among
peoples. The word Jatra means procession and developed in response to the
Vaisnav movement brought by the sage Chaitanya into the region in
the sixteenth century.