The ongoing pandemic has made masks an integral part of our daily lives now. Yet, a dance form unique to Bengal that makes use of masks is facing a grave existential crisis. Unlike the Purulia Chhau and Seraikela Chhau, Parbha or Chilkigarh traditional Chhau is on the verge of fading into oblivion. As part of spreading awareness about the diverse art forms, Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre will be screening Abanti Sinha’s documentary titled ‘In Search Of Parbha Chhau’ on June 3.
It is the inaugural film of their 10-day-long virtual film festival. This 46-minute-long documentary is based on the search of a rarely heard, dying dance form called Parbha. In this dance form, dancers wear unique masks of one-piece wood that were once carved by the carpenters of Odisha. Raja Mangovinda Dhabaldev of the Dhabaldev dynasty brought this dance form into existence in the middle of 18th century. The exclusive masks, the musical accompaniment and the typical beats set this form apart from the reputed Purulia and Seraikela Chhau.
In 2012, Sinha had travelled to Jhargram and witnessed a rehearsal of Purulia Chhau. During that rehearsal, one of the dancers had told her about the Chilkigarh form. Instead of highlighting stories from mythology or warfare, this dance form relied on narrating lives of ordinary people.
Her nodal point for tracing the roots was Birojeshchandra Dhabaldev. “He is a descendant of the Dhabaldev dynasty that once ruled over the Singhbhum area. Parbha had emerged as a dance form in this royal palace of Chilkigarh and was widely endorsed and patronised by the kings of Dhabaldev dynasty,” she said. During the course of the documentary, Birojeshchandra narrated the history of Parbha and how it was linked to his family.
Needless to say, it took a great deal of research to locate two elderly dancers who could give a fair idea about the essence of this form. One of them was 72-year-old Bhuban Khamrui. His father was a guard in the royal palace of Chilkigarh. Sinha also met 80-year-old dancer called Samarendra Dhabaldev. “He was related to the royal family. It was his dream to witness the revival of Parbha. Unfortunately, he died last year,” she added.
Out of the 13 masks that were integral to this dance form, only 11 have survived. Two of them were destroyed in an accidental fire during the 80s. “Those that survived were handed over to the Bengal government for preservation. Birojeshchandra Dhabaldev had some VHS tapes that had recorded the original dance performances. Unfortunately, I couldn’t retrieve anything from those tapes. On further research, I got in touch with some young dancers of Dubra village. These youngsters have been able to hold on to the basic structures of the dance form. However, we couldn’t find anyone who knew how to play the complicated rhythms that were used in Parbha,” she said.
The documentary has been screened at various festivals in the UK and US. “That apart, it was screened at Rollout Dance Film Festivals Macau in China and won Best Documentary award in Cinema4screen film Festival in Mumbai and a special mention at Cinemaking Dhaka Festival,” she said.
Through this documentary, Sinha wants to create awareness about a traditional form and its unsung artistes. With the pandemic forcing new-age masks to become a part and parcel of daily lives, Sinha believes that a little bit of awareness will help generate interest in the masks of yesteryear and inspire the lone surviving artist to pass on the legacy to posterity.
Source: Times of India