Our Performance of Chhou Dance in the Ajodhya Hills
We have been training the boys in our Chhou Dance class for about four years now. They really have developed well and they are now ready to perform for the public. In fact last Saturday they gave their first performance as a team. They were invited to an annual conference for the most senior officers of the All India Postal Service. It was held in the Ajodhya Hills, in an area near Purulia which is very much an important part of our heritage.
The programme took place on 30th August at 7pm. We started out early from Dabar, at 1pm, in order to give the boys a chance to see the Hills and the views of the surrounding countryside. The boys had never visited there before so the trip was an exciting excursion for them.
On the way we drove through a number of villages. As we climbed up the hill in our cars we passed by many women carrying wood that they had cut and gathered in the forests above. They have traditionally carried such very heavy loads long distances over unpaved roads. The fact that the government is improving the roads to improve access for visitors and tourists makes their work only a little easier. So we also encountered mechanical diggers and gangs of labourers on the way, as well as local people taking their livestock to graze.
We visited the impressive new dam, which is the centre piece of a huge hydroelectric power project financed by the Japanese Government. Although the new source of power is welcome, over one hundred thousand trees were destroyed in building it, which affected the local climate as well as the terrain. And of course vast areas were flooded. The changes ended the way of life for a great many of the tribes, which was based on hunting, because the animals on which they depended could not sustain their existence in the new environment.
We found this charming local post office at the top of the hill. It is our nomination for the eighth wonder of the world!
The Chhou Dance performance took place in front of the beautiful new tourist facilities building. There is always a lot of preparation work to do. One of the modern developments in Chhou is that microphones and amplification are now used for the singing. And electric lighting has replaced torches to illuminate the proceedings, which as a rule have always taken place at night.
The dancing started promptly at 7pm after all the important guests had been seated. The performances always begin with Uran Baina, which serves as notice to anyone nearby that the dancing is about to start and is a general invitation to come and enjoy it. Chhou Dance is very much in the blood of the local people. And the officials were a knowledgeable and appreciative audience, breaking out in applause on a number of occasions.
At the end of the performance the audience came forward to congratulate the boys. Then afterwards we all went off for a dinner at a local restaurant.
More About the Ajodhya Hills
The Ajodhya Hills have an important place in the cultural history of our land. According to legend, while Ramachandra was travelling through the forests in fulfilment of his vow, he lived with Lakhan and Sita atop the highest of these Hills.
There are 360 tribal villages in the Hills. In earlier days, yet still within living memory, the land had been covered by dense forest. The dense forest meant that the tribes in the Hills were isolated from each other. Furthermore the Hills were inaccessible to the outside world because of the steep slopes and deep ravines. There had never been any reliable roads into the Hills. The first passable road was built shortly after Independence by the Lutherian Christian Agency, who also built a hospital as part of their assistance and development programmes. This remoteness and inaccessibility lead to a great diversity of culture among the individual tribes. Yet despite their differences, all of the tribes have been coming together every year to celebrate a hunting festival.
But now, in the last few decades, we have seen a continuing deforestation all over our area and roads have been improved as part of the wish to introduce the benefits of modern development. The Hills’ environment was particularly affected when a new hydroelectric system was built because many thousands of trees were felled and massive tracts of land were flooded. As a result most of the large animals which had been hunted for sustenance have disappeared because the changed environment could not sustain them. The tribes’ culture based on hunting could no longer be sustained.
Interestingly, the hunting festival takes place on the birthday of Lord Buddha, founder of the Buddhist religion. We all know of Buddha’s teachings against violence, killing and bloodshed. So it is natural to ask why the tribals should decide to arrange the hunting festival on that particular day. The reason is that Buddha came to the hills with intention of converting the people there from their tribal religions to Buddhism. In order to avoid being converted and as a way of resisting the inroads of Buddhism they arranged the festival for this day. This traditional celebration still takes place but now it has become an opportunity for members of surviving tribes to meet, socialize and dine together.