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Bengal, during the post medieval period, was a divided and closed society. Ruled by religious strictures, Hindus and Muslims led cloistered lives, against which grew a protest that took on the character of a cult. The community of protesters could be identified by the robes they wore (a long saffron-coloured cloak called the alkhalla with a turban of the same colour), the one-stringed instrument or Ektara they always carried and the bells they tied to their perpetually dancing feet. Sometimes the alkhalla would be made of different pieces of cloth patched together. They were the Bauls, the creators of a phenomenal music tradition that has survived and grown despite the ravages of time. Apart from the expected bamboo flute, they developed a variety of musical instruments like the Premjuri and Dotara, the Khamak and Goopi Jantro, the Kartal and Dubki among others.

The Bauls are free wanderers. They are detached from the bondage of society and family. They move from place to place, making a meagre living from the alms given to them by those who can plumb the profound depths of their frugality. The Bauls belong to a sect with a distinctive mystic ideology of their own and their songs spread the message of peace and universal brotherhood. The word 'Baul' means mad, the madness that comes out of an overwhelming love for the Infinite Self. The singers describe the transience of mundane existence and the simple means to spiritual upliftment, though the root of their philosophical theory rests in a deeper complex psychological consciousness. Bauls are basically philanthropists, though sometimes satire from day to day life finds a place in their songs. The Bauls have played a major role in Indias freedom struggle when they moved from village to village in rural Bengal with their songs stirring up a feeling of nationalism and pride in our motherland among the illiterate village folk.

Both men and women (Bauls and Baulanis) are a part of this great music tradition. For a long time, the Baulanis performed with the Bauls and they did not have any separate identity. But in recent years Baulanis have carved out their own foothold. The music of the Bauls had a significant influence on Rabindranath Tagore. Today the Bauls' songs can be heard in many districts of West Bengal as their footsteps dot the muddy village lanes of Bankura, Birbhum, Burddhaman, Nadia, Dinajpur and Murshidabad




Raibeshe dance is considered as one of the manliest and energetic folk dance of Bengal. Along with the vigorous and manly movements, it involves acrobatics of a raibansh which is a long bamboo stick, from which its name originated. No songs are sung or verses recited during this martial dance. Instead, this dance is accompanied with wild yells of men, and punctuated with gestures that suggest drawing of bows from the quiver, throwing of spears, brandishing of knives and flourishing of swords, scimitar. 

At times, the dancers proceed in a squat position towards the middle of the ring alternatively joining in and out while bending knees. This dance position imitates the hunters riding on the back of a horse. At other times the dancers form pairs where one of the partner stands on the shoulder of the other partner moving hands and arms. The upper partner performs the head movements and lower partner performs the foot movements. This performance requires high acrobatic skill and practice. Musical instruments like dhols (drums) and Kanshis (cymbals) accompany this dance form 
Raibenshe dancers usually prefer to wear comfortable attires so that they can perform the steps, specially the aerobatics one, quite flexibly. Mainly, the dancers prefer a dhoti which is the traditional dress of Bengali men. It is worn with a strip of red cloth signifying spirit and valour. The dancers also wear brass anklets known as 'nupurs' on their right ankle during their performance. 

Apart from traditional dancers, Raibenshe dance is also practiced by various professional dancers who do not belong to the above mentioned communities. This dance is also popularly included in various school shows. Many notable dancers even trying to revive this martial dance form by keeping its originally intact.


The Chhau dance of Purulia district is one of the most vibrant and colourful art forms. Emerging from martial practice, the Purulia Chhau is a vigorous form of dance drama that draws its themes from the two great Indian epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

Masks and elaborate headgear are the ornamental apparels of the Chhau dancers. The dance is believed to date back to over a century, though the specific date of its origin cannot be definitely ascertained. The dance was patronised by the royalty and landlords of the region. Since its inception, the members of the Mahato, Kurmi, Bhumija, Deowa, Bhuama and Dom communities have sustained this dance form. The dance is an essential part of the Gajan Festival, a festival that celebrates the glories of Lord Shiva. Today, the dance is no longer restricted to one particular time of the year. The Purulia Chhau dance has been influenced by many dances of the district, like the Nata Jawaid Dance, the Mahi Dance and the Nachni Dance. Even two relatively sophisticated dance forms like the Jhumur and Bhadra Jhumur have influenced the Chhau Dance in its tune and rhythm. The accompanying musical instruments include the Dhol, Dhamsa and Shenai.

The dance commences with an invocation to Lord Ganesh. Then the movements follow the nuances of the story. In a Chhau Dance the fight between good and evil always culminates in the triumph of good over destructive evil. The elaborate masks, the dazzling costumes, the rhythmic drum beatings and shenai, characterise the Chhau Dance. A distinctive feature of this dance is the acrobatic use of the body and the intricately crafted masks worn by the dancers. Powerful movements, immense concentration and release of energy are the other features of this dance.

In the villages the performance usually starts between 9.00 and 10.00 o'clock in the evening. As the night grows and the dance gains momentum, there is an air of excitement all around. Communication between the performers and the audience is a significant feature of this dance form. In the olden days, the performance area used to be illuminated by torches that burnt throughout the night. Over the years the dance has undergone evolutions in form, stage craft, lighting and use of musical instruments.

The masks help the dancers to portray different characters. There are masks depicting particular Gods and Goddesses, demons and monsters. There are also interesting masks for different animals like the lion, tiger, bear, monkey and so on. These finely-crafted masks are made by the painter artistes of the district. With the face covered by a mask, it is left to the dancers to emote using their bodies. Movements and postures therefore serve both to portray emotions and make the dance lively.

One of the most popular presentations of the Purulia Chhau Dance is Mahisasur Mardini. Oppressed by the tyranny of the Mahisasura, the Gods pray to Goddess Adyashakti Mahamaya who takes the form of Goddess Durga, Durgatinashini and after a fierce battle with Asura, finally slays him