Charkula Nritya

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Charkula is a dance form that owes its birth to the Krishna era. It is therefore not surprising that it is so popular in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. The dance has many legends attached to it. One legend goes by that the mother of Radha, consort of Krishna, ran outside to deliver the news of her birth carrying Charkula or oil-lamps on her head. Since then this became a tradition to perform this dance on auspicious occasion but primarily on the third day after Holi, the day Radha was born. The other legend says that milkmaids of Mathura re-enacted the scene where Krishna held Govardhan hillock on his finger to save people from the rain. In the process of acting, girls started raising Charkula over their heads in order to symbolize the hill.

Women are dressed in long skirts that reach up to the toes. There is a colorful blouse and the dancer covers her body and face with the veil. These women carry a large multi-tiered circular wooden pyramid having 108 oil lamps on their heads while dancing. They perform their dances to the tunes of Rasia that is the song of Lord Krishna. The dance has synchronized steps to the beats of the drum. The movements of the dancers are limited due to the heavy load of stuff on their heads. They cannot bend their body nor can they move their back. In spite of these limitations, the dancers dance gliding, bending, and pirouetting to the tune of the song.

The Charkula Dance originates from the Braj region of the state of Uttar Pradesh. It dates back to the times of Lord Krishna of Hindu mythology. This dance is performed only by women, who cover their faces and head with a veil, locally known as ‘Odhni’. They balance a large multi-tiered circular wooden pyramid on their head, known as the ‘Charkula’ from which the dance derives its name. The women perform this art form on the songs of Krishna and Radha, his consort. The songs that celebrate the eternal love of the couple are known as ‘Rasia’ in sync with the dancers’ performance.

The Legend of Celebration

It is well known that the Braj region is associated with the Hindu God Krishna. Charkula is a famous folk dance of this region. The charkula dance is particularly performed by the women on the third day of Holi, known as ‘Dooj’. It is believed that the love interest of Krishna, Radha was born on this auspicious day. According to the legendary tales, Radha’s grandmother ran out of the house with a wheel on her head, to announce the birth of her granddaughter. From then on, Charkula dance became a popular art form of the Braj region. It graces several auspicious occasions and festivals in the state.

A Legend Encore

Brajbhoomi is full of the legendary stories of Krishna. According to another legend associated with the dance, it is believed that this art form is performed as a symbol of victory of Krishna and the cowherd men of Mathura, over the King of Gods ‘Indra’. The women of the Mukhrai village of Mathura in particular, carry the 40 to 50 kilograms weight of the charkula on their heads, just like Krishna had raised the Govardhan Parvat, to protect the village from rain. It is a re-enactment of ‘Goverdhan Leela’ of God, which is also considered as a symbol of happiness and joy in the region.

Music and Costumes

The Charkula dance is performed by women wearing long skirts reaching their ankles, with a long and colorfully embroidered blouse. The musical instruments that accompany the Charkula performance are drums, algoza, thali, bansuri, majira, khartal, and harmonium. However, due to the heavy load of the charkula, the steps of the dancers are quite limited, as they balance the wooden pyramid over their heads. The Charkula is a tapered wooden column, varying from 4 to 8 circular tiers. A specific number of earthen lamps are lit on the rim of the circles. These are known as Deepika and their numbers vary from 51 to 108. Bending front or back or making movements with the neck is impossible with the heavy load. Despite that, the elegant dancers glide, bend, pirouette, and dance with the Charkula with utmost grace.

Drama and Attraction

The female charkula dancers are slim, sturdy, and courageous women. The performance usually varies from 15 minutes to 3 hours at a stretch! The number of participants ranges from 5 to 50 and at the climax, male singers and dancers also join in the performance! This Indian tribal dance was basically performed by the Brahman community of Mathura. The Mathura district has a very dense population of Hindus. Due to its gaining popularity, Charkula dance has become the next noted dance to Kathak in UP and amongst the eight classical dances of India. This ancient dance form reflects the lifestyle and beliefs of the people associated with it. In contemporary times, educational institutions are promoting this art form in their cultural events, whereas on the global platform also, Charkula dance is gaining interest from countries ashore.

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