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The word paika is derived from the Sanskrit word Padatika meaning the infantry, and hence the name of the dance battle (paika) dance (nrutya). In olden days the powerful Ganga and Gajapati rulers of Odisha extended their territory from the river Ganges in the north to Godavari in the south with the help of a vast army of valiant Paikas. They were not in the regular pay-role of the army, but received huge land grants from the kings and the chieftains. They formed the rank of a peasant-militia. Though agriculture was their main occupation they used to keep themselves prepared by regular practice and training in war techniques. Several village-groups were under the command of a Dala Behera or group-commander. Most of the Paika villages of Odisha, spread all over the state have maintained the older tradition of Paika Akhada – the village gymnasium where young people assemble in the evening after the day’s work. Alongwith traditional physical exercises, they dance with sword and shield in hand to the accompaniment of the country-drum.The primary aim of this dance was the development of physical excitement and consequently courage, in the dancing warriors. In ancient times this was unconsciously a rehearsal of battle. During Dussera all the Akhadas celebrate their annual festival. In several prosperous villages display of traditional gymnastics, acrobatics and the dance by various village-groups are arranged on competitive basis. Each group participate with great enthusiasm. For all such display special grounds are prepared with soft earth sprinkled with oil and water.Needless to say that the tradition of this dance carried tthroughout the contiguous tribal belt of Mayurbhanj. Seraikela and Purulia, with free imbibition of music and dances of the area has developed into a magnificent dance-style of Indian called ‘Chhau’. It is so called because in Oriya it means ‘Guarilia war’ or ‘to pounce upon the enemy stealthily’. The other relative words are Chhauni (armour for the chest); Chheuka, that hunts stealthily (called of cats and dogs); Chhau mariba, to take a vault etc.
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