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You all have heard of well known dance formats like Bharata Natyam, Mohiniaattam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and many more. But in those art formats, each person is associated with usually one of the task among singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. Of course, all these formats are Indian classical dances. There is more in our culturally rich country apart from the mentioned ones. Have you ever witnessed a folk art where in every artist in the group sing, dance and play music all at one go? If not, read through this to know more! Let me introduce to you all an unique form of folk art that still exists in Andhra Pradesh called ‘Chekkala Bhajana’.

‘Chekka’ means a wooden piece in Telugu language, similarly ‘Chekkalu’ is the plural of ‘Chekka’ meaning wooden pieces. In the context of this folk dance, it is a pair of wooden pieces specially crafted with the help of carpenters to be used as the main percussion instrument. These wooden pieces are usually about one  feet long and about 3 inch wide to the ends of which two round brass or iron pieces are fixed. Bells are placed in the center by making holes. They are held against each other in between the palm, yes just one hand here! The jingling music produced when the palm is opened and closed. According to the rhythm of this instrument, the dancers will dance and sing in unison.

Chekkala Bhajana group will usually have 16 or 20 people while performing the art. The artists are dressed in simple most of the times, yet colorful costumes consisting of a dhoti, waist cloth, colored hankie around the neck, garland and flower bracelets on the hands. Apart from that the recognizable stuff they wear include ankle bells. Each dancer carries his own ‘chekkalu’ with much pride and love! Before starting the play, all these  artists pray by placing all their musical instruments in front of a God’s photo, perform pooja and wear the ankle bells and pick up their ‘Chekkalu’. Another important part of this pray is that each group member takes the blessing of their troupe ‘GURU’ (master) by touching his feet. It is nice to see, so much of respect for Teachers here!!!

Troupe members create a circular formation with master being in the center. The master starts with a Bhajan (Devotional Song) along with a music from his wooden pieces by striking them in a rhythm and the rest follow their master in chorus. See the short video that I shot at a Shiva Temple near my native place on a ‘Shiva Rathri’ night. Sorry for the bad light, I couldn’t capture it any better. This is just to give you a flavor of how the art being performed.

Expert artists would have a good understanding of about 100 different steps (variations in their foot and body movement) in this form of art. But most of the current existing troupes hardly know a dozen at the max. Master in the middle keeps singing while guiding and facilitating  narration of episodes from Epics and Puranas. Rest of the group jump and dance according to the steps as the master directs. I was glad to have spent a good amount of time on Shiva Rathri night watching this folk art for about 3+ hours!

It is fun to watch them making all kind of humorous episodes in between to entertain the crowd. Apart from respecting the master, there is more to learn from these folks. The master usually delegates the center stage to a fellow troupe member there by encouraging the team members to bear the responsibility equally while mentoring them to become a Master one fine day! More than all, they don’t refer to any book or any such written chit to read out even though the program usually runs for hours together, everything comes natural through their devotion. Do you recall any such art which is not so well known in our culturally rich heritage?

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{ 47 comments… add one }

  • Praveen

    Hi Mohan,

    Article is very nice. I am very much interested on chekka bhajanalu. Can you provide links of chekka bhajanalu audio if you have. I had even searched for those but not able find those.

    Thanks in Advance,
    Praveen

  • raju

    sir, i want some more videos about this.. so pls send the link regarding this. thank you.

  • Manohar Bommireddipalli

    Dear Mr.Mohan,
    Your article on Chekkla Bajan is very inspiring and i would like to have a small video on this so that i can introduce this folk dance in my daughter’s school. can you help me with a small clipping.

    Regards,
    Manohar Bommireddipalli.

    • Dear Manohar, thanks for your comment. Well, this is the only clipping I have. Feel free to use it from this blog to promote the dance.

  • Satish

    Excellent… Is there any chance I get the full video?

    Thanks,

    • Hi Satish,
      Sorry, I don’t have the full video. I captured only this small portion of it. I will try to get it in subsequent visits.

      • Surendra

        Dear Mohan,

        Chala thanks. Ee captured lo maa voorlo vaallu vunnaru. nee daghara ilant vedios vunte please forward me.

  • Elaya Kumar S

    Our country is rich with a number of Folk and traditional art forms.

    It is with interest and wonder I watched the video presentation.
    I also read with interest the detailed blog on Chekkala Bajana.

    I wonder why our mainstream media is not giving adequate space for
    such events.

    I suggest that we should encourage and support these artists who are
    providing clean, esthetic and wholesome entertainment to the village people.

    Thanks once again for the blog.

    • Mr Kumar, I have mentioned it a number of times before on this blog that media is living on 3C’s – Cricket, Crime and Cinema. They hear nothing, see nothing and do nothing apart from those. Sad, but that is the fact.

  • I really appreciate your efforts to make Chekkala Bhajana known to everyone. I heard about it from my hubby who hails from Andhra. Offlate we have been discussing about Pulivesha which is very popular from Dakshina Kannada and also I reckon it is also popular in some parts of AP. Then we were discussing about Chekkala or Chekka Bhajana. It was refreshing to read ur post on it. Keep up the good work.

  • Reshma

    Awesome art.. thanks for sharing ~

  • Nice recording. Wonderful!

  • Great thing you did…the dying art of India do need encouragement…and you posting this can go a long way in reviving the lost artform

    • Thank you Nalini. Hoping that more bloggers will pay attention to these kind of folk arts and bring them into some kind of limelight :)

  • Good to know about this folk art … though couldn’t see the video yet… and you are right our country is culturally very rich and every region has numerous folk forms which may die out if we don’t support them…

    • Very true. Atleast we the bloggers can highlight some these kind of arts into the world which is obsessed with modern forms of music :)

  • Rohini

    Hey nice and informative post! Good that you have started spreading awareness drive on our folk art. It is so refreshing to see their high powered dance steps.

    • Thank you! Absolutely, that was a minute of video, but the show went on for 3 hrs!!!

  • shraddha

    I had guests for couple of days so i missed out blogging about this very important day.

    we had some great celebrations at our temple..

    Awesome blog post…

  • Thanks Mohan. I just saw a message that you have added me on Indiblogger I shall add you too.

  • That was a nice narration I think chekkala are something what is used for Bhajan singing what we call as chipla. Nice to see the group totally involved.
    I also blog on wordpress and have written a small blog on kochi .When you find time visit that also.
    that url is manchitra.wordpress.com.
    Following you .

    • Thank you for that additional info! I did visit just now. Good collection of pics you have on various places around. Nice to have known you :)

  • If you are doing nothing then they will sarcastically ask us in telugu as “chekka bajana chestunava” (are you doing chekka bajana?)

    • I know… I have heard this common slang in village side. There is a reasoning too. Usually people practice this art during their leisure in the summer and hence the term in common use.

  • shruti

    Oh nice dance form…I love dancing and so good to see this, I never knew…
    Its such a nice way to spend time sometime, away from the usual routine…
    I wuld love to learn some dance form :)

    • Shruti, you have to see this in real to enjoy it much better. Also, if you could understand the language, it is much more fun.

  • Swaram

    This is so nice Mohan .. thanks a lot for sharing :) Looks so much like the Janapada performances :) I must try to catch up with this somewhere here :) Loved the video :)

    • You are most welcome! Yes, it is a variant of Janapada I would say.

  • In our country, every region has its own folk music and dance which are now vanishing . The western culture is overlapping.

    • Absolutely… probably that was the triggering point for me to come up with this article!

  • Olivia Mukhopadhyay

    Hey Mohan ,didnot see the video yet but fantastic form of art and ur description of it is very lucid!

    • Thank you! Nice to get such motivating comments from my readers though it is not so famous/well known form of art!

  • Thank you mohan for sharing it..we have such a rich heritage of folk arts and we must revive them..in north we have something like this on Holi.

    • Pleasure is mine! Let me explore on that. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Really nice video Mohan! Most of the people don’t know about this dance or some have forgot. This video makes us recall the folk art. Thanks!

  • Wow! Very nice picturisation despite the bad light. This resembles, a little, some North Eastern type of Dance but this form is fast phased. Thanks for sharing the video, Mohan.

    • Thank you Saraswathan! True these people need some helping hands to continue the art. Will share more details soon.

      • mickey

        hi sir,, i was thrilled to see the video and know about this group, I would like to know a little bit more,

        • Hi Mickey, thanks for your query. Would you be more specific on what more you want to know about this group? I shall make an attempt to get you more details as you may need.

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