The Chhau dance is indigenous to the eastern part of India. It originated as a martial art and contains vigorous movements and leaps. Though Chhau is famous not only in India but World over the origin of word Chhau is yet in mystery. Chhau is believed to have found its origin from "Chhaya" the shadow. But the Chhau performers of Purulia use Mask while dancing and that mask is told as "Chhau". Perhaps Chhau Dance might have derived its name from that mask,the Chhau. Some chhau pundits opine the Chhau has got its name from "Chhaushree". Inarguably, the word chhau has been derived from the word 'CHHAUNI' the camp camped at the time of military operation. The folks say that chhau was performed to entertain the Oriya warriors inside the camp and has spread now knowing no boundaries.
Some Chhau dances use large stylized masks. The depiction of birds and animals is a distinctive feature. There are also heroic dances with sword, bow or shield, with which dancers demonstrate their dexterity. In keeping with the martial origins of Chhau, some of the themes include the depiction of mythological heroes, such as Parashurama, Mahadev, Indrajit and others, from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. Over the course of time, female characters and more diverse themes were added.
There are three recognized schools or styles of Chhau. These are the Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj varieties. Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers do not wear masks. In recent times, Mayurbhanj Chhau has become popular as a medium of choreography, with its wide range of postures and movements that adapt well to modern as well as traditional treatment.