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Chekkabhajana : Wooden Hymns A Significant Folk Dance

Chekkabhajana : Also known as Wooden Hymns, A significant folk dance form that encompasses various art forms. It holds great importance in the villages of Andhra Pradesh. The performers go from house to house, carrying wooden sticks representing the pillars of God, and perform devotional bhajans with utmost devotion. In the village, enthusiastic youths come together as a group of around twenty members, led by a Guru, and learn this art form strictly during their spare time.

Chekkabhajana is not just a performance done with enthusiasm; it is a prayerful offering to God. The dancers immerse themselves in devotion while performing the bhajans, and through their performance, they also inspire the audience to experience devotion.

Wooden Hymns have the power to excite the audience and create a sense of devotion within them. This art form is particularly popular in rural areas, especially during leisure time and on occasions such as festivals, weddings of deities, Tirunals, Rathotsavams, and fairs.

The bhajan sticks used in Chekkabhajana are made by taking a foot-long piece of wood and attaching two round iron or brass bars on both sides to produce sound. When these bells strike the wood according to the rhythm, they create a melodious sound. When all the performers strike their wooden sticks together, the sound resonates in unison, enhancing the beauty of the bhajans. The wooden sticks are often adorned with beautiful carvings.

Chekkabhajana & Performance

During the performance, the group members may portray different characters based on the context of the story. For example, in the Gopikas story, some members may act as men portraying Krishna, while others may act as women portraying Gopis. This adds variety and depth to the performance, allowing the dancers to bring the stories to life through their movements and expressions.

Guru Puja is an essential part of learning Chekkabhajana . The youth who wish to learn Chekkabhajana come together and select a Guru. The dance practice begins with the Guru Puja, although each Guru may have their own way of presenting the Chekkabhajana Vidya.

The art of wooden hymns originated in Kadapa district of Rayalaseema and has spread across Andhra Pradesh. Chekkabhajana groups can be found in every village in the district, and there are countless songs associated with this art form.

The wooden hymns typically revolve around themes such as devotional songs, Bharata, Bhagavata, Ramayana epic songs, ethical songs, and heroic stories. In terms of costume, all the performers wear head cloths of the same color, beautifully wrapped, with a side ribbon hanging like a tassel.

The panchelni, a cloth, is tied in a way that allows for free movement during the dance. Men wear banyans of the same color, while female characters wear blouses and pavetes. These groups usually consist of twenty to thirty members, and participants range from twelve to fifty years of age.

The beauty of Chekkabhajana lies in its circular formation and the use of wooden sticks. The performers go around in a circle, playing tambourines, singing, and dancing to the rhythm. They showcase their skills by playing with two sticks in one hand.

The dancers may switch to different steps and formations, such as uddus-veluddus (pairs stepping opposite each other) or uddi marchi uddi (stepping on one side and then the other). When the teacher presents each stanza of the song, the rest of the performers join in and sing and dance.

To start the wooden hymns, the idols of the Gods are worshipped, and the performers beat the tenkaya (coconut) and catch leopards, symbolically prostrating themselves. They form a circle and ring the wooden sticks in rhythm, singing along with the teacher. Then, they take one step at a time, playing with their right and left legs.

At certain points, the teacher abruptly stops, and everyone follows suit, creating a moment of silence and amazement. These moments of silence represent the unity of the team members, discipline, and devotion to the Guru. Before starting the Chekkabhajana, they offer prayers to Lord Ganesha and sing Bhakti songs.

Jada Kopulu, which is performed at the end of the wooden hymns, leaves a strong impression on the audience. The performers form a circle and use round moon-shaped balls with holes, with colored strings hanging from the holes.

These balls are either hung on a high beam or on a tree in the center of the village. Each member of the group holds a rope with their left hand and the sticks with their right hand, and they rotate inside and outside in a circle while taking steps. Meanwhile, the central Guru sings, and the performers weave their braids to the rhythm of the song. This is known as Jada Kopu, and it adds a captivating visual element to the performance.

There are various types of kopulu (braids) that are woven during the Chekkabhajan performances. Some of these include:

  1. Plain braid: A simple, straight braid.
  2. Noogaya braid: A braided hairstyle with intricate patterns.
  3. Double Noogaya braid: Two Noogaya braids combined together.
  4. Karakkaya braid: A braided hairstyle resembling a crab’s shape.
  5. Garbha braid: A braided hairstyle with a round, coiled shape.
  6. Patteda braid: A braided hairstyle with a flower-like design.
  7. Pachala braid: A braided hairstyle with pleats.
  8. Four-pachal braid: A complex braided hairstyle with four pleats.
  9. Vala braid: A braided hairstyle with twists and turns.
  10. Bongu braid: A braided hairstyle with loops and knots.
  11. Putla braid: A braided hairstyle resembling a puppet’s shape.

These braids are woven with great skill and add to the visual appeal of the performance. If any member of the group makes a mistake, it can lead to the braids getting tangled, which is challenging to untangle during the performance.

In the past, Chekkabhajana mainly focused on singing mythological and devotional songs. However, nowadays, they also include romantic and comical songs in their repertoire.

Previously, instruments like Tithi, Maddela, and Kanjira were used for wooden hymns. However, in modern performances, instruments such as harmonium, dolu, kanjira, and tabla are commonly used.

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