Chekka Bhajana (Ciratala Bhajana)
one of the most popular folk arts, has for centuries been a vehicle of self-expression and fulfills the needs of the spiritual-minded rural folk of Andhra Pradesh.
Chekka bhajana is a form of dance accompanied by the striking of wooden pieces of one or half 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. The jingling music produced when the palm is opened and closed, along with the song is very pleasing to hear to which the dancers dance.
Cirata is a smaller instrument, which is 8 inch to 9 inch long and 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch wide.
They are used especially to sing songs in praise of Lord Rama and the performance is known as Rama Bhajana and the performers Rama Dandu . In the olden days each village had a trained group (dandu) of Chekka bhajana dancers, who used to move with a lamp and an idol of Rama from one village to the other. Villagers used to learn it during the lean months of summer, when they are relatively free from agriculture work. It is obligatory to the Rama-Dandu of the next village to receive the bhajana troupe and the idol and take it to the next village. Ultimately, after touring several villages on the way, the troupes reach Bhadrachalam on the Ramanavami day and pay their homage to the Lord.
Though this practice has ceased to be in vogue any more, there are innumerable troupes all over Andhra, which perform the Chekka Bhajana even today. They are however limited to their villages.
The Chekka bhajana group consists of about 16 to 20 artists. The artists are dressed in simple, yet, colorful costumes - a dhoti, a waistcloth, a colored kerchief around the neck, a garland, flower bracelets on the hands, ankle bells and a smear of vermilion on the forehead. Each dancer carries his "chekkas" with much adoration.
The performance contains several songs to varying rhythms called kopus . There are about 100 Kopus or adugulu in which a particular song is sung. Every song contains several kopus, based on the variations. As in kolatam, even in this performance, there is a main singer who initiates each song and sings a line, which is repeated by the others.
Chekka bhajana is similar to kolatam dance in many respects except for a few differences. One is the use of "chekka" (wooden pieces) instead of "kolalu" (sticks). Unlike in kolatam where the dancer uses sticks in both the hands, in chekka bhajana there is greater scope for movement of hands since the chekka is held in the right hand only. The other hand is used for occasional gestures.
There are songs other than those on Rama. Some humorous songs are very popular.
With its great variety, innate devotion and an element of drama, Chekka bhajana is the most popular form of narrative art in Andhra Pradesh.