From time immemorial, masks has been an integral part of dancing. It is an accessory worn upon face to portray a specific character and also to disguise oneself as per the performance content. But, there also exist masks that is worn on the whole body like the giant Totem mask of Australia and also around fingers like the Inuit women during course of story telling. Although the word ‘mask’ today settles from various derivatives from across many countries, but its usage has always been predominantly to bring forth a character of another world to the present. It is often used in regards to entertainment, spiritual aspects, rituals and individual safeguard.
In India, masks too holds an important space in dancing. Dances like the Chhau, dance dramas like the Ramleela and Raasleela, etc. use excessive vibrant and character oriented masks during performance. Many of performing groups have been able to carry ahead their ancestral legacy of performance in different occasions, festivals and events.
The Chhau has been categorized into three variants:
- Seraikella Chhau
- Mayurbhanj Chhau
- Purulia Chhau
The Seraikella Chhau hails from the Seraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand, the Purulia Chhau from the Purulia district of West Bengal and the Mayurbhanj Chhau from the Mayurbhanj district of Orissa in India.
The difference of these dancing styles could be made out from the usages of masks. Both the Purulia and Seraikella Chhau involves masks in their performing art whilst the Mayurbhanj Chhau uses none of such accessories but its techniques are very much like that of the Seraikella Chhau. The Purulia Chhau unlike the other two Chhau forms didn’t enjoy royal patronage and thus was developed by the people themselves for its sustain and growth.
There are other mask beauties that could be found in Majuli, the river island amidst the Brahmaputra in Assam (India), which are used in Raasleela to portray different characters related to the staged play and also those used by the Ramleela groups in the northern India.
Although with advancement of globalism, masks are finding a place in the international market through performance, exhibitions and souvenirs, but there is still need of some initiatives in promoting and guiding village mask crafters who are still trying to find hopes in establishing their individual efforts or ancestral lineage. Many of such artistes have been awarded by their Governments in respect of their works and commitment. But on the other hand for some, due to lack of education and adequate network, they are finding difficult to spread their interests and work profiles.
Sushanta Kumar Mahapatra is one such revered mask makers from Jharkhand (India) who has been conferred with several recognitions and awards by the Government as well as by different organisations for his works. He is the nephew of the famous Seraikella Chhau mask maker Late Prashanna Kumar Mahapatra, whose photo from The Times of India (1972) is given on left.
Hem Chandra Goswami from the Notun (New) Samuguri Sattra, Majuli, Assam (India) is an established mask maker, whose creation have been reaching different parts of the world. He is the doyen in carrying forward his ancestral family tradition. His portico walls are covered with colourful masks of different characters and genres. Tourists from different parts of the world finds beautiful clicks of his creation and a brief description about the masks and performance of such mask characters. Hem Chandra Goswami’s masks find place at several ‘Raas’ festivals at different place of Assam and outside. Moreover, he is promoting his skills as a separate entity that could be very well utilized as a souvenir and showpiece.
His veracity towards his art brought some remarkable key changes in the entire getup of the masks that he creates. It is worth mentioning that, his masks can move its jaws and also amazingly the eye lids. Such innovative thoughts and procedures brought liveliness in its usage and the entire mask culture.
Pranaame Bhagawati is an accomplished danseuse, choreographer, actor, writer and cultural activist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communications and and have showcased her artistic potentialities and collaborative works at places like Germany, USA, Guyana, U.A.E, UK, Tanzania, Maldives, Dubai, etc. She made her State Assam proud by attaining 2 Gold Medals at the national front for her Kathak dance performances and honoured several times at the national and international level.