Stories Behind the Indian masks

Bhaona- Folk Theatre Performance in Assam Pic Source: SandPebblesTours

The inner soul of a culture is reflected through it’s masks!

Masks are used for a wide variety of purposes across India. Masks, an essential component of folk tradition, are used in ethnic dance forms, drama or theatre performances both ritualistic or celebratory, to devote many deities, demons or to portray mythological characters. These dance forms or theatres that use masks are mostly inspired by the stories from epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Puranas and myriad folk tales.

Use of Masks in Folk Dances of India- Chau Dance of West Bengal, Mask Dance of Ladakh, Gamira Dance of West Bengal & Kathakali Dance of Kerala Pic Source: Photos.com, MakeMyTrip, SandipaMalakar, ClearIAS

India has its own rich traditions of masks. Masks greatly vary in size, dimension, raw materials, carvings, utlity and appearance. Some popular varieties of Indian Masks are given below:

  • Cherial Masks of Tamilnadu- A part of the Nakashi art form, these masks along with scroll paintings were traditionally used as a tool of storytelling
  • Chhau Dance Masks of Purulia, West Bengal, are theatrical masks used by the indigenous martial dance performers to entertain the villagers through dance-drama. These masks made of papiermâché with awe-inspiring headgear.
  • Gamira Dance Masks of Dinajpur, West Bengal, are ritual masks made of wood used by the villagers either during the dance performance known as “Mukha Khel” or as an offering to the village deity 
  • Dance Mask of Kerala- masks are used in traditional dance forms theyyam and kathakali along with elaborate costumes.
  • Mukha- patachitra styled masks of Orissa are made of Papier Mache and used in folk theatre- known as Jatra.

Majuli mask making by the artisan of Assam, Chau mask making in West Bengal, Gamira Wooden Mask of West Bengal & Cherial Dasavatar Mask of Telangana

  • Yakshagana Dance Masks play important role in popular folk theatre form of Karnataka keeping alive our rich legacy of storytelling and of epics.
  • Masks from Himachal Pradesh are made of wood and usually are carved out faces of animals and also of deities and demons.
  • Bhaona Masks used for theatre known locally as “Bhaona”. Made with bamboo, clay and cow dung in Majuli, Assam
  • Colorful and beautiful dance masks (paper mache or copper-gilded) of Ladakh are essential part of Cham Dance which portray the combat between good spirits and evil demons.  
  • Wrought Iron Mask of Bastar, Chhattisgarh- The mask making craft was started from hunting and ritualistic needs.

Human ideas, emotions and various gestures are symbolized in the masks and they convey these expressions universally among people. Bring the faces depicted in myth and legend into your daily lives with this stunning selection of masks from different parts India.

Posted by Meghadipa Roy Chowdury

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