The Many Faces of Purulia Masks

The Many Faces of Purulia Masks

Masks from Purulia
Masks made for Chhau dance performances in Purulia are fascinating for their variety of characters, different expressions, flamboyant colours and ability to dazzle.

They are displayed outside workshops in doorways, lined up on walls, and have, in many ways, become a part of the local landscape.

The makers

The mask making tradition was popularized by Buddeshwar, who is respected as the first mask maker in Charida. The village has even erected a statue in his honour.

The first male and female masks Buddeshwar made - an important milestone in the history of this craft form - were named Kirat and Kiratani, representing the forms of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati.

Nakul Chandra Dutta is another famous mask maker. With his three sons, they've taken mask making from Charida village to Purulia town, for the possibilities a wider market enables.

Mask makers show off their versatility in several ways, including by fashioning contemporary images like present-day political figures.

Another popular pursuit is rendering those in society considered as 'gentry'-the neck-tie being one marker of such status.

This artistically made and decorated deer head is typical of Purulia’s mask maker’s genius and deserves to be in a museum showing artifacts and skills of folk communities.

A golden-hued deer mask could be a dancer’s prop when enacting a scene from the religious epic the Ramayana, where a demon takes the form of a golden deer and visits Sita in the forest.

Detail of an animal-faced mask showing careful painting techniques that bring a clay and paper mask to life.

An elaborately decorated Chhau demon mask

Another Chhau demon mask, showing variations in the embellishments.

Simple masks representing Purulia’s mask making tradition highlight the charm and simplicity of this art form that combines crafting clay and paper, and the folk art of painting.

A three-visaged mark of a sadhu, a priest or an ascetic, made as a souvenir of the mask making craft of Purulia.

A mask of an ascetic that is probably made for such a character in a Chhau dance performance. The hair is made of coloured jute.

An angry tribal mask, made for sale as a souvenir from where the Santhal tribe lives.

Gods and Goddesses
The village ground is the stage for Chhau dancers. The stories are self-evident as everyone in the audience is aware of all the common epics and mythological stories that are part of India’s cultural fabric. The audience prefers those stories where demons or wild animals are vanquished after a tough battle. The goddess always reigns supreme in the end. The masks transform each man into a mesmerizing superhuman character.

The small mask of the character Kiratani, representing the Goddess Parvati, is one of Purulia’s favourite characters.

A Purulia mask of a god is given striking expression with contrasting colors.
This stunning mask of the Goddess Durga made for a Chhau dancer could be a valuable piece of decorative art in any urban home or international museum.

A resplendently coloured Goddess Durga, made by a highly skilled mask maker of Purulia, is depicted victorious here after slaying evil forces.

The typical facial expression of a ‘good’ character in a Chhau mask is always shown as a benign combination of innocence and surprise.

This Chhau mask of God Karthik can be seen with decorations in striking colours.

The decorative elements are sewn on to the base structure of a Chhauu dance headdress that combines with the mask. Some of these headdresses weigh up to five kilograms.

A set of three smaller sized masks of lesser demon characters who are part of some of the Chhau dance performances in Purulia.

Shops and Workshops
Masks are today sold from many shops that have become workshops-cum-showrooms. Buyers come from Odisha to use them in their dances. Today, apart from being a dance accessory that enhances the personality and character of dancer, Purulia masks have become wall decorations, souvenirs and a part of the décor in large shops and airports.

Three masks distinct and typical of common ‘good’ characters in the Purulia mask-making style, are hung casually on a wall for purchase by a Chhau dance group or a tourist.

All sorts of characters and animals hang in an amusingly displayed manner on the roof of a Purulia mask making workshop, awaiting further adornment or sale.

Mini dance masks for sale as souvenirs, an imposing bust of Bengal’s famous poet Rabindranath Tagore, and a playfully fierce lion head, all await sale in Purulia in a mask making workshop-cum-shop.

Famous mask characters like the Goddess Durga and others, form part of the interior decor of Kolkata airport in Bengal’s capital.

A used mask of Ravana awaits renovation and re-use at a mask making workshop in Purulia.

This content is originally posted at Google Arts and Culture.


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