Many places in the world are celebrating the Holiday season and waiting for a year full of hope and bright. I felt why not reminiscing the inherent culture and tradition of the place I belong to. Artists and painters of my country, India, are immensely gifted with curating exquisite crafts and artefacts. These exclusive creations uphold the historical heritage and tribal culture of ancient India. In this article, I have picked up the Chhau mask makers of Charida village as my subject of interest. After visiting them in a local fair near my residence, I could not resist exploring their lives and their remarkable talent and craftsmanship.
Chhau Dance and Its Significance
Chhau Dance is a type of traditional dance in India, a combo of the tribal and martial art form. Various myths and tales of the Hindu mythology involving gods, goddesses, kings and warriors are enacted by the dancers. All the acts are performed by the menfolk dressed as both male and female genders. It involves fast movements with agility and acrobatic display of moves. The dances are accompanied by loud music and song performed by a group of folk singers and musicians. Each of them puts on the mask representing the characters. Chhau is traditionally performed after the sun sets during the evenings or at night.
Interesting Facts about Charida Village
Charida village is a pristine hamlet nestled within the magnificent Ayodhya Hills in the district of Purulia in the eastern part of India. About 115 families comprising of 308 craftsmen are involved in Chhau mask making, a tradition passed on from generations. The men are involved in creating the masks whereas the women folk mostly engage in adorning the masks, resembling the Hindu gods, goddesses and the characters of the Chhau dance even animals and birds too. The artists belong to the Hindu religion and mostly depend on Chhau mask making as their primary livelihood.
History of Mask Making at Charida Village
Traditionally and historically, mask making at Charida village started about 150 years ago, quite long back. King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Baghmundi was instrumental in initiating the practice of art form and hence the mask making culture and craft. Charida Village is located at a distance of about 5 km from Baghmundi. The Government of West Bengal (Purulia is part of the state of West Bengal in Eastern India) have created a Rural Craft Hub in partnership with UNESCO, to promote the art of mask making at Charida Village to uphold the tradition of the place.
The popularity of the talent and the skill of the craftsmen of Charida village have travelled beyond the international borders of India to Japan and France as well. The unique characteristic about these artisans is they are conversant of almost all the famous Hindu mythological tales and stories. Recently the village has attained the GI (Geographical Indicator Tag).
The Process of Chhau Mask Making
Chhau mask masking in Charida village comprises of 3 to 4 steps. The key ingredient is the clay that is collected from the banks of a small river flowing through the village.
First Step is to collect the clay and shape them into the desired shape of the masks. Heaps of newspapers are stuck to the masks consisting of multiple layers and allowed to dry under the bright sun throughout the day. Rains should be completely avoided as it may delay the entire process of drying.
Second Step is to apply a fine coat of Bele Mati (a type of soil rich in high sand) over the complete dried mask. A cloth submerged with clay is placed over the mask.
Third Step is to use a carving tool made of wood to polish the mask and curate the facial features of the character.
Fourth Step is to leave the mask to dry up again under the sun. The cloth is slowly removed from the mask ensuring the facial features are not disturbed. The mask is then plastered with Khori Mati (a type of soil rich in high calcium).
Fifth Step is to apply colours on the masks, adorned with flowers, leaves, beads, ribbons etc. The artisans mix adhesive with the colours before applying them on the masks. Most of the colours along with Khori Mati are purchased from the markets of Kolkata.
Types of Chhau Masks
Characters from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and other Hindu mythological tales are the main subjects for the traditional Chhau masks. Masks of Goddess Durga, Lord Rama, Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Demon King Ravana are most prominent among the tourists who buy them. Some of the masks also symbolize the heads of many animals and birds like tiger, lion, monkey, peacock etc.
The most popular and preferred mask among the mask lovers is that of a tribal married couple with the traditional makeup and hair-do. They are known as Santhal or Adivasi masks. The locals state that the masks were inspired by the incarnations of Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva, known as Kirat and Kiratin.
The masks are available in different shapes and sizes with magnificent decorations. The majority of them are created for the Chhau dance performers and rest are purchased by the tourists as souvenirs. You can get masks as small as that of your palm and some as large as that of a size of a torso.
The Chhau dance festivals and carnivals are mostly held during the months of March and April. Hence the revenue earned by the mask makers of Charida village rises significantly. During the winters, tourists arrive in large numbers at the village, that boosts up the sale. Summers are a bit tough for the villagers as seldom tourists visit them due to the high temperatures. Hence many have started an alternate way of earning money like creating idols for different festivals or crafts shops.
Best Time to visit Charida Village
The village festival is held every year during December where the craftsmen sell different types of masks. Hence it’s the perfect time to visit the village. Besides, you can soak into the beauty of the Ayodhya Hills. You can witness the process of mask preparation and spend time with the villagers. if you stay for a day, they may even curate a mask as per your design, choice and preference.
How to reach the Village?
Buses, cars and trains are available at regular intervals to reach the village. The nearest railway station is at Balarampur. From Kolkata, you can hire a cab or drive your own car to reach Charida, time taken is almost 6 hours.
A travel enthusiast craving to explore the exotic destinations in the world, deciphering the mysteries and the thrill concealed in them.