INTERPRETATION OF MASK MAKING AND MASK DANCES IN THE CONTEXT OF HINDU MYTHOLOGY : AN ETHNO-CULTURAL STUDY
Dr. Sharmila Chandra
Fellow, IIAS, Shimla.
Mask making and mask dancing constitute one of the age-old intangible cultural heritages of India. From time immemorial, masks have been associated with Hindu and Buddhist rituals in this country. The origin of the term, ‘mask’ is debatable. Some scholars are of the opinion that the etymology of the term, ‘mask’ can be traced back to the Italian word, ’maschera,’ the French word, ‘masque’ (meaning covering to hide or guard the face) and the German word, ‘maske.’ These terms are again derived from the Latin words, ‘masca,’ meaning ghost, ‘mascla,’ ‘mascus’ and the Arabic word, ‘mashkarah’ meaning buffoonery or ‘to ridicule.’ In Bengali, ‘mask’ can be translated as ‘mukhosh,’ derived from the word, ‘mukho-kosh,’ meaning covering of the face. The main purpose of a mask is concealment of one’s physical identity.
Mask culture is in vogue all over India. However, it is a fragile intangible heritage as it is sustained only through lived circumstances and stored in human minds and is rarely documented. Moreover, mask making is a folk art that is practised only in remote villages mostly by tribals. In spite of its existence away from the influence of urban culture, it cannot be denied that masks have a traditional value and mask culture often helps to identify a particular community. Besides, masked performances in India are very much based on mythological tales, therefore, mask culture can play a crucial role in the preservation and propagation of Hindu mythology.
To conduct this study on mask culture, two villages of North Bengal – Dasia in North Dinajpur district and Mahishbathan in South Dinajpur district have been selected by the researcher. The objectives of research here are multifarious. The primary objective is to assess the relevance of mask culture in the field of Hindu rituals, customs and festivals. Another objective is to conduct a detailed study about the art of mask making and mask dancing in India with particular reference to North and South Dinajpur districts of West Bengal through an exploration of archives and museums. The third objective is to assess the changes mask culture has undergone in the study areas over the past 50 years or so. In the process, an attempt will be made
to work out the capability of the mask artisans to carve out a space in the cottage industries sector and to secure some amount of social and financial independence. Finally, proposals and suggestions will be put forward to improve the socio-economic conditions of the mask artisans and the mask dancers so that they can establish themselves in a respectable position in the society and mask culture can be revived in the context of traditional Hinduism.
The entire study will be based on secondary data obtained from books and periodicals, including news dailies, pilot survey reports from government and quasi-government sources, dissertations, Ph.D. theses, reports from NGOs and social organisations, data obtained from District Census Handbooks and District Gazetteers. Limited field-work will be done during the vacation period.
The proposed research-work will initially be divided into four broad chapters. However, in course of progress of work and depending upon the availability of information, these chapters may be proliferated into sub-chapters or corollary chapters. The following is the tentative, broad chapter-scheme of the proposed work.
Chapter I- Introduction - Preamble, Statement of the Problem, Criteria for selection of Study Area, Objectives, Database and Methodology, Hypothesis and expected outcome, Review of literature and gaps therein, Proposed Chapter Scheme.
Chapter II- The Study Area – Geographical Attributes, Historical background of the study area with special reference to the evolution of mask culture, Economy with particular reference to mask making and mask dancing, Demographic attributes with particular reference to the mask artisans and mask dancers, Market, Transport and Communication Infrastructure of Dasia and Mahishbathan.
Chapter III- Major Findings : The Artistry of mask making and the Practice of mask dancing : Mask culture as related to Hindu mythology.
Chapter IV- Conclusion – Synthesis of the entire study will be done in this chapter highlighting the suggestive measures to be adopted at various levels of socio-economic-institutional-technological strata to make mask culture sustainable in the study areas.
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