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Date(s) - 05/03/2020
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


 A Generalised View of the Crafting and Morphology of Masks and Masked Performances in India (excluding the Bengal Region) – An Insight into Folk Culture.

Dr. Sharmila Chandra
Fellow, IIAS.

Chairperson – Professor D.R. Purohit.

Mask culture is a universal phenomenon. Masks are known all over the world for their multifarious functions as well as for their ethnic value. Rock paintings dating from the Palaeolithic Age, found in the Lascaux Caves of France, the Altamira Caves of Spain and in the central provinces of India speak of the antiquity of masks.
In India masks have been in use for two, distinct purposes – for ritualistic functions and as a source of entertainment. The latter are classed as theatrical masks. In most cases however, the two purposes overlap.
Masks used in South India are quite distinct from those indigenous to the Northern provinces. The former are used more for theatrical purposes and occur frequently in the form of heavy, stylised make-up, known as pliant masks. The masks used in North India are more in the form of three-dimensional facial portraits donned externally and they are more used for ritualistic purposes.
Of all the masked performances of North India, the most popular is Ramlila, which is well known over the whole of Northern India, especially in Varanasi in the province of U.P. Ramlila masks are made usually of metal or papier mache and are decorated with zari, tinsel, beads and other material. Another performance totally based on the Ramayana is Ramman, known in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. Masks, particularly that of Lakhia Bhoot, are also used in Hill Jatra, celebrated in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. Of all the types, the Bhaona mask used in Ankiya Nat is an unconventional one. It is painted and shaped by the Khanikar caste and is widely used in the satras of Assam – in Majuli and the Sibsagar District.
Masks found in Odisha include the Narasimha mask used in Prahlada Natak in the Ganjam District, the Sahi Yatra and Bali Yatra masks found in the Puri District and Cuttack District, masks crafted by the Gadaba tribe who inhabit the Koraput and adjoining tribal areas and so on. The lion-god or Narasimha mask is also used for Kuchipudi – a performing art of Andhra Pradesh. Likewise, the Narasimha mask is also the most important mask used in Bhagavat Mela of Tamilnadu. The Gonds of Central India use tribal masks. Cheriyal masks, indigenous to Telengana, are a manifestation of Nakkashi art. One of the plays that does not involve masks at all, but makes use of heavy stylised make-up is Koodiyattam. It is a highly ritualistic performance and was at one time, restricted only to the temple premises of Kerala so that none other than the Chakyars and Nangiyars could participate in it. Kathakali also uses pliant masks, but some of its plays such as Dakshayagam and Baliavadham involves external masks also. Teyyam is another ritualistic performance of Kerala in which the actors are decked up as various deities, war heroes and different kinds of spirits. The use of external masks is rare in Teyyam. Bhuta worship, practised in Karnataka, involves the use of wooden masks and metal masks crafted by the asaris and moosaris. In Teyyam and Bhuta, the participants come from the lower strata of the society. Krishnattam, performed in the Guruvayur Temple of Kozhikode, uses a variety of masks as well as facial make-up. The mask used in Padayani is known as kolam. Yakshagana is a type of play enacted in Uttar Kannada and Dakshin Kannada districts of Karnataka and Kasargod District of Kerala that is characterised by fascinating facial make-up and costumes.
This dissertation is an ethno-cultural study which will look into the relationship between mask culture and folk and Hindu mythology. Although all the well-known masks of India are dealt with in this work, the project focuses on the masks of the Bengal Region, with particular emphasis on the Gamira masks of Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur. However, a generalisation of the masks and masked performances of India has been attempted in this lecture and the Bengal Region has been left out, only to be dealt with separately as an area of specialisation in the next lecture of the researcher.