India has a rich tradition of making masks. Every region of the country has its own festivals, folk theatre and dance performances involving masks, whether it’s Kathakali masks, Yakshagana masks, Chhau masks or masks from Majuli in Assam.
For years, the spectacularly large masks involved in the Purulia Chhau dance have intrigued many. Mumbaikars who’ve been piqued by the art form will now get a chance to learn the basics of how to make these masks from Bhim Sutradhar, an artist from Purulia in West Bengal, hosted here by Heart for Art Public, a charitable trust.
Thirty-eight-year-old Sutradhar started making masks when he was 10. As his interest in the craft grew stronger, he started balancing his studies and mask-making from an early age. "I acquired the skill from my father, who was a well-known artist during his time. Making Chhau masks is our family profession. It has been passed on from my great-grandfathers to me, and now, my son has started making masks too," he says over the phone from Purulia.
An artisan works on a Chhau mask
Sutradhar has travelled to places like Chennai, Delhi, and Goa as well as across West Bengal to participate in fairs and festivals and conduct state-level workshops. In Mumbai, he will conduct a three-hour-long session. "It is not possible to teach a lot in such a short duration. I will share basics like the materials required, kinds of masks and the process." The basic materials required, he adds, are a mixture of mud and sand, powder and paper. The masks are of different characters from Mahabharata and Ramayana and other deities. "There are masks of Durga, Laxmi, Kartik, Ram and even Abhimanyu from Mahabharata. Masks of Santhal leaders like Birsa Munda and Sidhu Kanu are also very popular," he says.
Chhau masks depict characters from Mahabharata, Ramayana and other mythologies. Masks of Santhal leaders like Birsa Munda, Sidhu and Kanhu are also popular. Illustrations/Uday Mohite
Padmaja Jalihal, the founder of Heart for Art, the organisers of the workshop, shares, "We help artisans like Bhim Sutradhar to get exposure and spread their knowledge and artistic skills.
Bhim Sutradhar has been making masks since he was 10 years old
We facilitate the promotion and public awareness of India’s traditional crafts and heritage," she says.
On: July 10 AT The Integral Space, Lower Parel (11 am to 2 pm) and Art Lovers Gallery, Mount Mary Road, Bandra (4 pm to 7 pm).
Log on to: www.heartforartonline.com/products/chau-mask-making-workshop
The Chhau dance is a genre of martial dance performed by tribals of West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand. Purulia Chhau uses masks and involves vigorous physical movements as a form for expression.
The masks are made in Charida village in the Bagmundi area of West Bengal by sutradhars (artisans), who have been engaged in such work for generations.