M3 Features

Museum of masks in Kolkata – An effort to save a dying art

November 3, 2013

Masks are an important form of art around the world representing the cultural aspects of a particular niche.  When exactly the masks came into existence cannot be ascertained. Even some pre-historic cave-arts bear drawings of masks - which include the cave engravings of Caverne du Volp in France, Altamira Cave of Spain, Kundusi of Tanzania. Masks are used for varied purposes which can be religious, ritualistic, or social, used in role playing for theatrical or holiday festivities. Many myths and tales revolve around the masks providing insight to their emergence and some may give an eerie feeling too.

Diversity of art forms

India’s cultural diversities helped in the creation of a diverse range of masks, representing different art forms, like Asura of Himachal Pradesh, Narasingha of Orissa and Bengal’s indigenous Chhau. These masks along with masks from around the world will be displayed in a museum in Kolkata sprawling over one acre area. The New Year will mark the opening of this museum.

Kolkata’s 'mask' initiative

HIDCO has taken up the responsibility to set up this project near the children's park located beside the third gate of Eco Park in New Town. According to the chairman of the organization Debashish Sen, among the three sections decided, one will display masks from Bengal, the second one from other states of India and the third will have masks of other countries. People will be able to study the masks in detail and acquire knowledge about them at the museum.

Chief Engineer of the organization Shyamapada Chattopadhyay is in charge of the project. According to him, the first mask to get displayed will be the one that was discovered in East Asia. 14 masks from Bengal and 12 masks from Kerala, Orissa, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh will be on display.  35 masks will be there from other parts of the world like Africa, Unites States of America, Bolivia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Bhutan.

Bengal’s history of masks

In Bengal masks form an integral part of many traditional dance forms as well as in dramas or plays. Chhau masks are popular in Purulia district where dancers wear these masks representing the male and female gods and characters from mythology. The masks are carved out of wood. The artisans live in Charida and Bagmundi areas of Purulia district.

In Malda, Gambhira masks are used by folk-dancers. Gambhira is a mask dance which originated at least about 1500 years ago. The masks depict animal figures, specially supernatural & mythological in character.

People residing in Darjeeling hills of North Bengal also wear masks while performing devil dances and other religious festivals. Tibetan Chaam is one such dance performed on the eve of Losar, the Tibetan New year wearing colorful costumes.

Parting Thought

Masks are a dying form of art and need to be revived. People need to be aware of the value of this traditional art form. The museum’s repertoire is going to serve this purpose, Team M3.tv hopes.

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Comments (1)
Nidhi Reply
November 03, 2013
I went to Purulia last year. Enjoyed chauu dance by the local people and had brought masks which now decorates our home.
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