Mahishbathan in South Dinajpur's Kushmandi block is famous for bamboo masks based on popular folk and mythological characters like Moshan, Narorakshas, Hanuman, Chamkali, Chamunda etc., with bamboo vases, trays, incense stands, pen stands also being manufactured by the artisans here.
Mask-making began not too long ago, when artisans across the region practiced this art form; from 1990 attempts were made to unify them under the wings of the Mahishbathan Gramin Hostoshilpo Samiti, and scholars from different parts of the world come here to observe the age-old intricate process of bamboo-carving.
Bamboo pieces are kept submerged in large reservoirs containing water mixed with mulberry gum powder, bleaching powder and sal; the pieces are taken out after a week and sun-dried. The price of a mask depends on the type of wood it is carved from - with timber varieties such as Gamari, Sal, Mango, Pakur, and Mahogany mainly being used.
The wooden masks are meant for use in Gambheera dances or Palas (musical folk theaters), as the carvers, or the performers, treat each mask philosophically, by considering it as the Mukha (face), rather than a Mukhosh (mask) – the belief being that it comes alive as soon as one puts his face behind it.
These ornate wooden masks adorn a large number of homes in Bengal and beyond, with a large number of these masks being exported to the USA, and even enjoying pride of place at the annual State Handicrafts Fair.
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