The Incredible Chhau Masks Of Purulia In West Bengal

The Incredible Chhau Masks Of Purulia In West Bengal
Chhau dancers in Purulia Bappa Pabitra / Shutterstock,
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A semi-classical dance from eastern India, chhau has dancers enacting episodes from the epics. The elaborate masks worn by the dancers are an art form unto themselves

OT Staff
November 24 , 2022
01 Min Read

Purulia district in West Bengal is one of the traditional homes of the masked Chhau dance. The village of Charida in Purulia - considered to be the hub of the dance - has been labelled as Mukhosh Gram (‘Village of Masks’). In 2010, Chhau was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and has also obtained the Geographical Identification (GI) tag. 

In Charida, generations of families have been involved in making dramatic chhau masks. Here you will find masks displayed outside doorways, and home workshops. Around a few hundred families are involved in making chhau masks. The town has a statue of Buddeshwar, who is considered to be the first mask maker in Charida.

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Situated in Purulia district's Baghmundi block, Charida mask making has been nurtured by the Department of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises & Textiles of the West Bengal government, working with UNESCO. Nearly every home along the main road serves as a mask workshop. The village also has a Chhau museum which details the particulars of the art form.

An artisan draws the third eye of Goddess Kali on a Chhau mask. Making a mask is an elaborate process. Layers of pulped paper are immersed in glue, and pasted on moulds. Then clay and cloth are applied to it and the mask is left to dry in the sun. Features on the face are sculpted by hand using clay. Then the colours are applied, and masks are accessorised with ribbons, beads, etc. 

 The masks showcase a variety of expressions in bright colours which were once derived from natural materials. These have been replaced by synthetic paints now. You will also find many people are creating smaller and less elaborate masks which are more suited for decor in apartments.


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