The Mask-Makers (Wood-Carvers)
The masks made of clay, paper and cloth are found only in the Purulia
district of West Bengal. The mask-makers who are Sutradhars or wood-carvers
by caste, are located in two or three centres in Purulia and practically
originated from one centre. They were also known as Dutta and Seal. This
art depend fully on the local Chhau dance of Purulia found only in west
Bengal. Chhau dance is a mask-dance. There is no chhau without mask. The
dance and the mask are inseparable. Chhau-dance of Purulia has some characteristics
of primitive ritualistic dance in its vigour, style and musical accompaniment.
And the Chhau-masks also, even in their representation of Hindu Puranic
characters reveal some characteristics of primitive ritualistic masks
in their stylization and symbolization.
Chorda is the principal centres of Chhau-mask makers.
Chorda is a village in Baghmuni P.S, not very far from the Dak Bunglow
and the Ajodhya Hills. The Sutradhars occupy a distinct rank in the caste-hierarchy
of the Hindus. Making clay-images of idols is an important occupation
of Chorda Sutradhars, along with mask-making. The masks were first made
of Simul wood and considering the poverty of local dancers, the cheap
materials were introduced later.
The technical stages of production are:
1. Preparation of clay-models.
2. Drying the models partly in sun.
3. Pasting of wet paper twice on these partly
4. Pasting of paper with glue, six to ten times.
The glue is made of gum.
5. Pasting of clay-soaked pieces of cloth twice
for parts of the face like eyes, ears, nose etc.
6. Trimming up the whole thing with a small wooden,
7. Full sun-drying.
8. Detaching the mask from the clay-model,
dyeing, painting and finishing.
Various types of Puranic characters, gods and goddesses,
birds, animals and demons etc. are made, such as-
Ram, Ravan, Jambubab, Jatayu, Mahisasur, Kirat, Bhim,
Arjun, Ganesh, Lakshman, Sita, Abhimanyu, Surpanaka, Kumbhkarna, Siva,
Durga, Kali, Saraswati, Krishna, Radha, Balaram and Peacock, Dog, Beer,
Deer, Horse, tiger, Lion etc.
There is a mask-making season. It starts from Falgun
(January-February) after Saraswati Puja, aiming at Chaitra-Baisakh Gajan
festival, which is the peak season of Chhau-dance in Purulia.
There were mask-dancers and mask makers in Domordi
village. They are Bhatta Brahmins. These dancers has a liking for refined
Puranic and Vaishnava themes. The Sutradhars used to carve doors, house-posts
or temple-terracotta's. The entire temple-architecture of Bengal is a
terracotta art-work done by the Sutradhars or wood-carvers. These declined
by the last quarter of the 19th century. After that wood-carvers of Bengal
mainly thrived on making Ratha, carving images of Vaishnava deities and
saints and wooden figures of Puranic characters for exhibiting at Vaishnava
and other festivals. In Calcutta, the Sutradhars of Bengal are now either
making clay-images of deities and furniture or turning to other trades.
The stone-carvers were known as Bhaskars. Burdwan is
the most important centre of Bengal school of stone sculpture. Patun and
Dainhat near Katwa are the two most important centres of Burdwan school
of Bengal Sculptors.