Friday, January 9, 2009

On the way to Gangasagar mela

Kolkata is the entry point for the famous Gangasagar mela. Devotees from every corner of the country come here to get Sagar island. Govt of West Bengal makes a transit camp at Babughat for them. A little wandering with the camera in a mid January afternoon catch some moment of this camp life.

Baba (Sadhu) preparing himself for the mela

Someone is very happy with the arrangements

Somewhere Conflict between Yatris ( Devotees) for space/facilities can be seen

Someone is very relaxed and passing jokes with the fellow Sadhus

Some one is a bit anxious about the remaining part of the Yatra

Some one is playing with his musical instrument

Someone is very lonely and waiting for the boat

Even curious media is present there to cover the whole episode.

Some Naga Sadhu demonstrating his meditation technique

Some high tech Baba is making some important call along with Ganja

East and West makes a very interesting blend

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chau masks of Purulia

A complete Chau mask of Asura ( The Devil)

Chhau dance (or Chau dance) is a form of tribal martial dance attributed to origins in Mayurbhanj princely state of Orissa. It has several forms like Seraikella Chau,Purulia Chau, Mayurbhanj Chau etc. But all these forms are performed with beautiful masks. Chhau in West Bengal, referred to as the Purulia Chhau, has a distinctive character of its own.It has received international acclaim and scaled rare heights of beauty and perfection.Padmashree Sri Gambhir Sing Mura was most renowned exponents of Purulia Chhau.

The Chorida (Charida or Chirda) village near Baghmundi of Purulia district of West Bengal is famous for Chau artists and Chau masks. This village has produced many national and international award winners.In these village these masks are produced by a particular group of people who have been engaged in this business for generations (Sutradhara).In every alternate house, from the youngest to the oldest member of the family could be seen busy in making these extraordinarily beautiful masks.As it is impossible for the artists to show mood variations through facial expressions , the expression in the mask's face is very important to illustrate different moods. So it needs extremely high artistic perfection and knowledge of the epic and mythology for the artist to make the right mask which depicting perfect mood.

Making of the masks:

The making of Chau masks is a multistage process. It goes as follows -

Clay model of the mask is being prepared in the workshop of Phalguli Sutradhar

1. A clay model of a mask is first made and dried in direct sunlight to make it hard. This is the first step known as 'Mati Gora'. It is then covered with powdered ash.

Dried clay model of goddess Durga

2. Then layers of old newspapers moist with gum are pasted on this powdered layer. A thin layer of fine clay will be applied known as "Kabij Lapa". On drying, old torn cloth are pasted on it effectively. The mask is then polished, "Tapi Palish", with a wooden spatula. With a small tool, "batali" the features of the face are defined and cleaned. This is known as "Khushni Khoncha".

"Khushni Khoncha" of the mask with "Thapi" and expert hands

3. A layer of clay water is applied on it. On drying a layer of zinc oxide or "khori mati" is applied on it. According to the characters the mask is painted and decorated. The artisans are well versed in the use of colours.Dark yellow or bright orange are the colours used for Gods and Goddesses like Devi Durga, Lakhmi and Kartik. White is generally used for Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Goddess Saraswati. Goddess Kali is painted black or blue. A talisman or a tilak is applied on the forehead of Lord Rama and Krishna. The Asuras are painted in black or deep green with thick mustaches, protruding teeth and large eyes.

Mask of Lord Kartikay is being painted

4. Silver and golden foil cut in different shapes, string of beads, pith works, and coloured paper flowers, feathers of hens and peacocks are used for decorating the masks. A type of oil is applied on the mask for a fine finish.A fished chau masks weighs up to 3kg and costs upto 2000 INR.

An artist decorating the mask of
Devi Durga


Making only Chou masks doesn't suffice a considerable lifestyle. Increasing costs of the raw materials, poor marketing, interfering middleman are some of the chief factors which cuts off the profit percentage to make the chau mask makers poorer day by day. So they have to make some other decorative mask which can be used as wall hanging. The workshops of all the artists are now full of such decorative masks staked together , ready to be marketed along with original chau masks.

Decorative masks

Asura mask

For more photos on this subject click here