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


  1. very good

  2. Very nice writeup. Its precise but very informative. Keep posting more like this. I have seen Chau Dance but had no idea about the process of making the maskc. Thanks gain for posting.


  3. Very good stuff mate, I liked your blog, keep posting..

  4. I love collectg masks... would be intrstd to know the price of a medium sized one of any GODDESS, and shipmnt chrges .. with proper packing... to MUMBAI.
    mail me at

  5. I love collectg masks... would be intrstd fr a medium sized mask of any goddess... let know the price and specifications of shipping to mumbai..

  6. @Arani,
    the size of the mask is not the only factor which determines the price. The degree of the decoration is very vital in this connection. But u can get a good piece for collection in around 1000 - 1200 INR. I can't help u by providing the info regarding it's shipment to Mumbai. I think the dealers can do this.
    BTW , why don't u try to purchase the mask from the state art emporium in Mumbai? I guess there is such shops maintained by the dept of handicrafts, Govt. of W.B.


  7. nice written keep writing about bankura and purulia its gives us idea about our districts and rural bengal

  8. Arani, for collecting masks, you can contact Mr. Pinak Ganguly on 09732057183. He is involved in development work in that area through his upcoming ng organisation ROSE and can be of help to you regarding your interest in this matter.

  9. Nice and informative picture report.

  10. this was great. do you live in purulia by any chance? are you interested in other folk forms?

    1. Thnks Ratnaboli for liking. No I am from North 24 Parganas.

  11. Dear Sir

    Very good message on Masks of West Bengal state.. Detailed information on Masks and art of Masks making. Sir your blog contains very valuable information.

    Sir this is my Heritage of India blog.

    Sir in my Heritage of India blog i am sharing and exploring Indian Heritage and Culture in various aspects from my own collections and also using other people collections with their permission.

    sir these are my Masks post cards of Indian Museum which are in my collection.

    sir these are my some other messages which i shared in my Heritage of India blog.

    Sir i request you please look into my blog and share your valuable comments.

    Sir did you have any Folk paintings and Tribal paintings of West Bengal state i.e. Greetings Cards, post cards, cloth paintings, puppets, dolls etc. for sharing them in my Heritage of India blog.

    Sir shall i use this message and photos in my Heritage of India blog. Sir please reply.

    Sir i hope you are sending me photos, post cards, greetings cards etc. to me for sharing them in my blog.