Behind every mask… | Daily News

Behind every mask…

Masks play an important role in classical, folk and ritual dances of India, South East Asia, and Far East Asian countries. Masks have an impact on the mind of the audience. Indian sub continent's festivals are associated with pomp, glamour, dance, music, and drama.

Classical dance forms like Kathakali, Yakshanagana, and a variety of ritual regional folk dances use masks for selective roles and characters. Among the mask dances in West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa there is a particular variety of dance called Chau dance which is one of the most popular dance forms which exist in three different districts of India. In West Bengal the Chau is called Purila; in Bihar, it is called Seraikella, and in Orissa, it is called Mayurbhanj. In the Mayurbhanj District of Orissa, rulers had an excellent relationship with Serikaella Kings, who sent a Chau master to the village Baripada to influence the Chau dance style of Orissa. Later the Mayurbhanji Chau of Orissa discarded the use of masks for the Chau dance. Martial art traditions are deeply involved with these traditions.

Masks reveal the role of the individual character and sex of each mask dancer. The mask not only represents humans but also animals and birds. Earlier masks were made out of wood only. But with the passage of time masks were made out of many varieties of materials including clay, bamboo and paper which were painted colourfully.

Rhythmic patterns

Literally, Chau means shadow, image or disguise. Generally, Chau dances have certain characteristics, like beautiful rhythmic patterns, vigorous dance movements, whilst maintaining steady and stable leg positions while dancing.

Bihar Seraikella Chau originated in a small village, and surrounding areas, during the festival season of Charitra Parva. The Chau dance is closely associated with the worship of Siva and Sakthi.

The kings were not only the patrons of these art forms but also they were the experts in dance, dance choreography, and mask making. The variety of dance forms resembles the mask dance forms of Japan and Indonesia. Due to the numerous changes in the outlook of the entire social setup, it has lost its ritual importance.

Wearing masks is common in the Seraikala Chau. The theme of the dance is expressed through songs. The meaning of the song is interpreted through body movements and a variety of poses. Movements of the dance start with vibrating movements of the foot, and slowly through the variety of body movements or body gestures the whole theme is expressed.

Developed craftsmanship

The instruments used are, the string instrument Veena, leather instruments like Dhol, Nagada, Dhannsa, and Chadchadi forms of drums are also used. In the Purulia Chau, more prominence is given to the use of masks. One can identify the highly developed craftsmanship in the masks. Almost every house is actively involved with making masks during the season. This dance form is closely associated with Hindu religious philosophy and aerobatic techniques.

Unlike Seraikela Chau, in the Purulia Chau, the drummer sings the introductory song and plays the rhythmic pattern. The main character speaks with other characters. Each mask is made according to the nature of the characteristic role of each character. Like all other classical dance forms, folk mask dances also have Nirtha Nithya, and Natya divisions of dance as well as Thandavas, and Lassiya aspects of dance.

In the classical dance of Kerala, Kathakali evolved out of certain older classical art forms of Kerala, like Kodiattam, Chakaiyar Koothu, Ramarattam, and Krishnaattam of Kerala which uses side masks and makes up together is regarded as the most popular make-up based mask classical dance form of India of today. Yakshanagana dance form of Karnataka also uses the masks like Kathakali. Masks mean the full face covered masks as well as side face masks. In Sri Lanka, in the Southern regions masks are used for certain ritual dances to cure 18 varieties of diseases. 

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