West Bengal is a destination less explored. Apart from the local bloggers and photographers, there is not much information available online. So when I got a chance to visit Purulia for Chau Festival, I decided to explore a little bit of this region to see what secrets it is hiding.
Purulia is a town lying on the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand. Primarily populated by Santhal Tribe, Purulia is nestled in the heart of Chottanagpur Plateau and is rich with flora and fauna.
Purulia is also the home to the famous folk dance Chau. It is a dance where the performers wear colourful costumes and dance on the songs that tell stories from the mythical legends. The dance is enegetic and involves quick movements with war like stances and martial arts.
But the most important highlight are its masks that complete the attire of a Chau Dancer.
These masks are made in a nearby town of Charida. Close to Purulia, Charida is one of the heritage destinations of West Bengal where a number of mask makers can be found colouring and painting beautiful Chhau Masks.
Apart from Chhau Masks, mask makers in Charida also create masks for Bharatnatyam and various other folk arts from India. One can buy masks in all sizes that range from small souvenirs to big showpieces.
Chhau masks are made by artists from the Sutradhar community. A detailed process is involved in making of the mask. There are multiple stages where 8–10 layers of soft paper are pasted one after another on the mould before the mud mould is dusted with fine ash powder. Clay is used to create the facial features. This clay is collected from the banks of a small river flowing through Charida. After the mask is complete, the holes for nose and eyes are drilled and the finished product is kept in sun to dry.
Most of these mask makers have been involved in this craft since 4 or 5 generations now. While it is a fulfilling business, it doesn’t give them many opportunities. Although through efforts of West Bengal Government has made it possible for them to showcase their talents on different platforms. Chhau is now getting an international recognition and hence the mask makers are also slowly getting better payments and subsidies.