(Last Updated on : 03/02/2015)
Paper, mud, and clay are used to make the Chhau masks. The masks are painted in pastel shades and have a frank, simple, and bold look. The effectiveness, originality, and beauty of the Chhau dance
are dependant on the Chhau masks. Each mask represents a character from the epics, the Puranas
and from mythology. The eye- brows, mouth and eyes are painted to give those special effects and give completeness to the looks of the Chhau dancers.
The Chorida village near Baghmundi of Purulia district
of West Bengal
is famous for Chau artists and Chau masks. In this 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 masks face is very important to illustrate different moods.
Making of the masks
: Simple ingredients and tools are used for making the masks. Earth is collected from the bed of a nearby hill stream, torn pieces of paper, rags, glue made of flour, small chisel made of wood, wooden hammer, scissors, dye of different shades. The making of Chau masks is a multistage process. It goes as follows -
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.
2. Then layers of old newspapers moist with gum are pasted on this powdered layer referred as "Kagoj Chitano".
3. A thin layer of fine clay will be applied known as "Kabij Lapa".
4. On drying, old torn cloth are pasted on it effectively with sticky clay is known as "Chita Mati". It is also known as Kapad setano (pasting of cloth).
5. The mask is then polished, "Tapi Palish", with a wooden spatula.
6. With a small tool, "batali" the features of the face are defined and cleaned. This is known as "Khushni Khoncha".
7. A layer of clay water is applied on it. On drying a layer of zinc oxide or "Khori Mati" is applied on it.
8. 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
. White is generally used for Lord Shiva
and Goddess Saraswati
. Goddess Kali
is painted black or blue. A talisman or a tilak is applied on the forehead of Lord Rama
. The Asuras
are painted in black or deep green with thick moustaches, protruding teeth and large eyes.
9. 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.
10. A type of oil is applied on the mask for a fine finish.
A finished Chhau masks weighs up to 3kg and costs about 2000 INR. Costs depends on how long it has been in the sun shine as it takes about 3 consecutive sunny days to finish one. Three ordinary masks can be made by each artisan in the course of five days. The masks are always baked in sun-shine and never in fire.
Increasing costs of the raw materials, poor marketing and interfering middleman are some of the chief factors which cuts off the profit percentage to make the Chhau 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 Chhau masks.
These colorful, decorative, and innovative masks can be used to decorate homes. Some people decorate the entrance to their house using these Chhau masks. Chhau masks are also a perfect gift item. They epitomize roots of Indian culture, represent epic characters, and are in a way revered by the makers of these Chhau masks. The bright colors used, the time spent by the artist to make the Chhau mask, and the diligence that goes in making the masks is admirable.