If you love stories then read along. Let us take you to the vivid world of scroll paintings! Here you will find paintings that would have you falling in love with the art that tells you the story as much as the story itself. Welcome to the world of Cheriyal Art!

 

 Cheriyal scroll painting depicting Indian Myth

               Cheriyal scroll painting depicting Indian Myth

 

 Types of Cheriyal art scrolls depicting different types of stories.

   Types of Cheriyal art scrolls depicting different types of stories.

Originated from the village of Cheriyal, 85 km from Warangal district of Telangana, Cheriyal scroll painting is a version of Nakashi art rich in Indian mythology motifs. Painted in a narrative format like that of a comic strip, Cheriyal art depicts stories from the Puranas and Epics. While they bear some resemblance to Madhubani paintings, they are intensely infused with local flavour that creates the uniqueness in Cheriyal art of storytelling.

Each Cheriyal Scroll painting is drawn on a khadi cloth opening with a piece of Lord Ganesha, followed by Goddess Saraswati. It’s way adopted by the artists to pay respect to the deities and seeking their blessings.

The technique of cheriyal scroll painting would tell you about the sophistication level as firstly they begin with applying a paste of tamarind seed along with tree gum and white clay. After applying three coats of this paste and allowing it to dry for a day or two, the scroll is finally ready for the further procedures. Now the artist draws the outline using a squirrel haired brush. Next is the turn for the predetermined colouring system. The red colour fills the background and blue and yellow colours are used for Gods and Goddesses respectively. While brown and darker shades are used for demons and pink skin tones are used for depicting humans.

Earlier natural dyes were used which were obtained from grounded sea shells, turmeric, vegetables etc. While today natural dyes are largely replaced by organic watercolors which are mixed with tree gum before applying on the scrolls. These paints are said to last over 300 years provided they don’t come in contact with water.

 D.Vaikuntham working on Cheriyal Art

        D.Vaikuntham working on Cheriyal Art

Today D.Vaikuntham’s family is only to practice the cheriyal art form, they have continued the Cheriyal tradition since the 15th century. They are the true masters of art form in this era. Apart from making the scroll paintings, the art has got a modified version of making masks in the same colour pattern and same themes of depicting the Indian mythologies as well. Due to the trouble of fitting in the modern world, the artists are forced to modify the art form.

The modified version of Cheriyal art as a mask

    The modified version of Cheriyal art as a                                                mask

Adapting the modern global changes is a major challenge for ancient art forms. It makes it difficult for them to breathe in with so many alternatives and replacements around but Cheriyal Art continues to survive. Ergo, an ancient tradition has been preserved with passion and zeal overflowing to keep it alive today and for coming generation!


“In art, man reveals himself and not his objects”, Rabindranath Tagore on art and artisans.

Art is the language of culture and the artist is the poet. The true intricacies and beauty of art can be seen in the hands of the artisans, who put their soul into making a single piece of work. All art forms around the world have their own story to tell. But unfortunately for some of them, the audience is unable to lend a listening ear. As a result, many of our traditional art forms are now on the verge of fading away. We, at Nazariya, are working to promote these dying art forms and to restore the artisans their pride and dignity, which they once enjoyed.

 

Wood carving artisan

Mr Laxman Bhatt- wood carving artist

” I am an artist and I am proud of it. I started at an early age, with the talent
inherited from my ancestors. With my slow and steady efforts, I honed my skills in
carving. The piece of wood and my passion to keep giving shape to my imagination
motivated me throughout.”

Lifestyles have changed so rapidly that our traditional crafts and art forms have been consigned to the archives, dying slowly with each new generation being brought up unaware about our cultural heritage. Lack of funding to globalisation, a lot can be attributed to the decline of art. As a result of this, the millennials are mostly unaware of the art forms that make up our rich cultural heritage. Even people who wish to know more about them, find it difficult to do so. All that they are left with are trips to museums and libraries, which provide only half the picture.

kinnera artisan

The Kinnera; a string instrument played by the Chenchu tribe and which is on the verge of dying. To read more about this click here.

One of the reasons why traditional art forms are dying is because the children of these artisans no longer want to carry on their ancestral art. The technicalities behind these arts are passed on to the younger generation and the knowledge is mostly confined to the same family or clan. Since machine-made art is cheaper and cost-effective, the age-old traditions have faced a backlash. Even though traditional art forms require huge commitment and dedication, these artisans seldom get enough recognition and financial support. This leads the youth to abandon traditional arts making it a major factor in their decline. Nazariya helps them by giving them a bigger platform and an engaging audience to work with. As soon as the market for traditional art forms improves, then money would automatically flow.

So, there is need to bridge the gap between the urban and the rural. While traditional art forms flourish in villages, they do not have an urban outreach. Consequently, Nazariya provides these artists with a platform to showcase their work and helps in building connections with the urban market. By being a part of Sargaalaya International Arts and Craft Festival- 2016, we have, thus, taken our mission to a new level. We are not simply a storefront for selling paintings and art & crafts, our aim is to build deeper interactions between the customer and the artisans. In addition, we also organise regular workshops, where visitors can have face-to-face interaction with the craftsman. After all, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “true art must be evidence of happiness, contentment and purity of its authors.” And to revive the art, we need to provide opportunities for the artist.

Given below is a list of some artisans and the art they specialise in.

ARTISANS

  • Mr Laxman Bhatt; Wood Carving
  • Mr Shankar Lal Bhopa; Phad and Miniature Painting
  • Mr Harekrishna Parida; Coir Toy Making
  • Ram Pal Singh; Braj ki Sanjhi
  • Mr. Chandan; Dhokra Metalsmith
  • Mr. Dilip Shyam; Gond Art
  • Mr. Abdul Rehman; Arabic Calligrapher
  • Kayakalp; Puppetry
  • Kreeda Games; Traditional Indian Games
  • Mr. Menon; Jambili Athon

In order to read more about various artisans and their work, click here.

 


Content Research by Shivanki

The historical blend of both modern and ancient is creative best is best identified with Togalu Gombeyaata,  a puppet show unique to the state of Karnataka, India. ‘ Togalu Gombeyaata’ translates to ‘a play of leather dolls’ in the ancient language of Kannada.

This leather art form has an interesting blend of shadows and music which makes it livable in theatres.  The puppets used in Togalu Gombeyaata are goat hide and deer skin.

It has unique characteristic of transparency that absorbs colours , such as vegetable dyes of red, blue, green and black adding life to this art of storytelling. For puppets representing human and animal figures, the head and limbs are joined in such a way that they can be moved easily.The maximum size of the puppet is 4 x 3 feet and the minimum is 6 x 3 inches.

The puppeteers of the small leather puppet theatre performers use Kannada language and in a box stage manipulator sits behind the screen, raise the puppets held in their hands. During the performance men, women, children, the whole community of the artiste, take part. The puppet shows in this particular art form traces it’s origin to Rashtrakutas, Pallavas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Kothapur kingdoms in south.

In Karnataka there are two major varieties in the leather puppet shows, depending on the size of the puppets.

Chikka Togalu Gombeyaata

The small puppets players have their own mobile stage measures 9 feet and 5 feet.

Leather puppets demonstrating the war between the PandavaArjuna and his son Babruvahana                              

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leather_puppets_of_Karnataka.jpg

Dodda Togalu Gombeyaata

The average dimensions of the leather puppet stage 12 feet in length, 6 feet in width.

An Elephant Puppet

Image Source: http://seltmann.manasvi.eu/images/25300_201007140356b.jpg

A Boar Puppet

Image Source: http://seltmann.manasvi.eu/images/25300_201007140379.jpg

Each variety shows several regional variations in the style of music, craftsmanship, stage technique and manipulation.

The visible portion in front where a white screen tied up. Behind the screen the manipulator sits and manipulates the epic characters from behind the screen. Behind the curtain the hands of the manipulators remain unseen. On front of the stage the puppeteers’ family or associate sits and give chorus and exchange dialogue with drum beater. In the projected light sources the leather puppets shadow appears with beautiful colour.

 

Related image

A still from Ramayana in Togalu Gombeyaata

Image Source: http://indulge.newindianexpress.com/shadow-play-3/section/51889

Even as television, radio and movies remain our first choice to entertainment , this sheer execution of creativity and hard work by puppeteers fulfils one’s connect roots in easiest way possible.

Here is a sample video of spectacular art form :

YouTube Videos:

Togalu Gombeyaata Part 1

Togalu Gombeyaata Part 2

Now that this ancient art form is no longer restricted to Dravidian states alone, do find time to catch hold of amazing performances in nearest festival near you. Follow Nazariya to know about the upcoming performances.


Before we understand the concept of Conservation of Indian Culture, it is important to conceive and contextualize the Indian Culture as a whole.  Indian culture is a way of life that encompasses all traditional religions, indigenous, and mainstreamed belief system and varying wisdom tradition as well.  Culture is so dynamic that it envelopes all the connotations of civilization and its time-line manifestations with scores of contours that celebrate life. That’s why Indian philosophy propounds “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” – the whole world is one family.

In this given background let us analyze all the elements in any given culture carry in its journey over several millennia.  Basically any culture has broadly eight major elements which we are going to touch upon now.  First, every culture has its root in its myth, cosmic concept, and  life context either carried through orality or scripted in textual tradition.   Secondly, there are sound, sacred words or silence created by utterance or through traditional instruments. Thirdly, every cultural phonetic has signs, symbols and symptoms soaked with creative manifestation.  Fourthly, there are rituals or themes to express the nuances of culture in particular to the occasions or broadly depicting symbolism of its entity.  Fifth element of culture is celebrating a time, creative showcasing and platform of  performance.  Sixth element is the aroma or fragrance of culture, which rents the ambiance as its own unique cultural expression.  Seventh element is lighting and enlightenment of its journey from darkness to light with the neo-wisdom.  The eighth element of culture is transmission of knowledge system, practices and belief system to the generation next.

It is perhaps pertinent to understand various nuances of Indian Culture and also its custodians and conservators while going through its various layers.

The oldest creative expressions are encoded on the walls of pre-historic rock shelter and foremost being Bhimbetka – the world heritage site which is well preserved by Government of India.  These shelters are around 40,000 years old where pre-historic men had frozen their time and life style on those walls.  They were hunter gatherers.  Motifs were human forms –  stick men, sometime dancing, hunting or even in group playing musical instruments.  We also find drawings of other era also superimposed upon earlier work showing their progress in time line.  But India has hundred of rock shelter sites right from Kumaon to Kerala from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat.  Much is to be mapped and declared protected sites otherwise we are losing out great cultural expressions as people today are making their rock pebbles for road construction.  There remnants of culture need to be preserved and studied with dating otherwise India would lose its first heritage record of culture forever.

In the rock art, creative expressions had shown us headgear and mask as an integral part of the then culture.    These elements one finds in traditional and aboriginal societies.  Mask dance got a sacred fabric to link this world and other world.  Mask of varied hues depicted their own myth and belief system.  The mask heritage remains in currency even today in the monastic tradition and in theatrical expressions.  I saw a mask of Central India, on its forehead a deer is drawn upon indicating the mind of the mask.  There were 14 healer masks in Sri Lankan culture which I saw.  There are masks prepared with varied material and used for secular to sacred purposes.  Mask and an expression with mask are part of the people’s cultural expressions in all societies and custodians remain the same people.  To conserve the mask heritage of India we need to understand the making of mask and its making rituals similarly their use in enactment be in Puruilia Mask or in Hemis monastery  need to be documented and curated for outreach of its essence by the very people themselves otherwise there marks will be meaningless wall hangings of urbanites who would refer them as “other culture” and keep them more as symbol than its functionality.

Indian cultural emblem lies in its vast orality.  Every clan, community, tribe has its own myth of creation, and all are linked with their very own geo specific sacred practices, celebrations and enactment.  The orality amongst traditional or tribal world is so huge that no scholar can ever be able to complete those documentations.  Yes, India has nine Crore Nomads and six Crore Adivasis who are well entrenched with their tradition and culture are living a marginalized life as they grew up in the deep woods spent their childhood within trees and rivulets.  They are children of forests, yet they have no tangible rights over those as they are thrown off from the forest itself.  Their faces are rustic with wrinkles of pain and pathos.  Yet, their eyes are strikingly sparking and they are outspoken with a touch of innocence.  If you talk to them you will find a votary of energy and unfathomable depth in their faith.  Nothing binds them more than their faith in themselves and the world unknown.

I recall in 2005 I met Rup Chand – a Bhil from Baki village of Maharashtra, who came to Delhi in an IGNCA’s meet on Nomad and Adivasis.  Before setting out for Delhi he visited village Goddess Devi Mongey and Dongria Dev, their family God.  Ceremoniously he offered a coconut as a normal practice, which he does every time he sets out on a journey beyond his village.  Rup Chand also quipped that after the convention he would again return to Devi Mongey before going home.  Such is depth of his faith.

In the same convention, I met an adivasi women from Gujarat who was well equipped with oral tradition of medicinal plant and healing systems but today she cannot  use them as forest are not her own anymore.  She narrated that her son developed acute pain in his stomach but she could not gain access to Angreji medicine nor could she use her own knowledge because she has no rights over the forest any more.  So she waited for the evening then clandestinely entered the jungle and brought some roots of plant to cure her son.

To a Forest Officer some nomad asked, “Sahab you cannot venture into the forest alone as you do not know the paths and you do not know the name of plants and still you say the jungle belongs to you”.  These are no mere words and much meaningful to those who lost their own right from the “space” they grew with.  In the term of cultural conservation these become riders that whose culture we are talking about who are the conservators! This is the time to re-think that all culture of all the people does need their own “right of space” to culture knowledge and celebrate the same unlike the fate of identity-less “Ghumantu Jati”.  Is someone listening?

Orality of these tribes and nomads be written and their healing knowledge and botanical understanding should become library for the Modern University of Education such is the importance of these people who are carrying a culture in their isolation yet quite rooted to their faith.

These reminds me of traditional healers right from Buddhist Monastery to the adivasis, or Vaid in rural area who do have an unique understanding about the plants, roots and shrubs if these are documented and recorded the great oral knowledge of vegetation and healing can become a huge cultural statements and patenting of these can challenge any knowledge system anywhere worldwide.  The custodian of this culture needs to be nurtured to conserve it for posterity.

On the score of nature, the Lai Haroba – celebration of creation in Manipur’s traditional society, tell us how nature and green vegetation are integral part of human kind.  For millennia they dance and celebrate the growth of woods which is their life line beyond the cosmic egg, water on thread ritual of Lai Haroba.

Dance, theatrics is part of great Indian cultural tradition dating to the age of pre-historic rock shelters.  Folklore and dance manifested in sacred space and today these got manifested in public space creating wider participating audience.  However, the classical temple dance forms like Teyyam to Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Gotipua etc. got the public space through Guru Shishya Parampara so was the case of Musical Gharana who got urbanite recognition.  Yet, celebration rhythm of community at the grass root level committed to flourish in its space ventilating their own ethos, culture and rhythm.  And none could derecognize this cultural continuum no matter whatever threat is posed by “Other” culture.

After the pre-historic Rock the next punctuation was Indus Valley civilization where Mother Goddess and fertility worship, elaborate burial ritual, linga, multiple toy images.  Cosmetics even lip colour all if enjoined and understood then one realize that cultural statement was huge that shaped  a cultural identity, left to be manifested thereafter forever as Indian culture.

However, modern knowledge of Indo-Aryan religio culture is based on Vedic literature created between C.2000-600 BC.  Thus we understand that the term “Veda” is broadly used and means no single literature.  There are four primary Vedas viz. Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda.  These Vedas are further discussed in Samhita.

The word Vid (to know) is the Sanskrit root word of Veda which means knowledge.  It is said that the Vedas were not created by men but it is part of the human journey.  It is eternal in concept and functional spirit.

The Rig Veda is said to be the oldest of the sacred traditional Indian scriptures consisting of 1017 or 1028 hyms which have been further divided into 10 chapters.  It gives us an insight into the social economical, political and religious life of the people of that period.

Four Vedas were discussed in Upa-Vedas and Vedangas that has four more streams of discussion that took place in Samhitas, Brahamanas, Aranayakas and Upanishads.  Again from Upa-Veda Darsana of six school emerged those were Nyaya, Vireseka, Sankhya, Yoga Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa Darsana.

Thenafter Sutras came in terms of manual instructions in 7th to 2nd century.  After Sutra two epic came Ramayana and Mahabharata.  That contributed towards creation of Dharmashastras, Bhagavatam and Purana in a descending time line.  This is the short overview of oral tradition that was textualized over the time.

These are several hundred thousand manuscripts available in Mathas, Monasteries, Libraries and in private collections.  These were written in variety of scripts from Adi-Grantha to Newari, from Sharda to Kharoshti.  The huge variety of manuscripts are housed in Calcutta Manuscript Library and Asiatic Society, Guwahati University Library, Kamarupa Anusandhan Samiti and Narayani Handiqui` Historical Institute.  In South India Government Oriental Manuscript Library Chennai, Oriental Research Institute, Mysore and many such Heritage Libraries which holds the manuscript treasure trove.

However, culturally speaking there are only few scholars left who know the ancient script and their number is diminishing fast.  If this goes on we will not be able to read all cultural traits of historical past some 100 years now.  Here custodian of knowledge and Government should immediately step in to propagate   this script learning at school and college level  with special incentives.  These be part of credit programmes of Universities for students of all streams.  If this is not vitalized then generation hereafter will be left unexpressed to the original content any more.  Here comes the role of cultural conservation.

The Vedas are also known as Shruti which means one hears and then memorize and transmits it verbally to the next generation for further retention and dissemination.  Historian V.D.Mahajan, wrote “The Purity of the Vedic Texts was maintained as they were considered sacred…  moreover hyms were memorized without being understood and when the people did not know their meaning, there were lesser chances of their being changed by substitution of new words or versus.

Ministry of Culture has stepped in to preserve this extensive documentation of various Gurukul Jaiminiya Sakha, Ranayina Shakha of Samaveda and Samaka and Paippalada Shakha of Atharvaveda and the same has received by UNESCO as world heritage.  Today, these schools or Gurukul are being nurtured for fresh lease of life.  However, unless sustainability is not worked out for all its practitioners it will not survive the time as quick money, plastic currency, corporate oriented mind sets are taking away those minds who would love to preserve these culture.

Similarly, the Panchang Mathematicians, whom I met in Varanasi, do culture huge orality that predicts the movement of stars, planes and its impact on life in great futuristic perspective.  These are unique of India but surviving in isolation more as a passion than as a profession.

I met an octogenarian farmer in Robert Ganj near Varanasi, who could read the sky and tell what to sow and when to reap looking at stars.  These star gazers in naked eye could predict which modern science cannot.  Similarly from agrarian world if we move to fishing world where elders can read on which kind of tide what are the types of fish would come on the top what will be weather and how storm can be pre-identified.  In peninsular India right from the Orissa to

Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala we find these cultural scientists in the grab of fishermen.  They are custodians of the unique culture.

On the score of fragrance we find Kanauj still follows the ancient culture of aroma making in the context of process and content which also has huge ancient orality of bygone era in terms of proportion, process and final output for varied usages.

In pre-independence era Indian got united through culture cutting across the line of caste, creed and religion.  It was time of functional secularism.  But secularism what we imbibed in free India created more divide than the bridge.  Such is impact of looking at culture within the spectrum of time.

Festivals, festivities and celebration through become cosmetic when we showcase our tradition on republic day or for the occasion of say Commonwealth Games which left world with an awe yet the people whose tradition got showcased took the back seat.  Nevertheless sports remain the vital aspect of culture especially the martial sports.  Gatka of Punjab, Kalaripayattu of Kerala or Thang-ta of Manipur reminds us that the final custodian of culture remain the people themselves and nurturing by Government do help to sustain and showcase but it is  the self pride of culture that make the culture thriving.

This is the time to realize culture we don’t need historian to interpret as a work of art of Jamini Roy or Tagore’s sketches out of old poem manuscripts.  For a commoner heritage, culture are part of the contemporary history rendered, listened, felt touched by every man.  The creators of past and heritage we see are integral part of history in the now.  From archaic building of Mumbai, the streets  of Chandni Chawk, from traditional Worli paintings to Bastar images to Madhubani or for that matter putting tilaks on the forehead be it Urdhapundra, Tripundra or Gopi Chandran, or the Gharana music to the tanpura players on the streets of Jodhpur or Baul Singers in train to Shantiniketan or Char Byate of Tonk by the descendents of Afghan, Rohila warriors sing the martial song with Islamic flair are part of cultural heritage we live by and live in.

Its matter of self pride all the cultures are sustained nurtured and preserved by the custodian themselves with little or no help.  In all the era neo culture evolved and “others” culture to cast influence but could not really dislodge the cultural sentiments that is imbibed in the mind, sound, aroma and myth of the people.  Revitalization of culture is always important by a positive intervention by the Government but commodification of culture by outsiders of the society who claim to be curators do poses a threat.

India has huge literary tradition; some 13  languages are being published.  However, there are several unwritten languages wherein the literary tradition survives in orality.  This resource of wisdom tradition through literary work, poetry etc. need to be preserved and here Governmental intervention in terms of facilitation of publications and transmissions need to be addressed with huge involvement of custodian of this tradition especially people of indigenous groups and tribes.

If people are encouraged to write their own history and nurture their own orality of wisdom tradition and Government can provide a platform for those creative celebrations by mainstreaming culture through the academics of schools and Universities then Culture will sustain and evolve to be current in all the time to come.  But cultural connoisseur should keep in mind culture manifests and evolve in time line and changes will always visit and no culture survives if those are compartmentalized and seen as unchangeable frozen world.  So keep the windows open and enjoy the cultural fabric of India for all the time to come.

E.mail: dr_gautamchatterjee@rediffmail.com

website: www.ibiblio.org/gautam/index.html


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Sayana Dutta

Jute, the 'golden fibre' being cultivated. Photo credit: brieencounter.wordpress

Jute, the ‘golden fibre’, being cultivated. Photo credit: brieencounter.wordpress

In the 1800s, large sheds along both the banks of the of Hooghly River in and around Kolkata and Howrah with rumbling sounds of heavy machines mixing with the soft mellifluous flow of the river producing yarns from raw jute was a common sight.

A steady workforce was employed to work on separating, sorting and preparing jute yarns in various jute factories and mills supporting a bustling population of the city and dealing with extensively cultivated ‘pat’ plant in Bengal, from where raw jute would be extracted.

Bundled jute being left to soak in water.

Bundled jute being left to soak in water. Photo credit: Screengrab

After cotton, jute was the next cheap fabric material readily produced exclusively in the Indian sub-continent and was on the verge of an industrial revolution as the country catered to export demands mainly for the purpose of making sacks and cordage.

But the same mills now stand in deafening silence.

Wrong decisions taken decades ago actually crumbled the foundation of this once-strong and promising industry. The then communist government refused to supply sacks to nations that were engaged in World Wars, citing wars as imperialistic.

Thus, a golden opportunity was lost.

A jute processing plant in Kolkata. Photo credit: jute-india.com

A jute processing plant in Kolkata. Photo credit: jute-india.com

Entrepreneurs state that the situation was made worse by the growing demands and various trade unions with wrong expectations. The murder of the CEO of Northbrook Jute Mill H K Maheshwari in Hooghly in 2014 put thousands of permanent and temporary workers out of a livelihood

The insecurity among the owners and entrepreneurs is apparent. Other than assurance, little has been provided to the enthusiasts by the governments, and attempts to resuscitate this industry have so far remained dormant.

Fortunately now, a handful of non-governmental organisations have taken the onus upon themselves to find new avenues to generate livelihoods for different sections of the society, and to exhibit what all can be done with the fiber.

Attractive jute products on display at an exhibition. Photo credit: bestjuteproducts.wordpress

Attractive jute products on display at an exhibition. Photo credit: bestjuteproducts.wordpress

One such group is Freeset bags that works with impoverished women from the red light areas for a new way to support themselves and their families. They have experimented with carry bags that are chic-looking and stylish, as this fabric can be dyed, bent and styled as per a designer’s wish.

There are some other boutiques that have derived the art of making handloom material for sarees, table cloths, curtains and carpets or upholstery giving them a distinct look. Just the way plastic had replaced jute, now with more awareness regarding the preservation of environment, a slow reverse phenomena is being observed since jute is a highly bio-degradable and eco-friendly material.

With the smaller groups showing interest, the government is gradually in the process of realizing the importance of reviving this industry.

A government advertisement promoting jute as the 'gift of the earth'. Photo credit: jute.com

A government advertisement promoting jute as the ‘gift of the earth’. Photo credit: jute.com

The National Jute Policy was launched in 2005 after the Government of India realized the importance of the fiber. Bengal is the primary producer of the fabric;  whereas states such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have mill facilities for the production across the country.

With the revival of industry, not only shall we pave ways to provide employment to our youth at different levels but also make ways for a cleaner and greener way of living allowing the nurturing of art in the form of handicrafts as well as utilitarian items.


India is a nation which holds a cultural hub which is beyond comparison and it stands with its remarkable harmony and colours of different cultures and traditions. However, the history of India is one another topic which draws out attention and when it comes to preserving the history and exhibiting it, we Indians take pride in it like no other. There are numerous cultural museums in our country which attracts people from all over the world. Out of so many we present before you a few unique and exquisite cultural museums of India.

Bay Island Driftwood Museum – Kottayam

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A museum exhibiting an exclusive collection of superior quality driftwood articles of immensely high artistic value, prepared through a rare and innovative modern art form, is operating at the picturesque village of Kumarakon in Kottayam. Being the only driftwood museum in India, The Bay Island Driftwood Museum has been certified by The India Book of Records in 2013. Story goes that long ago a school teacher Raji Punnoose (curator and proprietor) picked up the habit of randomly collecting driftwood pieces brought by the sea to the shore. With each cyclone the sea brought along ancient trees and roots and left behind its loot on the shores. These pieces were gathered, cleaned and shaped to give them creative forms – birds, fish, and animals. This process of developing the plundered goods brought in by the Bay of Bengal is on display at this museum for us to see.

The Limca Book of Records has certified that Bay Island Museum as the only drift wood museum that showcases objects which have been painstakingly recovered  and collected from the Andaman seas and beaches by Raji Punnoose. The museum is today managed by a trust to ensure its perpetuity. Recognising its potential as a special interest tourist destination, the state government awarded it the ‘Most Innovative Tourism Project’ prize in 2004. Even though tourists many not exactly be making a beeline for the museum, the recent status of Kumarakom as an incubator for the state’s responsible tourism initiatives is good news. Since it opened its doors in 2001, tourists from close to 100 countries have visited the museum till date. The entry fee of Rs 50 is ploughed back into local area development as well as charity.

The government ruling that nobody can take into custody stuff brought in by the sea following the 2004 Tsunami means that the Bay Island Museum will remain one of a kind only. The museum is a perfect example of how a passion became an obsession and all those efforts given into this came out to be something which is unique and nothing in the world can match with it.

Address Chakranpadi, Vayitharamattom, Kumarakom, Kerala 686563

Contact 0481 252 6223

Opening Hours 10AM-5PM

Website http://www.bayislandmuseum.com/


Anokhi Museum of Hand Painting – Jaipur

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Critics called it ‘a little gem of a museum’; this interesting museum in a restored haveli documents the art of hand-block printing, from old traditions to contemporary design displaying a varied selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects – all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition.

Like crafts worldwide, the block printing industry faces serious challenges trying to keep pace with modern manufacturing. The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing addresses this fragile situation primarily through education. Dedicated to the art of block printing, AMHP strives to inform both textile specialists and general public alike; but more importantly, the artisans themselves are encouraged to visit and view their craft in a unique and inspirational way. Whilst block Printing and Textile heaven these two are the epitome of grabbing attention of the visitors all around the world. Apart from interpreting, preserving and collecting the Rajasthani art of block painting, one can also observe a huge variety of textiles in the three storeyed museum, complete with elaborate explanations of the make, meaning, quality and speciality of the fabric and its print. One of the biggest attractions in the museum/art gallery is the on-site demonstration of block printing, which holds a high fascination factor for adults and children alike.  

Besides this the place also organises film programs in its auditorium, where documentaries about the rare art of block printing are showcased. If you feel inspired, you can also enrol for a 2 day workshop where you work alongside the skilled artisans on your own project, learning to make blocks and printed fabrics! For those who might be unaware, Anokhi is a brand with many stores across the globe, known for reviving the arts of our past. Also, the building in which this museum is currently was painfully restored by Anokhi’s founders in 1989, for which they were awarded the UNESCO prize for ‘Cultural Conservation’.

Ergo, Anokhi holds a massive fascination among people of age and background. It is a zealous initiative in order to protect the heritage of Rajasthan’s legacy.

Address  Anokhi Haveli, Near Badrinath Temple, Kheri Gate, Amber, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302028

Contact 0141 253 0226

Opening Hours 10:30AM-5PM

Website http://www.anokhi.com/museum/home.html


Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi (IGNCA)

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A premier government-funded arts organization in India, IGNCA is an autonomous institution under the Union Ministry of Culture. It was established in the memory of Indira Gandhi, the late Indian Prime Minister. Launched on 19 November 1985 by the late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi at a function where the symbolism of the components was clearly articulated at different levels. The elements – fire, water, earth, sky and vegetation – were brought together. Five rocks from five major rivers – Sindhu (Indus), GangaKaveri,Mahanadi and the Narmada (where the most ancient ammonite fossils are found) were composed into sculptural forms. These remain at the site as reminders of the antiquity of Indian culture and the sacredness of her rivers and rocks.

It’s a centre encompassing the study and experience of all the arts—each form with its own integrity, yet within a dimension of mutual interdependence, interrelated with nature, social structure and cosmology. The arts are here understood to comprise the fields of creative and critical literature, written and oral; the visual arts, ranging from architecture, sculpture, painting and graphics to general material culture, photography and film; the performing IGNCA; and all else in fairs, festivals and lifestyle that has an artistic dimension. In its initial stages the Centre will focus attention on India; it will later expand its horizons to other civilizations and cultures. Through diverse programmes of research, publication, training, creative activities and performance, the IGNCA seeks to place the arts within the context of the natural and human environment. The fundamental approach of the Centre is all its work will be both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.

Since, Art is an inevitable part of human nature, and perhaps the only activity that propagates free expression of thoughts in its purest form and IGNCA exclusively sets up for the preservation and promotion of art in the country.

Address   Mansingh Road, Opposite Of Raksha Bhawan, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Contact 098148 85236

Opening Hours 8AM-6PM

Website http://ignca.nic.in/


Purani Haveli The Nizam’s Museum – Hyderabad

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Located in the Purani Haveli, Nizam’s Museum is a place worth visiting. Boasting of a rich collection of memoirs, gifts, souvenirs from all over the world, it was created on the wish of last and the seventh Nizam, Asaf Jah VII, the museum showcases a glimpse into the lives of Nizams, who have ruled the city from 19th to 20th century, commencing a high rate of development. Nizam Museum is entailed of a wide range of rare souvenirs and intricately designed mementos. The major attraction here is the golden, wooden throne, which was used during the silver jubilee celebrations of the Last Nizam. There is also a gold model of the pavilion. Diamond inlaid gold Tiffin-box, paintings of Mir Osman Ali Khan, wooden writing box covered with mother-of-pearl, daggers studded with diamond and gold, caskets, etc., are a few popular items on display. An exclusively designed silver perfume bottles, a gift from the Raja of Palvancha is also an admirable piece of art. For car lovers, there are vintage cars such as 1930 Rolls Royce, Packard and a Jaguar Mark V on display.

Another prominent feature is the wardrobe of sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. The wardrobe, an entity in itself, is 176 feet long and has two levels. It is made up of Burma teak, one of the finest. The sixth Nizam, is said to have never repeated his clothes, which were given to other after being worn once by him. Hence a section for afore mentioned has been created and another section is of the wardrobe, costumes of other men, women and children of Hyderabad have been highlighted.

Thus, the Nizam’s museum is one extraordinary museum which takes us all the way to lifestyles of the Nizams. We have so far heard the stories of their luxury and sophistication but this museum engages us into imagining the life of the people who once used to live here and were accustomed to the life the museum so far displays. I bet it must be breath-taking.

Address Purani Haveli, Hyderabad, Telangana 500002

Contact 040 2452 1029

Opening Hours 10AM-5PM

Website http://www.hehnmh.com/

 


Therefore, these cultural museums out numerous others in India showcase the history and the unique culture and lifestyles of people who have lived and done so much in the and for the country. It’s a must to visit these museums and explore all that it has to offer us. The exposure of cultures and traditions of India that these museums gives us would definitely leave us spellbound and it would generate a new love and respect in our heart for our nation.

The mega diversity of India and its culture and traditions has drawn attraction from all over the world and will keep doing so. However the job of preserving and presenting the history of some extraordinary and exquisite culture of India has been done by copious museums in India. So far the blog talks about four unique and very interesting cultural museums of India which are for sure to leave you spell bound.


Author: Dr. Gautam Chatterjee

Generally speaking, every person has at least ‘two selves’ one is ‘a self’ without any ‘guise’ and another is a ‘non-self’ which may not be a pretention always but an ‘alternate self’! To fathom self and the ‘other’(non-self) is a subject of psychology especially the behavioural one! But for common man the search for ‘self’ and to find out its reflective imaginations sometime in ‘disguise’ or otherwise has remained a very essential social exercise since the dawn of our civilization. In this process he discovered the ‘mask’ codified scores of ‘guise’ which were miles away from self but very close to the mind! But those masks were not simple ‘covering’ but a vehicle for ‘imaginations’ of mind of the mankind which remained a powerful object of reverence for all especially amongst aboriginals and traditional people.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0011.jpg

The Mask-culture which dates back to the pre-historic rock-paintings of c.30,000 B.C has travelled down the ages and got expressed some time as ‘magico-religion’, “sacred enactments in Monasteries” or at folk theatrical levels and even through epic depictions, or in carnivals with a touch of festivity. Thus we see mask remained an integral part of universal culture surviving in its own way with every face around us.

In recent past, an International Mask Festival was organised at New Delhi jointly by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Sangeet Natak Academy and National School of Drama. This unique festival was conceived by Dr. Kapila Vatsayayan, the living legend of multi-disciplinary study and an Indologist of rare credentials who once said that this mask-festival is to relate the ‘cosmic-man’ or Purusha to the micro-cosmic man with and without ‘mask’!To explore its dynamism Dr. Vatsayayan has initiated collection of masks from world over under IGNCA’s ethnographic collections.The festival started its rhythm with ‘mask-dances’ from India and abroad which finally culminated into the IGNCA’s exhibition of Rupa and Pratirupa (Man and Mask) which displayed around 400 masks from 21 countries of the world . The Mask dance, the exhibition were finally linked with a seminar ‘Mind, Man and Mask’. All these provided us with the entry point to fathom the mask in its unique dimensions whose pulses are discussed below to uphold an holistic view of Mask and its universality.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0010.jpg

The first record of Mask we find in the pre-historic rock arts from different sites of the world which includes the cave engravings of Caverne du Volp, France; Altamira Cave of Spain, Kundusi of Tanzania, Niger, Algeria, Lybia, Russian Kazakistan, New Mexico, Sweden, Siberia, Canada, Peru and Bhimbetka in India etc. Thus we see almost from every part of the world the reference of mask is found. Scholars from Italy Emmanuel Anati and Ariela Fradkin Anati said “Luckily our early ancestors, modestly named as Homo sapiens, had the gift of producing art and among the subjects they have depicted in the walls of rocks and caves there are depictions of masks. From that we learn that since 40,000 to 50,000 years ago our ancestors used to make and wear masks.”

The logo of the festival with a masked-stick man is from the Bhimbetka Rock art sites. This figure shows a ‘shield’like face with elaborate semi-circular ornamental necklaces and feather like head-gear with a movement oriented figure. Thus so lyrical was mask for the ancient man! One find various references of world-rock art analysis from the “World Archives of Rock Art” This WARA has documented around 2 lakh photograps and drawings from various sites of 100 countires.

Dr. M. Leaky analysed four figures from Tanzanian rock art of Kundusi said “Four beings with hidden faces,all have a distinctive oblique line on their head. They seem to make a team for dance or some other performance”(WARA Archives 94-95) Similarly one find a typical herd of ‘deer and bison’ in France being followed by a man who is sporting animal head and ‘playing the musical bow’. Does it not enthuse the Indian psyche where Krishna playing the flute while following the cow-herd?

Another powerful observation is hunting animals with a ‘disguised’mask which is found in Algeria. Thus we see in the pre-historic era the early man almost got besmeared with the world of animals and used mask to ‘hunt’ ‘tame’ and again ‘dance’. Thus mask has always remained very ‘dear’ and ‘loveable’as the self!

From the Mohenjodaro excavations one finds the terracota mask namely Pasupati seal which dates back to 2500 B.C. which in later years manifested and got dimensions from the standpoint of shape to the materials of mask. In Africa one find mask as divine heritage encoded in Mummy Mask of Trebes c.1295-1069 B.C. Furthermore, we find the Roman Mask of golden touch with a pair of eyes but without lips which dates back to 2nd century A.D. The comic mask from Greece and Rome enthused a ‘laughter’ within. The Mexican masks of 900 B.C. of rod shape is also unique which touch the other aspect of human mood namely ‘pain and agony’. Thus mask remained a functional symbol beyond the face and the mind encompassing the mood. Does it mean mask has a relationship with the ‘mind and mood’? Let us try to understand it!

Our faces are the index of mind and function as mirror to ventilate emotions or state of mind in varied dimensions! What are those hidden recesses of our psyche? Those are love, anger, hate, fury, joy, fear and disgust, the sadness and depressions etc. These emotional lines are universal in actions and feelings which encompass all caste, creed and nationality.

Those body languages are adopted in and displayed as ‘abhinaya’to give a emotive punctuation to a particular character in a play in theatrical dimensions or in real life endeavour. Those moods give a varied kind of reflections come out on the face in real or unreal manner. So the man created ‘masks’for all moods. Some of the very powerful emotive sadness is seen in the Korean masks, similarly the laughter in Sri Lankan or in Mexican, and Goanese Masks are some other the examples. Similarly the Greek mask’ comical expressions are some pointer. According to Dr.A.K. Das, an Anthropologist referred that in North Eastern India the clownish mask are seen like the dummy Yak made in bamboo frame enveloped with black cloth and two person manipulate the Yak-mask which evokes ‘laughter’. The image of anger and fury is really widespread world over. The ‘spirit-fox’ of Japan the mythological power masks of Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia are few which enthuse fury and fear when accompanied by traditional music. So we see there are hordes of masks which are perfect aesthetic expressions of human mind’s hidden recess. Another aspect is the world of animal in the mask which loomed large since ancient times.

The faces of animal their power and fury kept a close proximity with man since prehistoric era so is today. And those animals mythological or otherwise remained a ‘powerful’ component of ‘folk religion’ and occupied a ‘sacred space’ in the mind and endeavour of indigenous people. In Nepalese mask dance we see the ‘Jangali Dance’ which comes from the world of tribes knittting the ‘spirit’ and ‘power’ of the other world and on depiction we find scores of mythlogical animals and birds. Same goes in the Himalayan Kingdom –Bhutan where we find ‘fearful’mask of animal spirits which are codified with very high aesthetic connotations of colour and shape. In India the Lion mask of Purulia and Jackal from Gambhira, West Bengal linked the world around in simplistic tradition of masks with dull colour temperatures.

Elaborating the Mask tradition amongst the tribal people in North-Eastern India Dr.A. K. Das said ” Most of the myths connected with these pantomime give impetus for secular mask tradition in this pocket. In Ajilimu dance among the Sherdukpen, the masks representing Nyapa and Nyaro, the two demons, with terrific facial expression and flowing hair are very striking”. Thus we see the encoding of demonic power in mask-dance away from modern theater, but within the mind-scope of traditional people lives as heritage with connection from the other world.

The role of world of animals, is very prominent amongst the wooden masks of traditional people of Madhya Pradesh. Here on the ‘face of mask’we find carved out images of animal world, snakes, insects and even the cosmos is depicted. The ‘balance’of judgement is found on the chin of a mask as if to depict the natural balance and deliverance of justice.

However, mask remained an integral part of mankinds’ eternal search for ‘macro and micro cosmos’ through the concept of ‘spirit’ and linkage is established between ‘seen and unseen’. The practice of sporting masks to invite spiritual powers namely ‘ancestors’ to cure an ailing, to evade ill effect of evil spirits or to bless an occasion or a newly born. Thus invoking spirit through the mask is a continuous tradition world wide. Talking to mask-dancers of Zimbabwe it was gathered that people of varied ethnic origin believe that ancestor soul do come down through mask and play the role of philosopher and guide. Lucky Mayo said that “senior people nurture the concept of family spirit mask and contribute to protect the culture. Generally, grandfather sport this mask to imbibe the ‘family spirit’ so that the whole family can be taken care of….this is surviving despite of technological development and it (mask dance) functions mostly as a pleasant retreat from the techno-dynamics” .In Zimbabwe itself there are around 17 groups who believe in this concept of ‘mask spirit’. Lucky Mayo further said that through this mask one can communicate with dead people and that ‘spirit’ do visit people and dream as well. Those masks are very sacred and those are made of wood, natural fibre, seeds, cane, jute .Those masks are of natural colour. In Zimbabwe, masks are created after invocation with sacred songs etc.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0004.jpg

The renowned scholar Balan Nambiar traced the ritualistic dance of Western coast of India from Gokarna to Kanyakumari . He said that that mask dances such as Patayani, Teyyam, Bhuta,Tira and Kummatti are in vogue. Amongst rural population there is a strong belief of ‘masks apparently to these souls of ancestors’ which is quite near to the African experience we have observed above. Balan Nambiar said “Mask dancers, who propitiate the spirit and in a state of trance give manifold blessings to the gathered devotees, both heal the sick and entertain the spectators. Within their context, mask-wearers are auxiliary spirits which, when aroused, lead in a trance to the world of spirits.”

Similar belief system is in vogue in Sri Lanka where the healing spirit mask is an unique example. The mask known as Dahaata Sanniya or ‘eighteen disease’ is studded with 18 diseased faces atop a pair of their gods and two spirits one the spreader of pain through disease and other the saviour is placed vertically apart. Prof. M.H. Goonatilleka explained that in folk religion this is in vogue. He explained that “Pritiatory magical and therapeutic effects of mask and attendant rituals of Sri Lanka are still not forgotten in the remote parts of the country. The dancer donning demon masks may not be aware of the significance of ritual transformation and the assumption of the role of the disease-causing demon.”

Those masks are: 

  1. Buta Sanniya which is associated with derangement, distortion and listlesness of limbs; 
  2. Jala Sanniya relates with vomitting, dysentry etc;
  3. Gulma sannya refers to lack of appetite, swelling of the abdomen ;
  4. Kana Sanniya relates with blindness; 
  5. Kora Sanniya and
  6. Bihiri Sanniya relate with Lameness and Deafness respectively;
  7. Vata Sanniya is related with Flatulence provoked by aerial humour;
  8. Slesma Sannya is associated with Phlegmatic diseases; 
  9. Pneumonia is represented with mask Kola Sanniya;
  10. Maru Sanniya is wallowing and contortions in the eyes etc.
  11. Amukku Sanniya relates with running with the head tilted to the left trembling of the limbs;
  12. Golu is Dumbness; 
  13. Vevulum Sanniya is associated with shivering and feats; 
  14. Gini Jala Sanniya is about burning sensation,headache and fatigue;
  15. Pissu or Kapala Sanniya is related with madness and delirium; 
  16. Demala Sanniya is also related with madness with distortion of the body; 
  17. The Naga Mask is related with swelling of the faces and peeling of skins and
  18. Deva Mask is related with epidemics and infectious diseases

(For further details read ‘Sanni Yakuma:Its mythical dimensions and religious interaction’,By Goonitilleka printed in Ananda,Essays in honour of Ananda W.P.Guruge,Srilanka 1990.)

Prof.Goonatilleka traced the Sri Lankan Mask tradition and said “A ritual, I believe, is a network of beliefs, a set of rigid procedures which are normally conventionally sanctified, popularly accepted, and collectively adhered to by a community of people. In Sri Lanka, these are partly the result of the ethos, temperament and value orientation of the rural populace.” Thus we see the concept of spirit and mask kept close proximity with any region of the world and slowly they attracted a wider act to play the role of ‘sacred-mask’amidst the changing religio-cultural nuances.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0006.jpg

Mask a reflective identity of ‘folk religion’ coursed its way in universal religion like Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. The birth of Christ remained a source of inspiration for mask performers. Historically speaking soon after the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the 16th century Spanish Monks tried to inculcate Christian belief through the use of religious plays, frequently using masks. And people of Micha can have evolved a particularly lively festival by incorporating mask. Today those masks encapsulate the European and American world on the score of festivity and celebrations.

However, prior to the Christian era we find in ancient Greek drama the use of masks.

Mexican rod shape mask which depicts pain is as old as 900-600B.C.Roman Mask of gold colour temperature dates back to 2nd century B.C. The Rain God of Aztec with four teeth with skull like look dates around 1200-1590 A.D. Similarly, the radiance Gold mask of Columbia C. 500-1500 A.D. is the eye catching example. All these age-old tradition continue in modern world as well. In northern America we find masks of man and animal with the inter-play of hand movements. Sometime two faces are found in single masks as we see in Sri Lanka or in Bhutan. Even one mask depicting two identities or two moods namely sadness and happiness is created with otherwise lip movement.

Mask and carnivals are almost synonymous today as we see festival masks in Germany, “VOLTO” Masks and Belgium masks are seen with goggles. Modern Mexican mask are simple realistic and become powerful socially with beards of modern times. Thus we see masks entered the life of the West with the concept of ‘natural god’ and then transformed itself in the mainstream religious phonetics which later took the shape of ‘festivity’ which is in currency! After having a cursory look at the occidental worlds of Mask let us retreat to the oriental world to arrest the pulses of its ‘religious and sacred’ masks!

In oriental world the masks hover around the ‘icon’ of any level from the concept of ‘protective deity’ to the ‘demonic identity to undo evil world’. Those concepts of power are encoded in the masks which are records of ongoing ‘belief system’ within the ambience of religious codes be it ‘folk religion’, ‘devi and devas or demi gods of Hinduism’ to the ‘Buddhist’concepts contextually incorporated within their traditions.

Masks of Siva and Durga and her manifestive look in the form of ‘shakti’ remained one of the powerful iconic masks in India. Three eyed ‘shakti’ in the Shape of Durga and Kali is very common on the eastern belt of India .The narrative ‘play’ to kill the ‘demon’ is the centrestage of these performances of Mask Dance. In Andhra Pradesh, the Narasimha icon in the Bhagavata -mala is very popular. Masks on the one side depicts the power of ‘deity’and alongside depicts the pet or ‘vahana’ of the respective god. Like in Bengal one sees the lion and Durga in coupled depiction wherein ‘asura’the devil is killed by Shakti.

Thus mask is linked with natural power with ritualistic connotations to strike a harmonious balance with the forces of nature and spirit of the world.

Apart from Shakti one finds the Ramayana theme which is a living tradition in India, Thailand, Indonesia, South East and Central Asia, Mogolian, Iran, China, Japan etc. Wherever Ramayana went it arrested the inner psyche of people and masked depiction of character even away from ritual but within the social ambience the encactment continues either through Ramlila procession or a theatrical enactment. A research scholar from France Anne Vergati had worked in the Himalayan region to fathom the interplay of mask and said “Today, at certain festivals, inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley hold theatrical performances which are of a popular character. In Nepal, in certain areas of Tibetan culture, masks are, of course, worn by participants in Tibetan masked dance (cham), which used to be known in the west as ‘devil dances’ and are performed by monks wearing masks which instruct the faithful concerning the deities they will meet after their death in the Bardo, the intermediate state before their next re-birth.”

The tradition of Nepal to another Himalayan kingdom Bhutan would create an awe for the search of masks. Masks are studded in the life and rituals of all monasteris in the Himalayan range starting from Tibet, Ladak, Bhutan to Sikkim. The cham dance of Tibetan monks is sacred one. Interestingly in Indian and Tibetan dance the amalgamation of theme like the wild pantheon of fierce protector to the local spirits with elements of comic character shows the unification of culture. The Cham can take many forms but one of its most popular theme is commemoration of the last guru Padmasambhu. It is believed that He descends as representative incarnate of all the Buddhas to bestow grace and improve the condition of living. The mask dance usually consists of two parts; the first honours and pays homage to the eight aspects of Padmabhava. The second part of the performance shows Maha Dongcren,a horned masked figure slaying and putting an end to the demonic force.

Interestingly enough the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism survives only in Bhutan. Historical tracing would tell us that by the middle of 15th century Bhutan had developed its own sacred dance traditions associated with great saint Pema Lingpa, the ancestor of the present royal family. His autobiography gives a good account of this living tradition of Bhutan wherein he describes the dances performed in Padmasambhava’s heaven.

Today many Pema Lingpa’s compositions portray different sets of divine attendants and acrobats, who prepare the path to heaven. Dasho Sangay Tenzin said that mask dance are the part of religious cultural traditions and the holy scripts which dates back to the 8th century A.D. codified the ritualistic colour of these dances which are hereditarily followed till date. He further explained that some masks which are used in the courtyard of religion are never re-used and monasteries have today very old masks known as ‘kathrup’. Mask tradition in Bhutan lies deep in the social fabrics and those traditions are also surviving within the frame work of state patronage. Thus mask is surviving within the powerful conotation of Buddhism in Bhutan which is however missing in Sri Lanka and Japan which are predominantly have Buddhist tradition.

Apart from Himalayan tradition the mask thrives with vigour in Indonesia wherein the Hindu tradition still thrives in the forum of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ dance. The sacred masks are created on ‘auspicious’ day and finished on ‘auspicious’ hour only. Those manufacturers of ‘sacred masks’ perform rituals and lead a pious life especially while creating those masks. On the other hand ‘secular’masks are created by all and performed and participated by all without any dictum of religion or ritual. Interstingly the sharp edged face with intricate lacquer work on the ornamentation of headgear are functional punctuations of aesthetic mask-tradition of Indonesia which surpasses the artistic trend of any given country of the world.

In modern India mask dances at theatrical and ritualistic level are thriving well. The Krishnattam the ritualistic dance-drama of Kerala is a great eye-catcher today. In Krishna temple of Guruvayoor, Kerala a cycle of eight plays tend to depict the Krishna-lore from his birth to death. This Krishnattam is based on 17th century Krishnageethi. The Krishnattam troupe today belongs to the Guruvayoor temple.

Similarly Seraikella Chhau dance of Bihar is another powerful centre of modern Mask dance. The sophisticated masks made of paper- mache with awe inspiring headgear adds to the folk tune and steppings of mask dancers. The dance motifs and themes are interrelated with of myths and history covering animates and inaimates as well to depict the sentiments. It is said the technique of this dance was evolved from the shield and sword dance of Pharikhanda.

Purulia Chhau of West Bengal is the symbol of Sun God worship through masks. The central theme of this dance is to depict how evil is punished based on mythological stories. This is performed especially during the Chaitra Parva festival.

During the festival of Mask the performance of Thanatomorphia by Astad Deboo and Dadi Pudumjee of Ishara Puppet Theatre evoked tremendous response. The central idea was to depict the many faces of Death within the light and shade of hide and seek. It showed that Death as seductive dancer, a passionate lover, the liberator and finally joyous celebration. Thus is the vividnes of ‘self’ and ‘mask’ in the world of performance.

Barring Islamic world, mask has always remained a second identity of the world and academic people often tried to define this ‘guise’ phenomenon but mostly in vain. However, modern mask maker Michael Meschke and Maria Oona Meschke tried to give an analysis which goes “a mask is not a photography, a portrait. Agood mask is an extraction of essence, a selection of expressions which have undergone a purification, meaning both exaggeration and simplification. We call that procedure stylisation .It means to give a style, as opposed to nature. Such masks correspond with the myths, they too have this purified structure. Myths could be called strylised narration”.

This explanation goes well with the global context and concept of Mask which can be sported and removed at will.

But modern days’ mask has taken further shape closer to the face and manipulation within that face gives a newer identity. Imagine a middle aged beautiful lady before retiring to bed washes her face to remove those extra layers of cosmetics and takes off her coloured contact lenses and removes those lyrical eye-lashes and wigs to become natural to the self at least while resting away from social world of ‘self’ and the other ‘self’. Are these part of modern masks? It’s a question to be answered by ourselves! Nevertheless, the art aesthetics and imaginations to create the ‘new’within the ‘self’ has remained a close encounter of mankind in the past so it would be in the future!.


Author: Dr Gautam Chatterjee

Generally speaking, every person has at least ‘two selves’ one is ‘a self’ without any ‘guise’ and another is a ‘non-self’ which may not be a pretention always but an ‘alternate self’! To fathom self and the ‘other’(non-self) is a subject of psychology especially the behavioural one! But for common man the search for ‘self’ and to find out its reflective imaginations sometime in ‘disguise’ or otherwise has remained a very essential social exercise since the dawn of our civilization. In this process he discovered the ‘mask’ codified scores of ‘guise’ which were miles away from self but very close to the mind! But those masks were not simple ‘covering’ but a vehicle for ‘imaginations’ of mind of the mankind which remained a powerful object of reverence for all especially amongst aboriginals and traditional people.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0011.jpg

The Mask-culture which dates back to the pre-historic rock-paintings of c.30,000 B.C has travelled down the ages and got expressed some time as ‘magico-religion’, “sacred enactments in Monasteries” or at folk theatrical levels and even through epic depictions, or in carnivals with a touch of festivity. Thus we see mask remained an integral part of universal culture surviving in its own way with every face around us.

In recent past, an International Mask Festival was organised at New Delhi jointly by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Sangeet Natak Academy and National School of Drama. This unique festival was conceived by Dr. Kapila Vatsayayan, the living legend of multi-disciplinary study and an Indologist of rare credentials who once said that this mask-festival is to relate the ‘cosmic-man’ or Purusha to the micro-cosmic man with and without ‘mask’!To explore its dynamism Dr. Vatsayayan has initiated collection of masks from world over under IGNCA’s ethnographic collections.The festival started its rhythm with ‘mask-dances’ from India and abroad which finally culminated into the IGNCA’s exhibition of Rupa and Pratirupa (Man and Mask) which displayed around 400 masks from 21 countries of the world . The Mask dance, the exhibition were finally linked with a seminar ‘Mind, Man and Mask’. All these provided us with the entry point to fathom the mask in its unique dimensions whose pulses are discussed below to uphold an holistic view of Mask and its universality.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0010.jpg

The first record of Mask we find in the pre-historic rock arts from different sites of the world which includes the cave engravings of Caverne du Volp, France; Altamira Cave of Spain, Kundusi of Tanzania, Niger, Algeria, Lybia, Russian Kazakistan, New Mexico, Sweden, Siberia, Canada, Peru and Bhimbetka in India etc. Thus we see almost from every part of the world the reference of mask is found. Scholars from Italy Emmanuel Anati and Ariela Fradkin Anati said “Luckily our early ancestors, modestly named as Homo sapiens, had the gift of producing art and among the subjects they have depicted in the walls of rocks and caves there are depictions of masks. From that we learn that since 40,000 to 50,000 years ago our ancestors used to make and wear masks.”

The logo of the festival with a masked-stick man is from the Bhimbetka Rock art sites. This figure shows a ‘shield’like face with elaborate semi-circular ornamental necklaces and feather like head-gear with a movement oriented figure. Thus so lyrical was mask for the ancient man! One find various references of world-rock art analysis from the “World Archives of Rock Art” This WARA has documented around 2 lakh photograps and drawings from various sites of 100 countires.

Dr. M. Leaky analysed four figures from Tanzanian rock art of Kundusi said “Four beings with hidden faces,all have a distinctive oblique line on their head. They seem to make a team for dance or some other performance”(WARA Archives 94-95) Similarly one find a typical herd of ‘deer and bison’ in France being followed by a man who is sporting animal head and ‘playing the musical bow’. Does it not enthuse the Indian psyche where Krishna playing the flute while following the cow-herd?

Another powerful observation is hunting animals with a ‘disguised’mask which is found in Algeria. Thus we see in the pre-historic era the early man almost got besmeared with the world of animals and used mask to ‘hunt’ ‘tame’ and again ‘dance’. Thus mask has always remained very ‘dear’ and ‘loveable’as the self!

From the Mohenjodaro excavations one finds the terracota mask namely Pasupati seal which dates back to 2500 B.C. which in later years manifested and got dimensions from the standpoint of shape to the materials of mask. In Africa one find mask as divine heritage encoded in Mummy Mask of Trebes c.1295-1069 B.C. Furthermore, we find the Roman Mask of golden touch with a pair of eyes but without lips which dates back to 2nd century A.D. The comic mask from Greece and Rome enthused a ‘laughter’ within. The Mexican masks of 900 B.C. of rod shape is also unique which touch the other aspect of human mood namely ‘pain and agony’. Thus mask remained a functional symbol beyond the face and the mind encompassing the mood. Does it mean mask has a relationship with the ‘mind and mood’? Let us try to understand it!

Our faces are the index of mind and function as mirror to ventilate emotions or state of mind in varied dimensions! What are those hidden recesses of our psyche? Those are love, anger, hate, fury, joy, fear and disgust, the sadness and depressions etc. These emotional lines are universal in actions and feelings which encompass all caste, creed and nationality.

Those body languages are adopted in and displayed as ‘abhinaya’to give a emotive punctuation to a particular character in a play in theatrical dimensions or in real life endeavour. Those moods give a varied kind of reflections come out on the face in real or unreal manner. So the man created ‘masks’for all moods. Some of the very powerful emotive sadness is seen in the Korean masks, similarly the laughter in Sri Lankan or in Mexican, and Goanese Masks are some other the examples. Similarly the Greek mask’ comical expressions are some pointer. According to Dr.A.K. Das, an Anthropologist referred that in North Eastern India the clownish mask are seen like the dummy Yak made in bamboo frame enveloped with black cloth and two person manipulate the Yak-mask which evokes ‘laughter’. The image of anger and fury is really widespread world over. The ‘spirit-fox’ of Japan the mythological power masks of Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia are few which enthuse fury and fear when accompanied by traditional music. So we see there are hordes of masks which are perfect aesthetic expressions of human mind’s hidden recess. Another aspect is the world of animal in the mask which loomed large since ancient times.

The faces of animal their power and fury kept a close proximity with man since prehistoric era so is today. And those animals mythological or otherwise remained a ‘powerful’ component of ‘folk religion’ and occupied a ‘sacred space’ in the mind and endeavour of indigenous people. In Nepalese mask dance we see the ‘Jangali Dance’ which comes from the world of tribes knittting the ‘spirit’ and ‘power’ of the other world and on depiction we find scores of mythlogical animals and birds. Same goes in the Himalayan Kingdom –Bhutan where we find ‘fearful’mask of animal spirits which are codified with very high aesthetic connotations of colour and shape. In India the Lion mask of Purulia and Jackal from Gambhira, West Bengal linked the world around in simplistic tradition of masks with dull colour temperatures.

Elaborating the Mask tradition amongst the tribal people in North-Eastern India Dr.A. K. Das said ” Most of the myths connected with these pantomime give impetus for secular mask tradition in this pocket. In Ajilimu dance among the Sherdukpen, the masks representing Nyapa and Nyaro, the two demons, with terrific facial expression and flowing hair are very striking”. Thus we see the encoding of demonic power in mask-dance away from modern theater, but within the mind-scope of traditional people lives as heritage with connection from the other world.

The role of world of animals, is very prominent amongst the wooden masks of traditional people of Madhya Pradesh. Here on the ‘face of mask’we find carved out images of animal world, snakes, insects and even the cosmos is depicted. The ‘balance’of judgement is found on the chin of a mask as if to depict the natural balance and deliverance of justice.

However, mask remained an integral part of mankinds’ eternal search for ‘macro and micro cosmos’ through the concept of ‘spirit’ and linkage is established between ‘seen and unseen’. The practice of sporting masks to invite spiritual powers namely ‘ancestors’ to cure an ailing, to evade ill effect of evil spirits or to bless an occasion or a newly born. Thus invoking spirit through the mask is a continuous tradition world wide. Talking to mask-dancers of Zimbabwe it was gathered that people of varied ethnic origin believe that ancestor soul do come down through mask and play the role of philosopher and guide. Lucky Mayo said that “senior people nurture the concept of family spirit mask and contribute to protect the culture. Generally, grandfather sport this mask to imbibe the ‘family spirit’ so that the whole family can be taken care of….this is surviving despite of technological development and it (mask dance) functions mostly as a pleasant retreat from the techno-dynamics” .In Zimbabwe itself there are around 17 groups who believe in this concept of ‘mask spirit’. Lucky Mayo further said that through this mask one can communicate with dead people and that ‘spirit’ do visit people and dream as well. Those masks are very sacred and those are made of wood, natural fibre, seeds, cane, jute .Those masks are of natural colour. In Zimbabwe, masks are created after invocation with sacred songs etc.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0004.jpg

The renowned scholar Balan Nambiar traced the ritualistic dance of Western coast of India from Gokarna to Kanyakumari . He said that that mask dances such as Patayani, Teyyam, Bhuta,Tira and Kummatti are in vogue. Amongst rural population there is a strong belief of ‘masks apparently to these souls of ancestors’ which is quite near to the African experience we have observed above. Balan Nambiar said “Mask dancers, who propitiate the spirit and in a state of trance give manifold blessings to the gathered devotees, both heal the sick and entertain the spectators. Within their context, mask-wearers are auxiliary spirits which, when aroused, lead in a trance to the world of spirits.”

Similar belief system is in vogue in Sri Lanka where the healing spirit mask is an unique example. The mask known as Dahaata Sanniya or ‘eighteen disease’ is studded with 18 diseased faces atop a pair of their gods and two spirits one the spreader of pain through disease and other the saviour is placed vertically apart. Prof. M.H. Goonatilleka explained that in folk religion this is in vogue. He explained that “Pritiatory magical and therapeutic effects of mask and attendant rituals of Sri Lanka are still not forgotten in the remote parts of the country. The dancer donning demon masks may not be aware of the significance of ritual transformation and the assumption of the role of the disease-causing demon.”

Those masks are: 

  1. Buta Sanniya which is associated with derangement, distortion and listlesness of limbs;
  2. Jala Sanniya relates with vomitting, dysentry etc;
  3. Gulma sannya refers to lack of appetite, swelling of the abdomen ;
  4. Kana Sanniya relates with blindness;
  5. Kora Sanniya and
  6. Bihiri Sanniya relate with Lameness and Deafness respectively;
  7. Vata Sanniya is related with Flatulence provoked by aerial humour;
  8. Slesma Sannya is associated with Phlegmatic diseases;
  9. Pneumonia is represented with mask Kola Sanniya;
  10. Maru Sanniya is wallowing and contortions in the eyes etc.
  11. Amukku Sanniya relates with running with the head tilted to the left trembling of the limbs;
  12. Golu is Dumbness;
  13. Vevulum Sanniya is associated with shivering and feats;
  14. Gini Jala Sanniya is about burning sensation,headache and fatigue;
  15. Pissu or Kapala Sanniya is related with madness and delirium;
  16. Demala Sanniya is also related with madness with distortion of the body;
  17. The Naga Mask is related with swelling of the faces and peeling of skins and
  18. Deva Mask is related with epidemics and infectious diseases

(For further details read ‘Sanni Yakuma:Its mythical dimensions and religious interaction’,By Goonitilleka printed in Ananda,Essays in honour of Ananda W.P.Guruge,Srilanka 1990.)

Prof.Goonatilleka traced the Sri Lankan Mask tradition and said “A ritual, I believe, is a network of beliefs, a set of rigid procedures which are normally conventionally sanctified, popularly accepted, and collectively adhered to by a community of people. In Sri Lanka, these are partly the result of the ethos, temperament and value orientation of the rural populace.” Thus we see the concept of spirit and mask kept close proximity with any region of the world and slowly they attracted a wider act to play the role of ‘sacred-mask’amidst the changing religio-cultural nuances.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/GC_Pics/mask0006.jpg

Mask a reflective identity of ‘folk religion’ coursed its way in universal religion like Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. The birth of Christ remained a source of inspiration for mask performers. Historically speaking soon after the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the 16th century Spanish Monks tried to inculcate Christian belief through the use of religious plays, frequently using masks. And people of Micha can have evolved a particularly lively festival by incorporating mask. Today those masks encapsulate the European and American world on the score of festivity and celebrations.

However, prior to the Christian era we find in ancient Greek drama the use of masks.

Mexican rod shape mask which depicts pain is as old as 900-600B.C.Roman Mask of gold colour temperature dates back to 2nd century B.C. The Rain God of Aztec with four teeth with skull like look dates around 1200-1590 A.D. Similarly, the radiance Gold mask of Columbia C. 500-1500 A.D. is the eye catching example. All these age-old tradition continue in modern world as well. In northern America we find masks of man and animal with the inter-play of hand movements. Sometime two faces are found in single masks as we see in Sri Lanka or in Bhutan. Even one mask depicting two identities or two moods namely sadness and happiness is created with otherwise lip movement.

Mask and carnivals are almost synonymous today as we see festival masks in Germany, “VOLTO” Masks and Belgium masks are seen with goggles. Modern Mexican mask are simple realistic and become powerful socially with beards of modern times. Thus we see masks entered the life of the West with the concept of ‘natural god’ and then transformed itself in the mainstream religious phonetics which later took the shape of ‘festivity’ which is in currency! After having a cursory look at the occidental worlds of Mask let us retreat to the oriental world to arrest the pulses of its ‘religious and sacred’ masks!

In oriental world the masks hover around the ‘icon’ of any level from the concept of ‘protective deity’ to the ‘demonic identity to undo evil world’. Those concepts of power are encoded in the masks which are records of ongoing ‘belief system’ within the ambience of religious codes be it ‘folk religion’, ‘devi and devas or demi gods of Hinduism’ to the ‘Buddhist’concepts contextually incorporated within their traditions.

Masks of Siva and Durga and her manifestive look in the form of ‘shakti’ remained one of the powerful iconic masks in India. Three eyed ‘shakti’ in the Shape of Durga and Kali is very common on the eastern belt of India .The narrative ‘play’ to kill the ‘demon’ is the centrestage of these performances of Mask Dance. In Andhra Pradesh, the Narasimha icon in the Bhagavata -mala is very popular. Masks on the one side depicts the power of ‘deity’and alongside depicts the pet or ‘vahana’ of the respective god. Like in Bengal one sees the lion and Durga in coupled depiction wherein ‘asura’the devil is killed by Shakti.

Thus mask is linked with natural power with ritualistic connotations to strike a harmonious balance with the forces of nature and spirit of the world.

Apart from Shakti one finds the Ramayana theme which is a living tradition in India, Thailand, Indonesia, South East and Central Asia, Mogolian, Iran, China, Japan etc. Wherever Ramayana went it arrested the inner psyche of people and masked depiction of character even away from ritual but within the social ambience the encactment continues either through Ramlila procession or a theatrical enactment. A research scholar from France Anne Vergati had worked in the Himalayan region to fathom the interplay of mask and said “Today, at certain festivals, inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley hold theatrical performances which are of a popular character. In Nepal, in certain areas of Tibetan culture, masks are, of course, worn by participants in Tibetan masked dance (cham), which used to be known in the west as ‘devil dances’ and are performed by monks wearing masks which instruct the faithful concerning the deities they will meet after their death in the Bardo, the intermediate state before their next re-birth.”

The tradition of Nepal to another Himalayan kingdom Bhutan would create an awe for the search of masks. Masks are studded in the life and rituals of all monasteris in the Himalayan range starting from Tibet, Ladak, Bhutan to Sikkim. The cham dance of Tibetan monks is sacred one. Interestingly in Indian and Tibetan dance the amalgamation of theme like the wild pantheon of fierce protector to the local spirits with elements of comic character shows the unification of culture. The Cham can take many forms but one of its most popular theme is commemoration of the last guru Padmasambhu. It is believed that He descends as representative incarnate of all the Buddhas to bestow grace and improve the condition of living. The mask dance usually consists of two parts; the first honours and pays homage to the eight aspects of Padmabhava. The second part of the performance shows Maha Dongcren,a horned masked figure slaying and putting an end to the demonic force.

Interestingly enough the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism survives only in Bhutan. Historical tracing would tell us that by the middle of 15th century Bhutan had developed its own sacred dance traditions associated with great saint Pema Lingpa, the ancestor of the present royal family. His autobiography gives a good account of this living tradition of Bhutan wherein he describes the dances performed in Padmasambhava’s heaven.

Today many Pema Lingpa’s compositions portray different sets of divine attendants and acrobats, who prepare the path to heaven. Dasho Sangay Tenzin said that mask dance are the part of religious cultural traditions and the holy scripts which dates back to the 8th century A.D. codified the ritualistic colour of these dances which are hereditarily followed till date. He further explained that some masks which are used in the courtyard of religion are never re-used and monasteries have today very old masks known as ‘kathrup’. Mask tradition in Bhutan lies deep in the social fabrics and those traditions are also surviving within the frame work of state patronage. Thus mask is surviving within the powerful conotation of Buddhism in Bhutan which is however missing in Sri Lanka and Japan which are predominantly have Buddhist tradition.

Apart from Himalayan tradition the mask thrives with vigour in Indonesia wherein the Hindu tradition still thrives in the forum of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ dance. The sacred masks are created on ‘auspicious’ day and finished on ‘auspicious’ hour only. Those manufacturers of ‘sacred masks’ perform rituals and lead a pious life especially while creating those masks. On the other hand ‘secular’masks are created by all and performed and participated by all without any dictum of religion or ritual. Interstingly the sharp edged face with intricate lacquer work on the ornamentation of headgear are functional punctuations of aesthetic mask-tradition of Indonesia which surpasses the artistic trend of any given country of the world.

In modern India mask dances at theatrical and ritualistic level are thriving well. The Krishnattam the ritualistic dance-drama of Kerala is a great eye-catcher today. In Krishna temple of Guruvayoor, Kerala a cycle of eight plays tend to depict the Krishna-lore from his birth to death. This Krishnattam is based on 17th century Krishnageethi. The Krishnattam troupe today belongs to the Guruvayoor temple.

Similarly Seraikella Chhau dance of Bihar is another powerful centre of modern Mask dance. The sophisticated masks made of paper- mache with awe inspiring headgear adds to the folk tune and steppings of mask dancers. The dance motifs and themes are interrelated with of myths and history covering animates and inaimates as well to depict the sentiments. It is said the technique of this dance was evolved from the shield and sword dance of Pharikhanda.

Purulia Chhau of West Bengal is the symbol of Sun God worship through masks. The central theme of this dance is to depict how evil is punished based on mythological stories. This is performed especially during the Chaitra Parva festival.

During the festival of Mask the performance of Thanatomorphia by Astad Deboo and Dadi Pudumjee of Ishara Puppet Theatre evoked tremendous response. The central idea was to depict the many faces of Death within the light and shade of hide and seek. It showed that Death as seductive dancer, a passionate lover, the liberator and finally joyous celebration. Thus is the vividnes of ‘self’ and ‘mask’ in the world of performance.

Barring Islamic world, mask has always remained a second identity of the world and academic people often tried to define this ‘guise’ phenomenon but mostly in vain. However, modern mask maker Michael Meschke and Maria Oona Meschke tried to give an analysis which goes “a mask is not a photography, a portrait. Agood mask is an extraction of essence, a selection of expressions which have undergone a purification, meaning both exaggeration and simplification. We call that procedure stylisation .It means to give a style, as opposed to nature. Such masks correspond with the myths, they too have this purified structure. Myths could be called strylised narration”.

This explanation goes well with the global context and concept of Mask which can be sported and removed at will.

But modern days’ mask has taken further shape closer to the face and manipulation within that face gives a newer identity. Imagine a middle aged beautiful lady before retiring to bed washes her face to remove those extra layers of cosmetics and takes off her coloured contact lenses and removes those lyrical eye-lashes and wigs to become natural to the self at least while resting away from social world of ‘self’ and the other ‘self’. Are these part of modern masks? It’s a question to be answered by ourselves! Nevertheless, the art aesthetics and imaginations to create the ‘new’within the ‘self’ has remained a close encounter of mankind in the past so it would be in the future!.


Author: Dr. Gautam Chatterjee

Before we understand the concept of Conservation of Indian Culture, it is important to conceive and contextualize the Indian Culture as a whole.  Indian culture is a way of life that encompasses all traditional religions, indigenous, and mainstreamed belief system and varying wisdom tradition as well.  Culture is so dynamic that it envelopes all the connotations of civilization and its time-line manifestations with scores of contours that celebrate life. That’s why Indian philosophy propounds “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” – the whole world is one family.

In this given background let us analyze all the elements in any given culture carry in its journey over several millennia.  Basically any culture has broadly eight major elements which we are going to touch upon now.  

First, every culture has its root in its myth, cosmic concept, and  life context either carried through orality or scripted in textual tradition.

Secondly, there are sound, sacred words or silence created by utterance or through traditional instruments.

Thirdly, every cultural phonetic has signs, symbols and symptoms soaked with creative manifestation.  

Fourthly, there are rituals or themes to express the nuances of culture in particular to the occasions or broadly depicting symbolism of its entity.  

Fifth element of culture is celebrating a time, creative showcasing and platform of  performance.  

Sixth element is the aroma or fragrance of culture, which rents the ambiance as its own unique cultural expression.  

Seventh element is lighting and enlightenment of its journey from darkness to light with the neo-wisdom.  

The eighth element of culture is transmission of knowledge system, practices and belief system to the generation next.

It is perhaps pertinent to understand various nuances of Indian Culture and also its custodians and conservators while going through its various layers.

The oldest creative expressions are encoded on the walls of pre-historic rock shelter and foremost being Bhimbetka – the world heritage site which is well preserved by Government of India.  These shelters are around 40,000 years old where pre-historic men had frozen their time and life style on those walls.  They were hunter gatherers.  Motifs were human forms –  stick men, sometime dancing, hunting or even in group playing musical instruments.  We also find drawings of other era also superimposed upon earlier work showing their progress in time line.  But India has hundred of rock shelter sites right from Kumaon to Kerala from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat.  Much is to be mapped and declared protected sites otherwise we are losing out great cultural expressions as people today are making their rock pebbles for road construction.  There remnants of culture need to be preserved and studied with dating otherwise India would lose its first heritage record of culture forever.

In the rock art, creative expressions had shown us headgear and mask as an integral part of the then culture. These elements one finds in traditional and aboriginal societies.  Mask dance got a sacred fabric to link this world and other world.  Mask of varied hues depicted their own myth and belief system.  The mask heritage remains in currency even today in the monastic tradition and in theatrical expressions.  I saw a mask of Central India, on its forehead a deer is drawn upon indicating the mind of the mask.  There were 14 healer masks in Sri Lankan culture which I saw.  There are masks prepared with varied material and used for secular to sacred purposes.  Mask and an expression with mask are part of the people’s cultural expressions in all societies and custodians remain the same people.  To conserve the mask heritage of India we need to understand the making of mask and its making rituals similarly their use in enactment be in Puruilia Mask or in Hemis monastery  need to be documented and curated for outreach of its essence by the very people themselves otherwise there marks will be meaningless wall hangings of urbanites who would refer them as “other culture” and keep them more as symbol than its functionality.

Indian cultural emblem lies in its vast orality.  Every clan, community, tribe has its own myth of creation, and all are linked with their very own geo specific sacred practices, celebrations and enactment.  The orality amongst traditional or tribal world is so huge that no scholar can ever be able to complete those documentations.  Yes, India has nine Crore Nomads and six Crore Adivasis who are well entrenched with their tradition and culture are living a marginalized life as they grew up in the deep woods spent their childhood within trees and rivulets.  They are children of forests, yet they have no tangible rights over those as they are thrown off from the forest itself.  Their faces are rustic with wrinkles of pain and pathos.  Yet, their eyes are strikingly sparking and they are outspoken with a touch of innocence.  If you talk to them you will find a votary of energy and unfathomable depth in their faith.  Nothing binds them more than their faith in themselves and the world unknown.

I recall in 2005 I met Rup Chand – a Bhil from Baki village of Maharashtra, who came to Delhi in an IGNCA’s meet on Nomad and Adivasis.  Before setting out for Delhi he visited village Goddess Devi Mongey and Dongria Dev, their family God.  Ceremoniously he offered a coconut as a normal practice, which he does every time he sets out on a journey beyond his village.  Rup Chand also quipped that after the convention he would again return to Devi Mongey before going home.  Such is depth of his faith.

In the same convention, I met an adivasi women from Gujarat who was well equipped with oral tradition of medicinal plant and healing systems but today she cannot  use them as forest are not her own anymore.  She narrated that her son developed acute pain in his stomach but she could not gain access to Angreji medicine nor could she use her own knowledge because she has no rights over the forest any more.  So she waited for the evening then clandestinely entered the jungle and brought some roots of plant to cure her son.

To a Forest Officer some nomad asked, “Sahab you cannot venture into the forest alone as you do not know the paths and you do not know the name of plants and still you say the jungle belongs to you”.  These are no mere words and much meaningful to those who lost their own right from the “space” they grew with.  In the term of cultural conservation these become riders that whose culture we are talking about who are the conservators! This is the time to re-think that all culture of all the people does need their own “right of space” to culture knowledge and celebrate the same unlike the fate of identity-less “Ghumantu Jati”.  Is someone listening?

Orality of these tribes and nomads be written and their healing knowledge and botanical understanding should become library for the Modern University of Education such is the importance of these people who are carrying a culture in their isolation yet quite rooted to their faith.

These reminds me of traditional healers right from Buddhist Monastery to the adivasis, or Vaid in rural area who do have an unique understanding about the plants, roots and shrubs if these are documented and recorded the great oral knowledge of vegetation and healing can become a huge cultural statements and patenting of these can challenge any knowledge system anywhere worldwide.  The custodian of this culture needs to be nurtured to conserve it for posterity.

On the score of nature, the Lai Haroba – celebration of creation in Manipur’s traditional society, tell us how nature and green vegetation are integral part of human kind.  For millennia they dance and celebrate the growth of woods which is their life line beyond the cosmic egg, water on thread ritual of Lai Haroba.

Dance, theatrics is part of great Indian cultural tradition dating to the age of pre-historic rock shelters.  Folklore and dance manifested in sacred space and today these got manifested in public space creating wider participating audience.  However, the classical temple dance forms like Teyyam to Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Gotipua etc. got the public space through Guru Shishya Parampara so was the case of Musical Gharana who got urbanite recognition.  Yet, celebration rhythm of community at the grass root level committed to flourish in its space ventilating their own ethos, culture and rhythm.  And none could derecognize this cultural continuum no matter whatever threat is posed by “Other” culture.

After the pre-historic Rock the next punctuation was Indus Valley civilization where Mother Goddess and fertility worship, elaborate burial ritual, linga, multiple toy images.  Cosmetics even lip colour all if enjoined and understood then one realize that cultural statement was huge that shaped  a cultural identity, left to be manifested thereafter forever as Indian culture.

However, modern knowledge of Indo-Aryan religio culture is based on Vedic literature created between C.2000-600 BC.  Thus we understand that the term “Veda” is broadly used and means no single literature. There are four primary Vedas viz. Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda.  These Vedas are further discussed in Samhita.

The word Vid (to know) is the Sanskrit root word of Veda which means knowledge.  It is said that the Vedas were not created by men but it is part of the human journey.  It is eternal in concept and functional spirit.

The Rig Veda is said to be the oldest of the sacred traditional Indian scriptures consisting of 1017 or 1028 hyms which have been further divided into 10 chapters.  It gives us an insight into the social economical, political and religious life of the people of that period.

Four Vedas were discussed in Upa-Vedas and Vedangas that has four more streams of discussion that took place in Samhitas, Brahamanas, Aranayakas and Upanishads.  Again from Upa-Veda Darsana of six school emerged those were Nyaya, Vireseka, Sankhya, Yoga Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa Darsana.

Thenafter Sutras came in terms of manual instructions in 7th to 2nd century.  After Sutra two epic came Ramayana and Mahabharata.  That contributed towards creation of Dharmashastras, Bhagavatam and Purana in a descending time line.  This is the short overview of oral tradition that was textualized over the time.

These are several hundred thousand manuscripts available in Mathas, Monasteries, Libraries and in private collections.  These were written in variety of scripts from Adi-Grantha to Newari, from Sharda to Kharoshti.  The huge variety of manuscripts are housed in Calcutta Manuscript Library and Asiatic Society, Guwahati University Library, Kamarupa Anusandhan Samiti and Narayani Handiqui` Historical Institute.  In South India Government Oriental Manuscript Library Chennai, Oriental Research Institute, Mysore and many such Heritage Libraries which holds the manuscript treasure trove.

However, culturally speaking there are only few scholars left who know the ancient script and their number is diminishing fast.  If this goes on we will not be able to read all cultural traits of historical past some 100 years now.  Here custodian of knowledge and Government should immediately step in to propagate   this script learning at school and college level  with special incentives.  These be part of credit programmes of Universities for students of all streams.  If this is not vitalized then generation hereafter will be left unexpressed to the original content any more.  Here comes the role of cultural conservation.

The Vedas are also known as Shruti which means one hears and then memorize and transmits it verbally to the next generation for further retention and dissemination.  Historian V.D.Mahajan, wrote “The Purity of the Vedic Texts was maintained as they were considered sacred…  moreover hyms were memorized without being understood and when the people did not know their meaning, there were lesser chances of their being changed by substitution of new words or versus.

Ministry of Culture has stepped in to preserve this extensive documentation of various Gurukul Jaiminiya Sakha, Ranayina Shakha of Samaveda and Samaka and Paippalada Shakha of Atharvaveda and the same has received by UNESCO as world heritage.  Today, these schools or Gurukul are being nurtured for fresh lease of life.  However, unless sustainability is not worked out for all its practitioners it will not survive the time as quick money, plastic currency, corporate oriented mind sets are taking away those minds who would love to preserve these culture.

Similarly, the Panchang Mathematicians, whom I met in Varanasi, do culture huge orality that predicts the movement of stars, planes and its impact on life in great futuristic perspective.  These are unique of India but surviving in isolation more as a passion than as a profession.

I met an octogenarian farmer in Robert Ganj near Varanasi, who could read the sky and tell what to sow and when to reap looking at stars.  These star gazers in naked eye could predict which modern science cannot.  Similarly from agrarian world if we move to fishing world where elders can read on which kind of tide what are the types of fish would come on the top what will be weather and how storm can be pre-identified.  In peninsular India right from the Orissa to

Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala we find these cultural scientists in the grab of fishermen. They are custodians of the unique culture.

On the score of fragrance we find Kanauj still follows the ancient culture of aroma making in the context of process and content which also has huge ancient orality of bygone era in terms of proportion, process and final output for varied usages.

In pre-independence era Indian got united through culture cutting across the line of caste, creed and religion.  It was time of functional secularism.  But secularism what we imbibed in free India created more divide than the bridge.  Such is impact of looking at culture within the spectrum of time.

Festivals, festivities and celebration through become cosmetic when we showcase our tradition on republic day or for the occasion of say Commonwealth Games which left world with an awe yet the people whose tradition got showcased took the back seat.  Nevertheless sports remain the vital aspect of culture especially the martial sports.  Gatka of Punjab, Kalaripayattu of Kerala or Thang-ta of Manipur reminds us that the final custodian of culture remain the people themselves and nurturing by Government do help to sustain and showcase but it is  the self pride of culture that make the culture thriving.

This is the time to realize culture we don’t need historian to interpret as a work of art of Jamini Roy or Tagore’s sketches out of old poem manuscripts.  For a commoner heritage, culture are part of the contemporary history rendered, listened, felt touched by every man.  The creators of past and heritage we see are integral part of history in the now.  From archaic building of Mumbai, the streets  of Chandni Chawk, from traditional Worli paintings to Bastar images to Madhubani or for that matter putting tilaks on the forehead be it Urdhapundra, Tripundra or Gopi Chandran, or the Gharana music to the tanpura players on the streets of Jodhpur or Baul Singers in train to Shantiniketan or Char Byate of Tonk by the descendents of Afghan, Rohila warriors sing the martial song with Islamic flair are part of cultural heritage we live by and live in.

Its matter of self pride all the cultures are sustained nurtured and preserved by the custodian themselves with little or no help.  In all the era neo culture evolved and “others” culture to cast influence but could not really dislodge the cultural sentiments that is imbibed in the mind, sound, aroma and myth of the people.  Revitalization of culture is always important by a positive intervention by the Government but commodification of culture by outsiders of the society who claim to be curators do poses a threat.

India has huge literary tradition; some 13  languages are being published.  However, there are several unwritten languages wherein the literary tradition survives in orality.  This resource of wisdom tradition through literary work, poetry etc. need to be preserved and here Governmental intervention in terms of facilitation of publications and transmissions need to be addressed with huge involvement of custodian of this tradition especially people of indigenous groups and tribes.

If people are encouraged to write their own history and nurture their own orality of wisdom tradition and Government can provide a platform for those creative celebrations by mainstreaming culture through the academics of schools and Universities then Culture will sustain and evolve to be current in all the time to come.  But cultural connoisseur should keep in mind culture manifests and evolve in time line and changes will always visit and no culture survives if those are compartmentalized and seen as unchangeable frozen world.  

So, keep the windows open and enjoy the cultural fabric of India for all the time to come.

 

E.mail   : dr_gautamchatterjee@rediffmail.com

website  : www.ibiblio.org/gautam/index.html


Author: Dr. Gautam Chatterjee

Prof. Michael Meschke a Member of the Executive Committee of the Union International de la Marionnette; a director and film maker; author of “In Search of Aesthetics for the Puppet Theatre” talks to Dr.Gautam Chatterjee at a lunch break during ‘Mask’ Seminar at New Delhi.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/heri0013.htm

G.C.: Prof. Michael Meschke how do you look at Mask as a pan-Universal symbol?

M.M: Its not to me a symbol –a truly Universal instruments of communication meaning that mask by definition an essence of human expressions and therefore accessible to all.Precisely everyone understand the language of Mask world over. But mask is a silent language!

G.C.: Mask has remained an integral part of human expressions at the sacred level. Can you enlighten us about the sacredness still alive amongst indigenous people of the world.

M.M.: I have not cultivated it anthropologically this will be better expressed by an Anthropologist! I can say that sacredness is an integrated heart of all human existence even amongst athiest. We only don’t know the matter, we are to become more conscious about it.

Image Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/heri0013.htm

G.C.: How do you distinguish sacred Mask ritual and Theatrical expressions of Modern days!

M.M. : I hope that distincion should not be(made) nor necessarily, neither interesting. Even the most modern theatre has its roots in sacred rituals I mean in ancient rituals it has its roots. We should be more aware of this.

G.C.: Will you enlighten us about what goes towards making a mask–as a reflection and as a vision of man’s inner psyche.

To get the answer and read more of the interview, please click here

Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/gautam/heri0013.htm