Content research by Shivanki and Written by Ananya Maahir

In Mithila, an ancient city of Northern Bihar which is now known as Madhubani, nearly all women are experts in one or the other popular crafts of the region, namely – painting which has now become famous as Madhubani / Mithila painting, embroidery, papermache craft and Sikki grass work. Products made in these five crafts by a girl raise her popularity in the family. Such is the importance of craft in the region. Sikki craft is one of the most practiced craft form in the region.

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The Sikki grass craft has been in existence since hundreds of years. It is difficult to ascertain the exact age of this craft. However, as a craft used for commercial use is a more recent phenomenon, over the last couple of decades. Crafting products, mainly various forms of utilities, divine figures, and toys, using Sikki grass are an integral part of the living of the women of the part of Northern Bihar.

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Generally, munj is used for coiling purpose due to its abundance in Mithila region of Bihar. It is completely coiled over and covered with sikki in such manner that it’s not visible.  Takua, the main tool is a six-inch long needle-shaped iron object with a rounded head which is used to grip the needle. Usually, the takua is used by the right hand and the product is held accordingly by the left hand. To make sikki grass more pliable it is dabbed with water. No threads or cords are used.

Even though sikki is a golden colored grass, various colors are added to it to make attractive products from it. Purple, deep blue, bright yellow, magenta, green and red all combined with the natural golden color of sikki grass are popularly used. The coloring is achieved by boiling sikki in different colors until the desired shade is reached.

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  • Jhappa- Big containers with caps to store food
  • Mauni- Trays for fresh fruits, betel leaf and nuts, flowers, etc.
  • Pauti- Beautiful small boxes with caps to keep jewellery, Dry fruits, and other costly items.
  • Gumla- Bowl like containers for various uses
  • Saji- Flower Baskets
  • Idols
  • Baskets
  • Ornaments
  • Toys

 Due to the invasion of television and other forms of entertainments women have found new ways of spending their time. This has decreased the popularity of this craft form. Industries in the area have decreased the availability of Sikki grass. But still, some women practice this craft form, mainly in Madhubani, Darbhanga and Sitamarhi regions of Bihar.

 These days new products like mobile cases, toys, paper weights, pen stand and other products are made besides the traditional products. Coiling without using munj is done by some artisans. Also a new art form has emerged using Sikki grass inspired from the Madhubani paintings wherein sikki grass is stuck on patterns of Madhubani paintings.


Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman

Jambili Athon, the pride and cultural identity of the Krabi tribe, is an exquisite craft made solely from Bengwoi ke-er wood. Constructed within the strict realm of legend, it has no parallel with any craft or symbols of other tribes of Northeast India. The first Jambili Athon was exhibited at the socio-religious cultural festival Chomkan, which honors the life of the deceased, and has become a continuing tradition ever since. The privilege of practicing the craft lies in the hands of skilled craftsmen known as Baroi. The delight of Jambili Athon has seeped into all spheres of society- apart from from being displayed at Chomkan festival, it stands as a sacred regalia during the crowning ceremony of the social chief Lindokpo, it is presented as honorary gifts to people of high social standing, it is used in logos of many prestigious institutes of the region and also finds its way into textiles and homes of the Krabi people.

Like every other tribe, the people of Krabi hold their culture and beliefs dear. The physical representation of this ideology is transmitted into the woodcraft of Jambili Athon . The central shaft has the local bird Vorale residing at the apex, while the four to five branchlets host smaller birds. Another local bird, Voleng cherat is perched on the main axis, just below each lateral branch. According to the legend binding the form of the craft, the Krabis regard the Vojaru as the king of birds who is always followed by other birds, traditionally referred to as atoi-ani . The Vojaru is the Krabi king who protects his people symbolized by smaller birds, who are compared to faithful ministers and soldiers, and together they enjoy peaceful co-existence. The Vojaru is visualized as a true leader as he is well versed in the language of all the birds and can foretell danger. The Voleng cherat does not leave his master even in the symbolic form, as it is believed that they collect food for the king. The Jambili Athon is heavily ornamented with intricate carvings and beautiful beads.

To represent ethnicity in an institutionalized setting two parks in Diphu town of Assam, namely Recreation Park and Samson Sing Engti Park have Jambili Athon installed. The woodcraft reflects the social pattern of the community of the Krabi tribe- the symbolic assemblage of different birds depicts the iron-clad unity of the tribe and the closeness to nature is seen through the choice of specialized wood. While majority of the tribal culture has been lost in the chaos of modernity, Jambili Athon serves as a repository of information of the Krabi tribe. The essence of the people is captured within the space of the wood and firmly fixed in the ground, for future generations to not only see, but learn from.


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!

Join Nazariya at Sargaalaya as we rediscover our Artistic Heritage Together

Sargaalaya, the Kerala Arts and Crafts village in Kerala, is an initiative of the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala. It is an exclusive place where you can not only pick a product fashioned by the traditional artisans of Kerala but also learn one or two lessons in the subtleties of crafts-making. While designed as a tourist destination, Sargaalaya is also a platform for exhibition, sales, and craft-making. The tourist can have face-to-face interaction with the artisans showcasing their life-long achievements, and maybe learn a thing or two!

We, at Nazariya, focus on building a platform where you can not only purchase unique handmade products, but also discover the behind-the-scenes of who makes them, what their story is, and experience their journey in a way you could have never imagined before. Our aim is to provide a platform to the artisans and help them showcase their talents and handiwork to the masses. We also organize workshops to allow the people to gain better insight into how the artist’s mind works, what nuances go into making a single piece of craft, and help them learn a few basics themselves.

The core values of Sargaalaya and Nazariya are the same; revisiting art forms. The only difference is that we focus more on how to revive dying forms of art around the world. The thought is the same but the thinkers are different.

Given below are some art forms that Nazariya would be focusing on presenting at Sargaalaya International Arts and Craft Festival- 2016.


  1. Wood Carving

“Exquisite Wood Craft from Amer, Rajasthan. Available on our website.”

Wood carving is a form of woodworking done by a cutting tool (knife) in one hand or a chisel in two hands or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, to make a wooden figure or figurines of deities, like Buddha and Ganesha. It originated in Rajasthan in the 17th century. Intricately carved wooden doors and windows in palaces and havelis are testimonies to its popularity in the medieval era. In fact, even today this craft is practised extensively in various parts of Rajasthan.


  1. Phad Painting

“Ethnic tribal royalty painting in Rajasthan.”,1000

Phad painting is a style religious scroll painting and folk painting practised in Rajasthan, state of India. Phad painting is traditionally done on a large piece of cloth or Canvas known as Phad. The paintings are the life of two legendary Rajasthani heroes, Pabuji and Devnarayan ji, who are worshipped as the incarnation of lord Vishnu and Laxman. While the story is narrated using songs and dance, the visual impact is provided by the phad.

  1. Miniature Painting

“Radha and Krishna as depicted in a miniature painting.”

Miniature paintings are beautiful handmade paintings which are often vibrantly colored, but as the name suggests, very small in size. Also, very intricate and detailed work goes into making them, which further gives them a unique identity. The art of miniature painting was introduced in India by the Mughals, who brought this art form from Persia. Here, the themes mainly depicted are court scenes, gardens, forests, palaces, stories of Lord Krishna, love scenes, and battles.

   4. Puppetry

“Kathputlis in Rajasthan.” Dance, Rajasthan.jpg

Puppetry has always held an important place in traditional entertainment. Like traditional theatre, themes for puppet theatre are mostly based on epics and legends. Puppets from different parts of the country have their own identity, and regional styles of painting and sculpture are reflected in them. Like the string puppets from Rajasthan are known as Kathputli, similarly string puppets of Orissa are known as Kundhei, and puppets from Tamil Nadu known as Bommalattam.

   5. Gond Art

“Tribal Gond art”

Gond Art is a reflection of India’s largest Adivasi community called Gonds in Bhopal. It is the art of stories, the art of spirituality and is believed to bring good luck. The Gonds were storytellers who used to narrate the stories glorifying the king and this was the main source of their livelihood. The Gonds painted their walls with lively portrayals of local flora and fauna and gods and the art form is created by putting together dots and lines. Here the artists use colours developed by charcoal, plants sap, cow dung and leaves.

The passion and heart that the artisans put into creating these art forms are what distinguish them truly. Every art form has a deep history, a deeper soul, and this year at Sargaalaya International Art and Craft Festival, Nazariya is going to help voice their stories.

“Let’s live history together”

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                              

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Dodda Togalu Gombeyaata

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

An Elephant Puppet

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A Boar Puppet

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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.


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A still from Ramayana in Togalu Gombeyaata

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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.

Author: Noah Unathraj

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, quoted the famous French artist Edgar Degas. Yes indeed in my perspective art is something more imaginative, profound and absorbing to the human soul. It frees out mind and body from the busy mauhauul of everyday life and looking up to something which is delightful and engrossing in a heartfelt manner. Art is the involuntary susceptibility that an insaan feels in a warm way. India is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” unity in diversity hence has engulfed emulsions of many art forms and has become the hunting ground for souls of peoples engrossed in art. Today I am to present you something of an art which has lost its prominence 4 centuries ago. Though it has not totally died down precisely, it has almost been on the verge of extinct but has some time ago resurged back to life by none other than Mister Darshanam Mogilaiah the one of the very few survivors of this extricated instrument titled “The Kinnera” (a string instrument).

A  re-known artiste of the Telangana state, in fact the one person in the country playing the 12-step kinnera, hailing from Ayusaolni kunta village of the Mahabubnagar district in Telangana state. He belongs to a low esteemed family where his forefathers have dedicated their lives in an urge to empower and boost up the spirits of the people to take part in freedom struggle against the British by playing the instrument and singing patriot songs in synch. The “Dakkali” tribe has put in their flesh and soul for design and working of the instrument, has actively participated in the freedom movement. “Dakkali” have been a Chenchu race breed and brought up through odds and slavery right from the start by the landlords and the upper caste people in the society and hence in order to revolt against them have invented the device to unite the people of all the lower caste in their society and have struggled for their freedom and fought their way out.   

Kinnera is a stringed instrument like Desi Veena, has 12 steps which is able to produce 12 different tunes with the 2 strings that are mounted on them. The instrument uses bamboo for the neck, dried and hollowed gourds for resonators, human hair or animal nerves for strings and pangolin scales for frets which are fixed using honey-wax. According to Adivasi studies state that the Chenchus have lost the instrument half century ago when the gourd used for resonator became extinct in this region. This has come into lime light while researching about Panduga Sayanna a Telangana fighter. The dakkali singers sang in his praise using “Kinnera”.  It has almost taken 3 years to trail out and explore this history through the help of Dakkali Pochaiah.

Darshanam Mogilaiah

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Darshanam Mogilaiah aged 65 has been the forerunner of this instrument now. He belongs to “Madiga Mastin” tribe which is a sub-caste of community. He has been a master of this art and 5th generation artiste in the family which has been playing the “Kinnera”. He is skilled at frolicking the 12 step music singing mostly in praise of Meera Saab who according to a legend, lived during the Wanaparthy Samsthan 400 years ago in Mahabubnagar. Meera Saab, a Robinhood-type do-gooder, used to rob the rich and feed the poor. His ancestors constructed the kinnera with 8 steps or more, Mogilaiah is the only one to build up to 12 steps to produce different tunes with the 2 strings. He uses dried fruit, coconuts or dried horns positioned at 12 places on the instrument, helping generate a different type of music. The ‘twelve frets’ of the Kinnera are made of ‘bull horn’, who have been his treasure which are permanent while the others when worn out can be replaced. He speaks “The Chiluka (parrot) is also a very important element of my Kinnera as it starts dancing along with me in many of my rhythmic songs.” He says people must recognize the sacrifice being made to protect the heritage of the local songs and rising voice on social issues through his family tradition.

With times and advent of electronic instruments, it’s on the wane- perhaps extinct. He is perhaps among the few living bards who can play the instrument and perform. This enthralling singing in hand with the instrument is an experience to live up. He just doesn’t want to be recognized as a performer of this wonderful instrument, but preserve the art of it. Through his endeavors he has received a fillip in the form of Dasari Ranga, a research scholar of Osmania University, who is doing a thesis on “Karshaka Geetalu” (folk songs of agricultural workers) has arranged a program to showcase the art resulting in authorities of Telugu University and University oh Hyderabad (UoH) for introducing a course on kinnera folk art for which Mogilaiah could be an instructor.    

Music is the entity which binds a person together irrespective of his caste, creed and color. Even though its origin is from the flock flare it has found out its way through and has been an important criterion in enhancing and encouraging the morale of the people even at hardships, thought dead has risen out now in order to re-mesmerize back the people and showcase its versatility on the world stage and give the while a wider perspective of so many such art forms which are there lying underneath waiting for an opportunity for them to be resurged back to life.    

Content Research by Prateek

Not just a tribe, The Halakki are more than that. They are women who stand distinctively to sing their 400 year old story history.

A Halakki Women

Deep in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka are a caste group called Halakki Vokkaliga. Living in the foot of Western Ghats they chose to live a very simple life with the belief that if they take care of mother earth, she will in return take care of them. The word “Halakki” literally means milk (Haalu) and rice (Akki) in Kannada. Like many indigenous of tribal communities that have no documented literarure of their past, the Halakkis have stories and songs of how they were named-

Parvati trips and falls spilling rice and milk on the mud while carrying food for her husband Shiva, who is ploughing the field. Disappointed with this, she makes a male and female doll out of the wet mud and returns home. Shiva, searching for his wife finds these dolls that come to life upon his first touch. Then he tells them that they could work in the field with him and since they were born out of rice and milk, they would be called Halakki.

This is the story the women of this group believe. When we talk about Halakki, we talk about the women. The women of this group are the glue who have been holding this 400 year old ancient tradition alive. Halakki women are hardworking they make paddy fields and sing along their songs when going through the hills and forests. They drape their sarees in a distinctively beautiful way, their naked necks and shoulders are covered with the layers or beaded necklaces they wear. This attire is their identity and makes it comfortable for them to go through hard work in the fields.

halakki women Halakki women in paddy fields

The Halakki has a musical history which they have been carrying till date. Over so many years nothing else but the harvest and the songs associated with harvest makes these vibrant women so happy! The women truly believes that music can change people, so they chase this belief and sing their songs as often as possible to remind their people of their roots and sing them so that the world could never forget them.

Tragically, today there are only 4 women left in the tribe who sing. Only 4 women who remind the world of their 400 year old history. The younger generation moved out to urban areas to pursue their modern dreams but these 4 old women stay back to where they belong and they sing. They sing about fantasises, about daily lives, marriages, protest, about yesterday and about the days to come.

I read an interview where one asks Sukri Ajji (leader and one of the 4 women who sing in the tribe) that what would she speak to a large number of people from cities and other places?

Sukri Ajji replies “Come to our village. Lets sing together!”


Content Research by Shivanki Kannan

Ever played board games when you want to spend a good time with your family and friends or just when you are too lazy to go out?

All of us have played games like Uno, Carrom, Snakes and Ladders and Ludo which require us to go out and purchase the paraphernalia. But what about games whose counts can be found at home itself? Sounds interesting right? Such a game is Chouka. It is a board game that encourages players to stay at home and make use of things easily available  in Indian houses (sea shells(cowries), broken bangles and tamarind seeds) to play by making squares on the floor. Chouka Bhara or Chouka as it is popularly known is played in all parts of India under different names and rules; in Tripura, Chowka is a ‘Race Game’ where in two to four players race their respective coins on a board of 5×5 squares to reach the inner most square. The movement of coins is controlled by throw of four cowrie  shells, hence it is a game of chance. Since each player has four coins, he can decide which coin to move; hence it also comes under strategic games. This game is an example of a partially observable system that involves an element of chance introduced by the roll of special dice and an element of strategy (the strategy being the pawn the player decides to move after the roll of the dice).


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Like Snakes and Ladders, Chouka too was invented in the Vedic era, it traces its history to the Indian epic of Mahaharata which narrates the story of a warrior clan, the major part of it being about The Pandavas losing a game of Chouka to their cousins The Kauravas with their entire kingdom and wealth and a battle that followed for the reconquest of their lost kingdom. It was played mostly during the royal era and this game was mainly developed to improve the counting skills of the children. However, it also taught the kids war tactics and strategies as well as eye-to-hand coordination. It is known by different names in different states of India, Challas Aath in Maharashtra, Kavidi kali in Madhya Pradesh, Khaddi Khadda in Punjab and many other typical names.


It is normally played in a 5×5 square board.  But one can also increase the number of squares depending on the number of players to any odd number squared (for example, 11×11). Assuming the size of the board is NxN (with N being odd), then each player will have N-1 pawns. But the 5×5 and 7×7 versions are more popular. The squares are drawn on floor or a custom made board usually covered with silk are used.


This is primarily a game of chance, but involves thinking and planning. It also helps in developing counting skills. It is an interesting and fun way to develop strategy skills.  Also there are several online sites ( which sell the Chouka boards and related items. Sometimes the boards are made more attractive by doing Madhubani paintings on them. The popularity of the game has decreased with the introduction of new games and technology. Chouka is taking a different turn with people launching the android and online version of the game, regaining its popularity.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!.