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The Mask Makers of Himachal Pradesh
The folk arts are symbols of civilization. They represent the skill of the people to create beauty and excellence from the available natural resources. The art of mask making is an expression of rhythms of day to day existence. The masks represent the emotion and imagination of the artists. Passed on from generation to generation, the folk arts are the true form of the legacy of our ancient culture.
The deep-rooted sense of devotion to local gods like Grama devata or village deity and Kula devata or family deity has compelled the artists to continue the tradition on mask making with the missionary zeal.
The masks are commonly made for the religious purpose to be put inside the temples. The other customers were the rich people.
The mask of the gods and goddess adorn the entrance of the village houses to keep away the ill luck and ghosts.
Types of Masks
In Himachal Pradesh the traditional masks of seetu or lion, braktoo or leopard, deities, demons, Dharamraj or god of death, Vajra Pani, Padmasambhava etc. are predominantly used in numerous performing arts.
These arts include the Chham or devil dance of Buddhists and the folk theaters like Swang, Karyala, Dhuria swang etc. The masks are also used in fairs and festivals like Shyala, Naranattar, Deothan, Nirsu, Hinger, Bhuda Chhango and Padeyie.
Masks of Kullu
In Kullu valley, it is obligatory on the part of the artist engaged in making masks to impart training to at least one member of their family. Inheritance of traditional art has been considered as fulfillment of the will of god. But this nourishing of legacy has helped in continual of the traditional art.
During the festival and religious ceremonies, the masks of deities representing the idol of god and goddesses are installed at different places of worship. It is due to the reason that it is difficult to carry the original idols during religious processions. Some of the masks of deities date back to 12th century or before.
The masks are used in the traditional Fagli dance of Kullu. The masks are termed as Mandialye, Dhalyare, and Reeshe.
Masks of Rampur
In Rampur Bashar, the wooden masks in folk styles in the temple of Dattatreya at Dattanagar are used by the villagers in the plays, which are performed three days after the Baisakhi festival.
The play depicts the victory of gods over demons signifying the victory of good over evil.
Masks of Sirmour
In Sirmour the masks are very popular.
These are used in folk dances on occasions like Diwali or community dance at temples on religious occasions etc.
The masks in Sirmour are generally made of Khal or skin and aluminum.
The skin of the goat, Himalayan ghoral or wild goat and other animals is used in mask making.
These masks are termed as Moohre in Sirmour in the local dialect.
Masks of Kinnaur
The white metal masks are popular in Kullu valley.
The wooden and terracotta masks are commonly used in Kinnaur.
These masks are termed as Bugg in Kinnaur.
The preparation of raw material for terracotta in some parts of Kinnaur is peculiar.
It is a manifestation of the religious leanings of lamas or Buddhist monks.
The herbs like Chandan or sandalwood, resin, akhrot or walnut, heera- moti or diamonds – pearls and several costly ingredients are ground and mixed with clay.
The art of mask making is gradually vanishing in Himachal Pradesh. A workshop of traditional mask making was organized at Shimla in collaboration with the Department of Language Art and Culture Himachal Pradesh and the West Zone Cultural Centre Udaipur to popularize or revive the art. This workshop was the first of its kind in India. It was a concerted effort to revive the centuries-old folk craft and thereby to ensure its protection and propagation.
The mask making artists have fallen in bad days, without adequate patronage by the people and the state.
The first museum of masks in the country has come up at Udaipur in Rajasthan under the aegis of West Zone Cultural Centre. The center has set up a Shilpa grama or art village near Udaipur. The concept of art village is a unique experiment and envisages converting and promoting the rural folk arts of India. Besides mask museums, the horse puppet and terracotta museums have also been established in Udaipur.