Behind The Mask
Art Soul Life|Nov - Jan 2018

A small Bengal village caters to the need for the spectacularly large masks involved in the Chhau folk dance form, but the assault of modernity has made its future uncertain, says Jimmy Arora

Jimmy Arora

At 79, Dhananjay Sutradhar is full of life and passion for his work. He enjoys every bit of the process that goes into the making of masks worn by Chhau dancers while giving stage performances. The advancing age has done little to dampen his spirit as he still works for around 10-12 hours a day adding colour to the masks. For him, work is worship, which he performs with complete devotion. The septuagenarian is proud of the fact that making of Chhau masks has given his Chorida village an international recognition. Popularly known as the Chhau mask’s village, Chorida in Purulia district of West Bengal is around 300 km from Kolkata, the state capital. It is the only village in the world where almost every household with over 600 people, including women and children, are involved in making these masks that depict both mythological characters and their modern adaptations. The masks produced from this village cater the needs of Chhau dance groups of entire Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura districts. Dhananjay says, “It is more than bread and butter for me. It’s my life. As a small child, I have grown up seeing my father make these masks. The vivid colours used in the art attracted me a lot and I fell in love with it. When boys of my age were busy playing in the fields, I spent my time making masks. Nothing made me happier than taking pride at my own creation.” The tradition of making Chhau masks in Chorida started over 150 years ago during the rule of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Baghmundi. Legend has it that the king, who had acquired the status of a Kshatriya, started the trend of Chhau dancing at his palace, but gradually the art spread and the shows began to be performed in nearby villages. 

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