Bhaona Play Masks of Majuli Assam
Bhaona Play Masks of Majuli, Assam
Assam is a land of natural diversity and within its territory you get majestic, lush tea gardens and it also has the biggest river island of the world, namely Majuli. Located in the Brahmaputra River, Majuli island remains a large tourist draw in Assam for its natural bounty. However, the island is also home to the ancient and impressive mask handicraft tradition of Assam.
Bhaona forms the traditional art of popular theatre performed in Assam. It usually has religious content based on the scriptures of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeya. When presented in the form of a play it is called Ankiya Nat and their staging is called Bhaona. These are usually performed at the satras in village and urban setting in Assam. Masks, costumes and jewellery form an important part of presenting the different characters of the play.
These masks represent mythical characters like Ravana, Garuda, Hanuman and other epic characters. Masks of animals like deer, monkeys, wild boar and different birds are also made as required.
Process of Mask Making goes though following stages:1. Bamboo Work 2. Skin Making and 3. Coloring
To make a mask the craftsman uses a local variety of bamboo known as jatibanh (Bambusa tulda Roxb) , which is neither immature nor very mature . First with the help of a machete (da) the bamboo is cut into pieces of about 2 to 2.5 meter in length. These bamboo pieces are kept under water of pond or pool for a period of 5 to 7 days . The soaking of bamboo pieces in water prevent insect attack and provide more flexibility to the bamboo tubes . Then with the machete tubes are longitudinally cut into a few pieces from which splits are made with the help of a sharp knife (katari ) . These bamboo splits are woven in open hexagonal pattern to make the base of the mask.
Then pieces of fine cloth dipped in sticky clay are pasted over it in layers to cover the structure, which is then dried in the sun. When half dry, a mixture of clay and cow-dung paste is used to shape the eyes and other features while the ears are usually made of bamboo pieces, which are then stuck on and the bark of trees or jute is used for hair, eyebrows and other accessories. Later, a smooth piece of bamboo, ‘kordhoni’, is used to file the mask and smoothen the surface, following which the mask is ready to be painted with earth and vegetable dyes.
Raw Materials And Tools
The masks, which usually take 10 to 15 days to make, are made from locally available materials like bamboo, cane, cloth, clay and vegetable dyes.
Primarily bamboo and cane are used as the main frame and after the basic structure is formed, clay layers (no plaster of paris is used – only local mud) are applied followed by application of paints on top.
One unique feature of these masks is they are quite lightweight, despite large dimensions. Based on size and material used in making a mask, it may take a week to a fortnight before it is ready for use. No synthetic colours are used. The artisans are resorting to vegetable based colors owing to increasing environment awareness drives.
These masks, which represent mythical characters like Ravana, Garuda, Hanuman, monster bird called Bakasura, Sugriva, the fiercest demon of them all, the many-headed Ravana and other epic characters, are in demand only when the bhaonas (portions of the epics adapted as dramas) are performed or during raas festivities in November.
Masks of animals like deer, monkeys, wild boar and different birds are also made as required.