Traditionally the masks were made only for Gomira dance performance. But The craft itself is evolving. Now the mask has become collector’s item. Apart from traditional masks the craftsmen also make different show pieces like mermaid, boat, smaller masks and other innovative works like fridge magnet, key rings and jewelleries.
Various design development workshops have experimented with traditional forms and processes. The wooden masks being traditionally large were difficult to transport to far away craft fairs and customers. An efficient solution was aimed at through design workshops.
On the one hand the craftsmen experimented with scaling down the size of the masks and application of these small size masks in products of like key chains and fridge magnets. The craftsmen also were able to create masks that could be dismantled and packaged efficiently.
The steps of making Gomira masks are simple but demand passion and an eye for detail from the artists.
Initially logs are bought and cut at saw mill. Cross sectional cutting is done by the craftspersons. The chunk of wood is split with machines in blocks of 3-4 ft in height. The basic form emerges first with the use of the Banshla, followed by emphasis on facial features. Traditionally the woods are immersed in water for 15-20 days to make it soft but now this is not generally practised to save time.
Once the basic shape has emerged, they use the broad chisel and heaviest hammer to bring out the final shape. As the work progresses, the narrower chisels and lighter hammers are used.
Once the front of the mask is complete except for finer finishing, the reverse side of the mask, where the face of the wearer is expected to fit, is scooped out very carefully. The router chisels are used to gouge out cavities such as the opening of the mouth and eyes. If the mask is to be used for the purpose of dancing, only then the eyes, mouth etc are hollowed out.
The final procedure involves fine chiseling of the entire mask. Once the mask is complete, then comes finishing. Artists smoothen the mask by using sand papers of various grades. Next, the mask gets a coat or two of varnish, which provides smoothness to the mask and ensures durability. They use both natural and chemical colours. Natural colour is made out of Basatbait. The fruit is dried and powdered. The powder is mixed with water and boiled and then mixed with soda. Many customers want the pristine shape with only varnish.
In case of bamboo mask the bamboo is cut according to the size and split vertically. Then sometimes it is burnt to bring the black colour and chiseled to the shape.
The steps of making Gomira Masks
The wooden masks are traditionally objects of devotion and worship. Thus the craft of Gomira mask making in its pristine form catered to the need of the Gomira dancers and any villager wishing to give a mask as an offering to the village deity.
Most Gomira face masks have subsidiary characters crafted along the periphery of the main character. So, the mask is a composite of a principal character surrounded by the subsidiary characters, both of which always have a mythical link between them. For example, the character of Dasarath always accompanies the mask of Jatayu.