Masks traditionally used for Chau dance depict Durga, Ganesh and various mythological characters. Often the masks also portray animal and bird heads like those of peacock, tiger, monkey, lion etc.
The dance accessories have now been improvised into art pieces by the crafts persons of Charida. Other than masks for Chau Dance, the mask makers also make smaller masks used as decorative items and souvenirs. The repertoire is rich with varied colour and characters including gods, animals, and abstract ideas.
Chau masks are made from paper pulp, mud and clay and undergo many interim processes before taking the final form.
First a clay model of a mask is made and dried in direct sunlight to make it hard. It is then covered with powdered ash and layers of papers moistened with gum are pasted on this powdered mask. It is again covered with clay. On drying, clothes are pasted on it effectively. The mask is then polished.
Once dried the first initial layer of earth is removed.
Then the first coat of white paint is applied.
Finally, the mask is coloured and decorated with embellishments according to the characters they represent. Wool, jute, foil, bamboo sticks, plastic flower and beads are used for ornamentation. Both the male and female members of a family are involved in mask making. Even young boys and girls are also engaged themselves in it.
The major steps of Chau Mask making
Chau, the acrobatic martial dance is a popular art form of Purulia. Chau is inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The masks and dazzling costumes of the dancers make Chau performances a delightful spectre, riotous and revealing. Generally craftspersons make masks of deities, epic and also of tribal characters. The masks are of different sizes starting from small to large ones.The tradition of making Chau masks started in Charida around 150 years back during the rule of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Baghmundi.