THE MASKS OF MAJULI ISLAND

Majuli, an exotic river island in the mighty Brahmaputra river, the biggest in the world. Experience an unspoilt Assamese rural life, or the Mishing tribal life, and visit one of the many Vaisnavite monasteries called Sattra. You can walk or move on a bi cycle. Get a different feeling once you land at the island, a feel of unspoilt nature will grip you. The great divide created by the mighty river Brahmaputra with the main land probably stopped the modern day development in the island. It is a blessing in disguise as Majuli is the hotspot of Assam's eco tourism development.

The Masks: The masks of Majuli have a uniqueness. These are made of clay, bamboo, cloth etc. Despite the size of the masks these are quite light in weight. Masks are made on all the characters of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranas.

In Assam masks of both wood and bamboo are used in various folk performances .The tradition of mask making is a hereditary skill passed down from father to son or teacher to students in the Sattras. Most of the craftsmen who still shape these masks are connected to or are inmates of the Sattras. They do not belong to any specific cast group. The materials used in these masks are mainly wood, bamboo and cane, as these are readily available. Masks in bamboo and cane follow structure weaves of basketry, which is a common item in every Assamese household. This readily available skill is creatively adopted for mask Mahisasura making as bamboo is a pliable material.

The armature and initial form of the mask emerges when finally split bamboo strips are loosely woven together. Once the frame is complete, pieces of fine cloth dipped in sticky clay are pasted over it in layers to completely 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 as the final coat. Ears are usually made of bamboo pieces, which are then stuck on. Another layer of cloth soaked in clay is then applied and the mask is left in the sun to dry. Later a smooth piece of bamboo, Kordhoni, is used to file the mask and smoothen the surface. The jute or the bark of trees is used for the hair, eyebrows and other accessories. The mask is now ready to be painted. It takes about ten to fifteen days to complete a mask. Earth and vegetable colours are now being supplemented with chemical dyes. The masks as a result look garish but are striking nevertheless.

The size of the masks vary from some that cover only the face to those that envelope the full figure and measure one hundred and seventeen inches by sixty four inches. Some of the very large ones are worn from the waist upwards. The traditional colours used to paint the masks were hengul and haital or red and yellow with black and white as accents.

There are three types of masks: Cho Mask, Lotokai Mask, and Mukh Mask .The Cho mask is usually the biggest in size. The head and body portions of this mask are made separately. The Lotokai mask is quite similar to that of the Cho mask but smaller in size. The Mukh mask is only the mask to cover the face only.

Meet Koshakanta Deva Goswami, the head of Samaguri Sattra. He is the master craftsman of the famous masks of Majuli. He is the winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademy award from the Government of India, a recognition for the outstanding contribution in the field of culture.

 
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