The festival they look forward to the most may have been scrapped due to the pandemic, but that hasn’t taken away from the zeal and spirit of the tribals of West Bengal and Jharkhand. Hundreds of Chhau masks that they had prepared for Chaitra Parab, which usually starts from mid-March, are now being transformed into safety masks with necessary alterations to its design and materials in a bid to fight Covid-19.
With the pandemic putting a halt to their beautiful tradition meant for welcoming spring, more than 20,000 people have been rendered unemployed. Around 11,000 tribals are actively involved with making masks and costumes for Chhau dance. Since preparations start from January, hundreds of masks and costumes were ready by the time coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The artisans were clueless about what to do with the masks until they met Amitava Ghosh, a social worker from Jharkhand, who was there for an inspection project. “Since I could not help them in any other way, I gave them the idea to make safety masks from the ones they had already produced,” said Amitava, adding, “Chhau is regarded as one of the most auspicious traditions by the tribals and they are usually not keen to make changes. I was really happy when they readily accepted this idea.”
The gorgeous masks take over a month to be made by artists of the Sutradhara community who use 8-10 layers of soft paper and glue. Along with other rituals of Chaitra Parab, more than 40,000 people from Purulia, Medinipur and Birbhum in West Bengal and East Singbhum, Bokaro, Dhanbad and Ranchi in Jharkhand perform Chhau dance within and outside the villages. Since the dance is traditionally performed by all-male troupes, masks play a significant role in portraying the female characters.
On Thursday, Amitava — who recently came up with a prototype of the Chhau safety mask — met doctors to understand how it can be made more secure. “They suggested not to seal the nostrils and use three layers of clothes — cotton, fiber and cotton — there to improve filtration. They even asked me to produce masks in smaller sizes for children, who’ll be thrilled to see their favourite heroes from Indian mythology on the masks,” said Amitava, adding he’ll incorporate these changes in a week
Source: Times of India