Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's initiative to revive the art of mask making in Bengal has not only majorly benefitted the artisans but has made the ancient art global.
The masks are being sold through the Biswa Bangla showrooms at NSC Bose International Airport, Dakshinapan, Biswa Bangla haat, Bagdogra Airport, Darjeeling and New Delhi. The revival of the mask makers has been done by the department of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and Textile.
After coming to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee instructed the MSME department to prepare a comprehensive plan for the revival of the art. The incentives given by the state government helped to bring back many of them who had left the trade and joined other professions like daily wage labourers etc. The state government is not only financially helping the artisans; even the folk dancers who use these masks are given regular programmes.
The masks or mukhosh has a mysterious history too vague to be chronicled in perfect sequence. It may be mentioned that Rabindra Bharati University is going to set up a museum where the masks that are made in Bengal along with their history will be exhibited. This will be the first-of-its-kind in the state.
Masks are being used in various dance forms that are performed to please gods for peace and prosperity. Made of wood, they also consist of bamboo, sponge wood, clay and even paper.
Kushmandi in South Dinajpur where Gambhira masks are made and used by the Rajbanshi community has drawn global interest.
Students of Anthropology and Sociology as well as History and Fine Arts from different national and global universities are visiting the area to watch the art of mask making, a senior official of MSME department said.
Malda's Gambhira masks are associated with Charak festival. The masks are made of wood and then attractive colours are applied. The clay masks of Ghurni in Nadia have witnessed a revival too. Ghurni is famous for clay dolls. The masks have been developed by Biswa Bangle for home décor.
Bakura's dokra masks, made of metal castings, have been developed for home décor as well.
Gita Karmakar, a local Dokra artist, has received the President's award for making contemporary sculptures with this art form.
The official said masks have global market. Masks from Mexico, Thailand, France and Germany are very popular. He said attempts are being made to market Bengal's masks in European countries and the USA. The nodal officers in the districts visit the artisans regularly and supervise and monitor their work as well. To meet international standards, high quality craftsmanship is required and to achieve that the artisans are provided appropriate training by the experts.