Use of mask in sankarian theater and present scenerio.

Deepak Bhuyan.
Mask is a primitive art of mankind which was first used in hunting wild animals to make the hunt easier. In the course of changing human civilization the position of masks changed from hunting field to the field of ritualistic activities. Later on masks were used for satisfaction of deities according to the faith of the concerned tribes or group of people. And by degree masks occupied the both ritualistic and entertainment fields of human society. During the period of 12th century to 15th century the mask culture deserved a potential role in the mystical plays around the world. The same trend of using mask in the theater is observed in case of Sankarian theater of medieval Assam.
It was Sankardeva who initiated the mask culture in the theatrical tradition of Assam. Use of mask as religious belief of almost all the tribal community of North East India have been observed since ancient time. Many tribal villagers preserved their masks for as long as several centuries. Masks were considered as auspicious property of the concerned tribes which witness to the past and to the continuity of their tradition. Sankardeva learned the art of mask making from the available sources of ethnic mask culture which was flourished almost all parts of the country at his time. The masks which were used by him was made of bamboo. It is known from the GURU CHARIT written by Ramcharan Thakur that , Mask of Ananta Sarjya, Face of Brahma and his carrier Swan, Face of Siva and his carrier Brisava the Bull and the mask of the great avian Garuda, the carrier of Lord Bishnu was made by Sankardeva . We get the information of using masks by Sankardeva in his first performance CHIHNA JATRA from the same GURU CHARIT as follows –

Garundarar mukha Sarbajayaka dilonta
Ketaikhaye khol dharilonta.
Sarbajaya atoi mukha pindhiya goilonta
Lampho diya Sankare upore uthilonta.
[ The mask of Garuda was given to Sarvajaya, Ketaikha taken the khol.
Sarvajaya Atoi entered holding the mask of Garuda and Sankardeva
seated jumping on the top of Garuda .]
The mask of Sankarian theater can be divided in two major categories i,e, Earthly and Unearthly. In the first category all sorts of earthly things such as human being , animals, serpents, living and non living worldly things are counted and in the next category Divine characters such as Brahma , Bishnu, Siva, Gods and Goddesses along with evil spirits and demonical characters are counted. In case of the structural view point of the masks it is again divided in to three classes. 1] Face Mask - which covers the whole face .2] Full body mask - which covers the full body with head and face and 3]Big mask - which are also treated as gigantic.
Sankardeva believed that mask is an art of bold expression through which people of all walks can be impressed. Only because of the boldness of expression modern theater practitioners are aspirant of using mask in their theatrical creations and relive the necessity of using mask in our contemporary theater. In the scenario of the mask user theater practitioners we get Edward Gordon Craig, Brecht, Eugene O Neil, Arden, Grotowski and many more.
It is traceable that Sankardeva innovated mask in his theater to dramatize the character of his plays to the extreme. Having expressed the path of salvation he used the masks to show the public the result of good and bad deeds , where the mask in particular characters made a tremendous impact on audience psychology. His foresight in the theatrical expression of middle age is culminating than that of the present days researches in the aspects of theatrical mask culture. The key part which has been playing by the mask in the Sankarian theater tradition is the vital power of today's theater. But in case of resemblance of our theatrical mask culture with others, a depressed environment is occurred . Because the tradition of theatrical mask culture which was introduced by Sankardeva has not been well nourished by the people of the concerned field.
In a statement of world theater history it is revealed that the theater masks which were first used in the mystery plays of 15th century has been playing a modern role in the contemporary world theater because of its quality craftsmanship. As an example it can be stated that the Greek theatrical masks were used and developed as the style and type of performances evolved. Because of sound craftsmanship some masks were able to release smoke and fire. The Comedia del arts style of Venice [Renaissance, Italy] contributed a lot for the development of theatrical masks. Today the masks of Africa reveal the depth of it aesthetic value for the skillful effort of Cartesians. The same picture is seen in case of Japanese mask culture. It is observed across the world that the developmental attitude of theatrical masks is still continued . Only because of the ceaseless efforts the mask performances are going to be realistic as modern day film.
In comparison with the global mask making development and its applications in theatrical performances it can be said that the tradition of Assamese theatrical mask making and its application is in deplorable position because of lack of adequate attention and education on the subject. Though the Vaishnavite Monasteries of Majuli and other places were continued a tradition of mask making and its application and preservation but unfortunately it has lost its zeal in continuation of its effort to the present period. It must be stated here that the traditional mask making culture which was continued by the Vaishnavite Monasteries was not in the track to be adored by the people of modern period. Because of lack of knowledge on the subject, character and expression, all sorts of traditional efforts were gone in vain. The mask which were used for the present time audience should have a sense of modernity with latest style and technology. But no effort has been traced in case of making and using mask in the Sankarian theater [Ankia and Matrivasa Bhowna.] to attract the audience of modern era.
It is true that the indispensability of making masks according to the interest and aesthetic requirements of today's audience can't be denied. So it is the peak time for taking bold step on the subject without fail.


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