Mask theater: a splendid tradition of shankarian theater art.

Assamese mask theater is going to decay. Therefore a Congregational effort of practicing and popularizing the mask theater in a scientific way is a call of time, which must be responded without fail for the sake of Assamese theatrical art and tradition.

Deepak Bhuyan.
The mask theater was introduced in the later Shankarian era with the theatrical assets of Shankardeva. Shankardeva himself used masks in some particular characters of his plays. But in the later period an approach had been done where all characters were presented with masks. However in some mask theater presentations it is also observed that the major characters such as Krishna , Rama, Balaram, Lakshman, Sita were kept without masks. Except these characters all other characters were presented with concerned masks.
The mask theater was capable of getting much popularity among the viewers of different strata not only because of its aesthetic pleasure but the essence carried by such presentations impressed everyone in an unfathomable way. It was possible through the attractiveness of mask variety and characteristically allured acts. But today the culture of Mask Theater is not seen widely, it is only exist scattered in such places as Sivasagar, Nogoan, Jorhat and Dibrugarh practicing in a comparatively less importance of audiences. The reason of this obliteration of broad masses may be counted as 1] People`s attraction for western culture and interest of earning easy money. 2] Lack of nationalist feelings and relinquishment of tradition. 3] Everyone is tended to introduce with modern culture in the name of modernity.4] Modern theater encompassed the learned section for their aesthetic exercise. 5] Folk base functions lose it grandeur in the new colorful lights of western culture which has been back upped by the capitalist economy.
I have therefore, very little material at my disposal for writing the continuity of this theatrical culture. In this connection, it should be made clear the fact that in Assam, till now, neither scientific approach nor any encouraging effort has been made widely for the sake of this culture both in Governmental and public platform. However , Majuli the world`s largest river island in the Assam state of India is the only place of Mask culture and the open air museum of mask and other traditional assets of Assamese culture. The said mask theater was first introduced in Majuli through the Shakarian theater. As told before, Mask theater is purely Shankarian theater where the mask gets priority in case of all characters. In time of Shankardeva masks were used for some particular characters but in later period the effort of using masks for every character of the play is enjoyed and these presentations were treated as Mask Theater. Shankardeva wrote seven plays namely 1] Rama vijaya. 2]Patni prasada. 3] Parijata Harana. 4] Rukmini Harana. 5]Keli Gopal. 6] Kaliya Damana and 7] Chihna Yatra, (the script is not available now). The use of mask in the said plays was limited to some particular characters but in the Mask theater presentations of later period all characters were designed with masks. It is an outward expression because the script and other characteristics of the play remains intact. The same script can be presented without masks and with full masks. Though the accurate time period of the said practices are not known but it can be presumed that these types of presentations were started after the demise of Madhav Deva, the main apostle of Shankardeva, who left this world after his Master. The use of masks in case of every character of the play presentations got tremendous support of the audiences and became an extraordinary branch of Shankarian theater as Mask Theater.
Masks have been used since antiquity for both spiritual and social purposes almost all over the world. It has been playing a major part in the world theater tradition which is continued till today. The use of masks in our contemporary theater is highly valued. Assamese are lucky enough that Shankardeva showed the path of using masks in aesthetics and other patterns of creativity. The new tradition of Mask theater which was enriched by the disciples of Shankardeva is a glorious chapter of Assamese cultural history. Though the performance of Mask Theater is continuing today but the lack of required depth and density of such presentations are not up to the mark. The said performances are seen in a gap of 4 to 5 years or more, which is a sign of decay. Because of long intervals of mask theater presentation it is going to be a subject of inattentive for the people of Assam. Therefore a congregational approach of practicing and popularizing the Mask Theater in a scientific way is a call of time, which must be responded without fail, for the sake of Assamese theatrical art and tradition.



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