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Lockdown hits folklore fairs, bid to offset loss

Chhau artisans tweak masks to ward off demon called Covid-19

Snehamoy Chakraborty Purulia Published 17.05.20, 09:25 PM
Charida residents in masks of Chhau design

Charida residents in masks of Chhau design Telegraph picture

Bengal’s Chhau artisans, who are known for their expertise in making masks worn by performers of the semi-classical folk dance form, have turned innovative to produce protective face gears of distinct style and colour to survive the economic hardship that Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown has brought upon them.

The artisans from Purulia’s Charida village make colourful masks of deities and demons that Chhau dancers use and are a craze at country-wide fairs, where people buy them to decorate their homes.


To offset the drop in demand for traditional masks after fairs were cancelled because of the lockdown, the artisans have turned to making protective masks using paper and cloth that have the imprint of Chhau designs on them.

Local folk researchers said the move by some of the 150 artisans of Charida, where the tradition of making these masks is over 100 years old, was an instance of how a virus could force them to make a real-time product to fight financial crunch.

“Chhau is a very old dance form and the masks are as old as the tradition. Earlier, masks were made of wood, but later, the use of paper and cloth were introduced to make it light,” said Kiriti Mahato, a folk researcher in Purulia.

Falguni Sutradhar, 51, who has taken over the art form from his forefathers, was the first to design the protective mask that would help people cover the face and nose and yet be colourful and stylish. The masks have become a craze among several youths in Purulia, which is still in the green zone.

“The summer is the season to sell our produce. I spent Rs 1 lakh to buy raw materials but failed to get a single customer. I thought that I need to design the mask that has become a mandatory wear now. It has become an instant hit,” said, Falguni and added it would be of big help if the government promoted it.

The artisans said they were planning to make thousands of such masks and market them in the coming days.

“We got into big trouble as we took loans ranging from Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh and bought raw materials. If masks become mandatory, we thought of using the raw materials to make these protective gears along with the traditional masks,” said Uttam Sutradhar, a artisan.

Doctors and health officials said they would examine the ability of these masks as protective face gear.

“It is well designed and has striking looks. But we need to verify its protective value,” said Anil Dutta, Purulia’s chief medical officer.

Purulia district magistrate Rahul Majumdar said he would promote such masks through various government projects to help the needy artisans.

“We can help them to sell those designer masks through Biswa Bangla market,” the DM said.

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