‘Mukha’ or mask-making had its roots in Majuli, the repository of Vaishnav cultural heritage and art form in Assam. The culture of mukha has been conceptualised by Sri Shankardeva and depicts the characters of Srimad Bhagwat to the devotees.
Since history, the practice of mukha making has been carried by the various Satras in Majuli. Bhakats (traditional priests) are involved in mukha making and use it for the religious purpose, especially during Raax Utsav. At present only a couple of Satras- Kamalabari and Chamuguri Satras are engaged in making exquisite mukhas. Chamaguri Satra is renowned for their creativity in Mukha making; Bhakats of this Satra are known to make beautiful and elegant masks which are used for religious dance and drama.
With time these mukhas have been used for commercial purpose. It has been also seen that individual craftsmen are also involved in carrying out the mukha culture now. The mukhas portray characters such as Ravana, Putona, Bali, Jatayu among others.
The process of making the Mukha:
The masks, which usually take 10 to 15 days to make, are made from locally available materials like bamboo, cane, cloth, clay and vegetable dyes.
The framework of the masks are made with loosely woven bamboo strips joined together into the desired shape of the face and then pieces of fine cloth dipped in sticky clay are pasted over it in layers to cover the structure, which is then dried in the sun. When half dry, a mixture of clay and cow-dung paste is used to shape the eyes and other features, while the ears are usually made of bamboo pieces, which are then stuck on and the bark of trees or jute is used for hair, eyebrows and other accessories. Later, a smooth piece of bamboo, ‘kordhoni’, is used to file the mask and smoothen the surface, following which the mask is ready to be painted with earth and vegetable dyes.
Mukha making culture is not only restricted to Majuli, but efforts have been done to make this craft culture of Majuli global. Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Hem Chandra Goswami of Chamaguri Satra has been working to revive its past glory and make them available for tourists in smaller and convenient forms. “The traditional masks of Majuli are big in size and though light, people find it inconvenient to carry it back with them. Therefore we have decided to make smaller versions so that tourists from abroad and other parts of the country take them back with them,” he said.