Of Theatre, Masks and Tradition – Keeping Folk Art From Assam’s Majuli Alive

The culture of making masks in the satras (monasteries) of Majuli – the centre of Vaishnava culture in Assam – would perhaps be incomplete without the mention of Hem Chandra Goswami.

Over the last 35 years, Goswami has taught a large number of students how to make the traditional masks used in Bhaona, a folk theatre form. Sankardeva propagated this form to relate to the people the religious plays that he wrote. Goswami will be remembered for his additional contribution to this form, for creating a unique set of ‘speaking’ masks with bamboos that help the actors deliver dialogues while wearing them.

Goswami, from the island’s Samaguri Satra, may be known for his expertise in the field of make-up used in Sattriya, the classical dance form introduced by saint-scholar Sankardeva in 16th century Assam, but it is his contribution to mask-making that makes Goswami stand out. The masks are yet another unique art form that Sankardeva introduced and Goswami adopted.

Goswami exhibited some of his distinctive creations at the Rongali festivalm, a three-day annual festival in Guwahati, which took place between February 4 and February 6 this year. Fragments of Majuli culture in the capital city attracted a lot of attention from visitors. The culture of Bhaona makes a rare appearance in Guwahati these days.

 

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