BHAONA PLAY Masks of Majuli, Assam
Assam is a land of natural diversity and within its territory you get majestic, lush tea gardens and it also has the biggest river island of the world, namely Majuli. Located in the Brahmaputra River, Majuli island remains a large tourist draw in Assam for its natural bounty. However, the island is also home to the ancient and impressive mask handicraft tradition of Assam.
Bhaona forms the traditional art of popular theatre performed in Assam. It usually has religious content based on the scriptures of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeya. When presented in the form of a play it is called Ankiya Nat and their staging is called Bhaona. These are usually performed at the satras in village and urban setting in Assam. Masks, costumes and jewellery form an important part of presenting the different characters of the play.
The masks made by artisans living in Majuli Island are sourced from natural materials. Primarily bamboo and cane are used as the main frame and after the basic structure is formed, clay layers (no plaster of paris is used – only local mud) are applied followed by application of paints on top.
One unique feature of these masks is they are quite lightweight, despite large dimensions. Based on size and material used in making a mask, it may take a week to a fortnight before it is ready for use. No synthetic colours are used. The artisans are resorting to vegetable based colors owing to increasing environment awareness drives.
These masks represent mythical characters like Ravana, Garuda, Hanuman and other epic characters. Masks of animals like deer, monkeys, wild boar and different birds are also made as required.