Photo and Story by Partha Pratim Saha
Chorida village of Purulia district has a long tradition of chhou dance even from the days before independence. In the trip down Chorida village, rows of workshops manufacturing chhou masks can be seen along the roads. The artisans mostly belong to the Sutradhar Clan.
The mask-making process is indigenous yet very advanced. First a cast for the faces and headdress called “cchacha” is prepared by clay on a plank. Then used paper is mixed with gum from mulberry plant. The paper is rolled between the palms to prepare the soft pulp. The cast is smeared with a layer of ash. Then successive layers of paper are applied on the cast. The entire thing is then dried in sun. After the rough foundation of paper pulp, the final details are carved out by applying clay. The character gets its eyes and face by the skilled fingers of the artisans. Finally the mask is wrapped in a clay-soaked muslin cloth for a smooth texture. Next the masks are colored. The eyes and expressions of the characters come alive with the expert brush of artisans. The masks are then beautifully decorated using zari, sparkles and pith and beads.
Almost 60-70 families are engaged in this profession and masks produced from this village cater the needs of chhou dance groups of Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura districts. The artisans of Chorida village have their showroom in Purulia town. Mask-makers normally have their workshops in their own houses for direct trade with customers.