MASK - a
Universal Language of Cultural Aesthetics
by Dr. Gautam
International Mask Festival
To fathom Mask, an ancient creation of Man and to find a universal
definition an International Mask festival was organised at New Delhi
during 12-28 Feb.1998 by Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Indira
Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Sangeet Natak Academy and National
School of Drama. Mask a concept beyond the ‘guise’ is a heritage of the
world and works as a powerful punctuation in any culture beyond the
stipulated geo-political boundaries! This festival was an exposition
starting from the Mask dancing rituals across the world and then through
an unique exhibition of mask from world over. This was followed by a
seminar "Mind, Man and Mask" to redifine the world heritage of Masks.
Mask Dancers from Nepal,
Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Japan, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Sweden
demonstrated the Mask as Univeral heritage and language never mattered for
the audiance. Varied types of Masks with character speaking loudly, spaced
with traditional music created the aroma of ‘oneness’ ‘one forum of
connectivity’ for races who are otherwise given a compartmantalised ‘identity’,at
least at global political scenario.
The festival started with the
traditional mask dances of Nepal. The ‘Mahakali Mahatmya’ ‘Kumari Dance’
of Newara community and the ‘Mahalaxmi Dance’ ‘Khicha Dance’ ‘Yama Raj’
were classed apart as classical dances of Nepal. The lucidity of music of
Himalayan echo and rythmic lure of footsteps evoked tremendous response
from people. Nagada, Dholak to Tah are the some instruments which gave
those sacred masks a musical expression value!
participation was from Bhutan whose leader Mr.Sangay Tenzin said "We
belive Mask Dance as religious cultural tradition which dates back to the
8th century A.D. Masks remain as hereditary symbol within the parameter of
religious function". Bhutan where Buddhist Mahayana tradition survives
with vitality ,which are cultured by trained monks and laymen . Bhutan
demonstrated mask dance ‘Durdag’ the dance of the Lord of the cremation
ground; ‘Dramitise Ngacham’ and the dance with swords in ‘Driging
Kaycham’provided the audiance with rare sacredness of this Himalayan
Kingdom. Mr.Tenzin explained that mask are made of wood and only men can
create those but sometimes ladies are involved.There is a tradition of
offering masks to Gods which are never to be used again . In monastries
there are masks which are existing for over hundred years. Thus the
tradition of masks continues within the ‘sacredness’of the man sometime
within and sometime outside those religious phonetics. The costumes of
Butanise dance troop are unique as those are said to be codified in sacred
canons of Buddhist traditions. At the inspiration levels the masks and its
associated ritualistic story line represents a powerfull comprehension of
nature within the psyche and outside as well!
The ‘Black Umfolosi’ from
Zimbabwe was mask troop with diffference. In their performance we find
modernity and traditional concept of ‘spirit’of the family live together.
In their enactment a modern boy goes for job-hunt and the family spirit
guides him, redirects and takes him to the destination. Here the spirit is
not supposed to be seen by others remain ‘protector’for the boy. Finally
the ‘Spirit’ make him a ‘singer’. Lucky Ali head of Black Umfolosi said
that "Culture knows no barrier where words can no longer communicate,
Music and dance take over". Further Lucky said ‘ people in Zimbabwe
retreat from technology in this dance as this mask dance works as software
of human mind and one gets relief from the stress of life. Thus we see
Mask has not taken the back-stage rather those are again interwovened with
Coming to Indonesian panorama the festival saw the Topeng masked
dance-drama which is most popular art form of Bali. This masked dance is a
form of a theatre integrating dance, storytelling singing and music with a
la costumes project the rich cultural heritage of Indonesia. Head of the
troop Mr. Nyoman Astita said that Masked dance is part of sacred temple
performance but also there are secular mask dance beyond the temples
amidst people at a theatrical level. Tracing the Indonesia tradition Mr.
Nyoman said that on auspicious occasion after performing puja mask makers
approach the jungle to select wood and those days they do fasting and take
non-vegetarian food and lead very sanctified life until the mask is made,
and that too must finish on an auspicious occasion. In Indonesian language
Mask is known as Topeng, Tapel and Tapuk which mean to cover the face.
The mask dance from Indonesia
presented the 16th century story of King Sidhakarya. The play script
depics the adoption of a powerful but physically ugly brahmin of
Kelling(Kalinga) as a member of the royal family by King Waturenggong of
Bali. The varieties of masks and some with intricate details not only
enthused the audiance but left a mark in the mind of the people beyond
their masks. The lyrical orchestra with a break of laughter created by one
character ‘mein Madhuri Dikshit from Bali’ the acting of this Mr. Lady
amused all and forced to throw of our ‘Masks’!
The Japanise Mask dance
perforemed by Chichibu Shachu and Nakadai Hayashiren groups opened up-- a
new horizon with the touch of Community participation.
The Nakadai Hayashiren group
leader said that mask dance remained a part of annual community festival.
The repertoire included ‘fox dance’ gave a fiery movement which represent
the state of breaking restraint, exorcising evil spirits of peace to
prevail in the world. The flute and dance with the main character throwing
sweets to the audiance gave the community feeling within the mask dance
which are not only functional but very much engrossed in social culture.
In the rare cultural treat of
Ivory Coast depicted the mask as ‘departed ancestors’ who is also given
the status of god the creator. For the people of Cote d’lvore mask remain
a powerful link between two wrolds namely seen and unseen. The ‘Gbapleu’
dance focuses the ritual conotation and sacred alliance between men of all
ages and status. This was a powerful mask tradition of West Africa.
Mask Dance of Sri Lanka
expanded the horizon of knowledge of traditional art which is sandwitched
between ‘dying and living’ rural art of ancient Lanka.
Prof.M.H.Goorutilaka traced the tradition of Sri Lankan mask dance to at
least 1000 years. Masks are depictions of Gods, Demons, Animal and
mythological types. Interestingly there is no Buddhist temple tradition of
temple mask dance as we see in Japan. Prof. Goorutilaka explained ritual
masks are traditional excorestic mask dance where healing mask looms large
which are still belived by people. It also reflects the ‘folk religious’
pulses of Sri lanka as living tradition. The fiery dance with conch
blowing and sacred invocation created the riutal aura even on stage. The
break of laughter and the demonic influence of the exorcist with fire play
made the audiance spell bound.
The ‘Faust’ performed by the
Marionetteatern company of Sweden presented marionettes and masks wherein
a scientist sells his soul to the devil to get back his youth as his
scientific quest became frustrating. But the scientist realised the
‘illusion’of his desire but it was too late to recover and finally has had
to go to hell.
Likewise we see mask at
ritual and theatical level is thriving world wide and those masks proved
much more than mere ‘guise’but often referred the ‘other’ of the self as
reflective character .The similar ethos were echoed in the Indian mask
dancers like Krishnattam, Seraikella Chhau, Purulia Chhau and then
Thanatomorphia wherein death got redefined as seductive danger, passionate
lover ,the liberator etc. Thus some glimpses of Indian mask dances
projected the ‘sacredness’, ‘mythology’ and ‘history’ and ‘philosophy’and
all are surviving with mask but without ‘betrayal’! Mask dancers from all
parts of the globe showed their functional elements and evoked fresh
responses to revitalise the ‘mask dance’ world wide.
The Mask festival was given a new turn with the opening of an exhibition
‘Mask & Man’ or Rupa Pratirupa by IGNCA which was followed by "Mind, Man
Mask" an internatonal Seminar though it meant only to intellectualise the
understanding amongst the chosen few. Nevertheless, focus remain the
exhibition which was one of its kind.
The exposition concentrates
to conceive the ‘mask’ right from the cosmic principal of Purusha and its
manifestation within the course of civilization’s life stream. Since the
era of Rock paintings mask remain a close reflective concept of man and
ventilated his mind through those ‘mask’to depict the ‘unseen’ world.
Ritualistically speaking mask remained an integral part of human endeavour
to ‘connect this world with the other’ so is the case of ‘self and
non-self’ to the ‘other’.
Some 400 masks from 21
countries were shown in this exposition and those were punctuated as
‘Natural Power’; ‘emotions’; ‘Narratives’ of the epics; ‘Social world’
encompassing ‘Celebrations’ and finally focussed at Ritual.
Perhaps, the primitive man
who first feared the ‘natural power’ around them copied the world of
animals and birds around them. Along side they feared the dynamism of
‘nature’within and outside so they created ‘masks’as a potent linkage
between ‘this world’ and ‘the other world’ and coined rituals around those
be it Zimbabwan ‘family spirit’ or Indonesian ‘sacred masks’ or Srilanka’s
‘healing spirit’. Those masks are no isolated objectives but enthused with
traditional music of traditional people and costume to depict the related
psyche. Those depiction of ‘natural world’ depicted one side actual
imitation of world of animals and others in manifestive forms especialy
Masks from Indonesia. The Brazilian monkey, Prego Kukoire depicted the
natural fiber mask which is ritualstically close the the ‘mind’but again
that is a ‘reflection’ of natural world.
Masks to explore human emotions are of very wide nature, which depicts the
life and its mood curved out in those masks. The varied sad moods of
Korean masks are much closer to the human experience--as if very natural
mask without ‘guise’. Again the four ‘crying’woman of Greek word on white
showed the ’melancholy’of tears with eye lids!
shut! The ‘ anger’ from
Bhutan and ‘laughter’of Mexico and Goanise mask remained an eye catcher!
Think how a man with paralysis would look like, that is depicted in the
ritual gallery wherein Sri Lankan ‘Healing spirit’ is shown. This is also
‘forced situational’ emotion of man placed separately.
Another important gallery was
the ‘Narrative’section which weaved the world be it Christian,
Buddhist,Hindu in its dimenstions with powerful interplay of theme,
charatcer and aesthetic sensibilities as well. The hidden feelings of
‘icons’ could find the artistic touch is seen here. The story of Italian
monks with mask and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana and its
manifestation in Indonesia are some powerful ‘stop-overs’! The Buddhist
legends of Bhutan Sikkim, Ladakh to the birth of Christ in Pastorela from
Mexico provided the world-view of ‘belief systems’which is cultured by
people world-wide alike. The addendums are the character, physical
appearance like sharp noses, detailed headgears and mask within mask to
depict superimposition of characters are few observations.
Mask also remained a close
associate of mankind from the theatrical dimensions to the spirit of
european ‘carnivals’. Today much of the traditional masks have taken the
back seat and only window for viewing them remains the stadia or
processions. But mask remains a subject of great admiration for people who
some time took mask as spritual expressions and some time provided
‘laughter break with satire’as a relief from the technology which is
musking the modern man !Nevertheless, ‘Masks’ from world-over proved the
universality of ‘mind’ and depicted the power of ‘human imagination’ which
actually re-knitted them on a modern fabric.