Painted faces of gods, tribal folk, mythical beasts and other colourful characters lend a splash of drama to the masks of Charida, used in Chhau dance. Photo by: Bappa Pabitra/shutterstock
Finding Purulia’s Magic Masks
Hugging the Ajodhya Hills in Purulia district, amid rust-red soil and ponds packed with water hyacinths lies the ‘mask village’ of Charida. On most days, Chhau mask artists pore over papier-mâché moulds, natural dye, and flashy beaded ornaments in front of the workshops that line the home of 300-odd families. Some specimens are modelled after Hindu gods, while others mimic snarling mythical beasts, but they are all used to tell stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata through the tribal dance form, Chhau. Most find their way to the dance troupes that wander village to village during Chhau season (March-June), and a smaller number travel to handicraft fairs in Kolkata, where they’re reimagined as edgy wall accents.
Plunged into acute economic distress in 2020, Charida’s economy awaits a new lease of life. When appropriate, tour the village on foot as the mask men offer a default live stream of the esoteric process. Snag a generous haul of painted visage to add drama to staid urban spaces. Miniature gift item to hulking pièce de résistance, they’re priced between Rs100-5,000.
—Sohini Das Gupta
Charida is 300 km/6 hr drive from Kolkata. Nearest railway stations are Purulia and Balarampur, but the nearest big junction is Purulia, 61.5 km/2 hr away. Accommodation is available in nearby Khairabera and Muruguma regions. Enquire in advance at local stays, www.palashbitan.com.
‘How to Travel Better in 2021’ is a comprehensive list of Indian destinations worth exploring in the coming year, and has been reported by the editors and contributing writers of National Geographic Traveller India. Read all the entries on our digital forum or new National Geographic Traveller India app here.