Kushmundi of Dakshin Dinajpur is home to 250 crafts persons who are involved in making wooden masks locally called as “Mukha,” inexorably linked to the Gomira dance. It is a dance cum mime performed by various ethnic groups of Dinajpur. Bold demonic look is the characteristic feature of the masks. An annual festival is held by the crafts persons during the month of December where they showcase their crafts.
- Mahishbathan in South Dinajpur’s Kushmandi block is famous for bamboo masks based on popular folk and mythological characters like Moshan, Narorakshas, Hanuman, Chamkali, Chamunda etc., with bamboo vases, trays, incense stands, pen stands also being manufactured by the artisans here.
- Mask-making began not too long ago, when artisans across the region practiced this art form; from 1990 attempts were made to unify them under the wings of theMahishbathan Gramin Hostoshilpo Samiti, and scholars from different parts of the world come here to observe the age-old intricate process of bamboo-carving.
- Bamboo pieces are kept submerged in large reservoirs containing water mixed with mulberry gum powder, bleaching powder and sal; the pieces are taken out after a week and sun-dried. The price of a mask depends on the type of wood it is carved from – with timber varieties such as Gamari, Sal, Mango, Pakur, and Mahogany mainly being used.
- The wooden masks are meant for use in Gambheera dances or Palas (musical folk theaters), as the carvers, or the performers, treat each mask philosophically, by considering it as the Mukha (face), rather than a Mukhosh (mask) – the belief being that it comes alive as soon as one puts his face behind it.
- These ornate wooden masks adorn a large number of homes in Bengal and beyond, with a large number of these masks being exported to the USA, and even enjoying pride of place at the annual State Handicrafts Fair.
The ecstatic wooden mask of Kushmandi in Dakshin Dinajpur district is associated with the Rajbangshi community of the area. Around 150 artists are into making wooden masks and 60 families into Bamboo based work. The wood is generally sourced from the Gamar trees. These masks are a part of the costume of the traditional Gomira dancers who perform it during Chandi Puja. The themes of the masks are generally spiritual, historic and religious. The Government of West Bengal, in partnership with UNESCO, has taken up an initiative to develop Rural Craft Hub at Kushmandi.