TITLE: Chhau Rakshasa
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
SUBREGION: West Bengal
DESCRIPTION: Rakshasa Mask
MAKER: Sri Gokul Chandra Rai, Santineketan, West Bengal
CEREMONY: Purulia Chhau Dance
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; wire; dyed cloth; tinsel; beads; dyed feathers; paint
Chhau dance is a modern version of a classical Indian dance with tribal origins, originating in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal. The dance is usually structured around Hindu folk stories exalting the gods Shiva, Devi or Vishnu, and uses both elegant and martial techniques. The Purulia Chhau of West Bengal and the Seraikela dance of Jharkhand most commonly use masks to identify the character portrayed.
This specific mask is of the Purulia type and portrays a rakshasa, an earthbound, bloodthirsty, shape-changing demon. In the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, rakshasas are numerous and fight on the sides of both good and evil.