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Shankar Das, Gomira Masks
Address: Village : Sabdalpur
P.O : Manikar
P.S: Kushmandi
Dakshin Dinajpur 733132
West Bengal

41 year old Shankar Das was introduced to the Gomira mask making craft as a young lad of 16. He was inspired by his father who was a traditional folk theatre artiste, performing in Ram Bonobash palas. The Ram Bonobash pala form of folk theatre employs wooden masks as part of the costume for some of the players. His father, who always played the role of Hanuman, would fashion a unique mask for himself from a well-worn wooden plough.  When the young Shankar, heard about the training being offered at Mahishbathan in Kushmandi block, Dakshin Dinajpur, by master craftsmen, he grabbed the opportunity. 

Fired by a desire to make a mark in the world with his craft and earn a decent income, he began his tutelage under master craftsman, Shankar Sarkar.  Today, he is a master craftsman and the senior most craftsman at the Mahishbathan co-operative. He has travelled around India and has visited France and the UK, participating in fairs and exhibitions.  Shankar informs us that it is the traditional masks that are coveted abroad as collector’s items. 

Shankar also works on personal orders. He divides his day between working out of his home and at the cooperative. His work has a steady clientele – craft outlets in Kolkata and Delhi. While it is his traditional masks that are special, he too caters to modern demands, and crafts small masks for home décor.  The newer models and designs, which the artisans were encouraged to adopt from about 2012, with an eye on urban demand, take a longer time to complete, as greater attention is paid to the ornamentation and finish. The traditional masks though, with their rugged and rustic look, have their own inimitable charm. It takes him two days to sculpt a modern mask, while he can carve two traditional masks in a single day. 

Shankar’s sons are still young, but he has trained numerous students. Currently, he has 22 students who work under him at Mahishbathan and about six students at home. 

The artists at the cooperative get 50% of the selling price of each mask; the rest goes back to the cooperative to pay for the raw materials which is supplied to the artists. For Shankar, his craft has proved to be reasonably lucrative and he is content with the success he has achieved so far. 

Shankar feels that if it had not been for the Mahisbathan initiative started by Paresh Roy and the early master craftsmen three decades ago, wooden Gomira masks would not have achieved the fame they have today. They would have remained as rare artifacts. He is grateful that they have become so popular and hopes that the state government will ensure the continued sustenance of this craft through adequate marketing and promotional measures. The promotion of the ritual dance in performance spaces in recent years has also led to a proliferation of Gomira dance teams in the district. 

Shankar has also participated in Gomira rituals and interestingly, is of the opinion that the dancers don’t actually go into a trance, as is firmly believed by the villagers. He feels it is the weight of the mask, with just two small slits for the eyes, that makes breathing difficult and therefore the dancers simulate a trance like state in order to make a suitably acceptable exit. The play acting is necessary to uphold the strong beliefs of the villagers.  

 

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