Hamsa or swan mask for Chhau dance. Pigment painting on papier mache and gauze; 26 cm x 16 cm. West Bengal or Bihar. c. mid-20th century. 7/2368.

The Chhau dance, a ritual dance-drama enacting themes from the epics, is essentially “of Bengali origin and it has ultimately spread upto the districts of Bihar namely Ranchi, Singhbhum (which includes Seraikella) and of Orissa, namely, Mayurbhanja.1

This hamsa or swan mask, made from papier mache and gauze, strikingly conforms to the pantomime of a swan. The highly stylised eyebrows, lips and nose are reminiscent of exaggerated features in a theatrically vigorous performance that necessarily “mask” the Chhau dancer’s individual feelings.

1 Bhattacharya, 1972, p.31

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