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RAMAYANA MASKS & Mask of Asia : India / Srilanka & Himalayas

India, Sri Lanka, and the Himalayas

The major civilizations of the world emerged on four river valleys:

  • The Tigris–Euphrates River valley (Mesopotamia)
  • The Nile River valley (Ancient Egypt)
  • The Yellow River valley (Ancient China)
  • The Indus River valley (Ancient India)

We want to mention the Indus Valley Civilisation on the Indian Subcontinent or the land of Bharat, which the world knows as India. The name of the country is born from the name of the river. When the Persians and the Greeks invaded this land, they called the indigenous people “Sindhu” or “Hindu” people. And in the reign of King Alexander the Great of Greek, he had marched his army to the Indus Valley. Thus, the Greeks had made a statement near the river. They called his river “Indos,” the indigenous people and the non-Greek pronounced it “Indus,” which later became India. However, the Indians named their motherland “Bharat” because they believe that they are the descendants of King Bharata, the first king in the Mahabharata, which is a part of the Vedas sacred texts.

The majority of people in Bharat believe in Brahmanism and Hinduism, which are believed to originate over 5,000 years ago. The believers believe that their religion has no beginning and end and will forever exist in the world. When the Aryan people migrated and took the Indus Valley, they had driven the indigenous people, known as Dravidians, away. They have adapted Brahmanism into a new religion called “Sanatan Dharma,” meaning eternal righteousness. However, the ordinary peoples called this religion “Hinduism” after the name of the Indus Valley.

The Hindus believe that there is one supreme divinity called “Trimurti,” which consists of Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the guardian and preserver). The believers of these religions follow the Vedas sacred texts as their life guidance. The two epics, the Mahabharata and The Ramayana are the secondary religious text after the Vedas. They are pivotal in aiding the rulers to govern the subjects under the righteous moral framework. The two epics reflect the concept of love, harmony, respect in the family, and obedience to one’s parents, teachers, masters, and leaders. Every institution in the epics put their faith in honesty, goodness, loyalty, and morality. The method is a mediated intelligence work of a religious leader, who deeply plated the two epics into the heart of generation after generation. Even in his last moments, Mahatma Gandhi, a significant leader of India, was asking for “Rama” in the departing breath. This unshakable belief aids society to live together in peace.

The “Ramayana” is an epic told for an extended time in many Indian regions. However, the first person who had written down these oral traditions is Sage Valmiki, over 3,000  years ago. He wrote the Ramayana in a Sanskrit poem called slokas; the work itself consists of 24,000 shlokas. It is regarded as a Samitti, a secondary religious text after only the Vedas. The author of Ramayana, Sage Valmiki, has stated that “As long as the mountains and rivers exist on earth, Rama’s story would forever live in the world.” Thus, the Ramayana play is regarded as a semi-religious ritual, based on the traditional framework built to maintain holiness and the belief in Brahmanism and Hinduism. Later, it had been widely spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it will continue endlessly.

The Ramayana and the Masks of Faith

In present-day India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are still continuously told throughout the country. The development in performance and creativity had led to different forms of entertainment, depending on the region. In art forms, statues and paintings of Rama exist, such as the statue of Bharata Muni with Rama’s shoes on his head, now on display at a museum in Delhi. There is a statue of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita in South-Indian style; the Ramayana facade engraing at Papanatha temple in Pattadakal Temple Complex which is displayed in its entirety. Or at Ellora caves, which feature murals of the Mahabharata on one side and the Ramayana on the other. And at Vijayanagara city, which features a picture of Hanuman. This place is the origin of Hanuman-worshiping. And the masked performance that exists in various cities such as Rajbansi and Sikkim.

The diversity in beliefs and faiths of Indian people has influenced the development of masked performing art depending on the region. The significant influence came from Mahayana Buddhism, for example, the nation on the high mountains like Bhutan, which has Vajrayana Buddhism with Tantric practices, resulting in various expressions of beliefs and faiths. At the same time, Hinduism still firmly believes in their gods. Countries in the Himalayas, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have been influenced by the beliefs and art masks from India.

In the other region of India, Nepal, or the Himalayas, whether it is around Rajbansi, Tharu, or Sikkim, the majority of masks are the demon-linking goddess Kali or Hanuman from the Ramayana. The Varaha or the Ravana mask is made of wood and has ten faces lined up, as we can see in the Ramayana movies. Besides that, Nepal’s indigenous beliefs have produced various masks like the Lakhe, the male demon, the Goiter Female mask, the female monster. In West Bengal state, the Chhau Mask was made to accommodate a traditional dance called Purulia Chhau. The dance tells the story of Indian epics and used in hunting rituals. In Odisha, there is a masked drama called Sahi Yatra, a street performance with many performers, and mostly plays the Ramayana. The Prahallada Nataka is a musical-drama that tells the story of Nrusingha, one of Vishnu’s ten avatars, fighting evils. And the Seraikella Chhau dance from the Santal people in Bihar, which is a masked play invited by a prince from the royal court to play in the Chaitra Parva harvest festival. The dance features Krishna’s mask, Shiva, the moon, and the solar deities.

Examples found in Sri Lanka are the two standout types of masks, which are the Yakun and the Kolam masks. One is worn to personify the Sanni Yakuma, a devil and the bringer of supernatural sickness, which is a part of the exorcism ritual. Another is a part of the ceremony called Kolam Natima. Its purpose is to banish evils and protect pregnant women and babies from supernatural beings that could spread demonic influence on the mother and child.

Tibet has a traditional dance called Cham dance, which is deeply rooted in the shamanistic belief called Bon. They believe that invokers could help them banish evil spirits. The dancer is the community leader or the village’s shaman, for example, the Citipati or Mahakala masks. Later, when the Tibetan people had changed their belief to Vajrayana Buddhism with Tantric practices, the masks’ face had been developed to resemble Bodhisattva or the guardian of dhamma and the Padmasambhava. Other than the Cham traditional dance, Tibet has a masked classical secular theatre called Lhamo. The theatre tells the history and tales of kings and national heroes and the life of the Buddha. The theatre mainly performs to teach dhamma life lessons.


อ้างอิงภาพแหล่งที่มา :

ตัวละครหนุมาน (The monkey god Hanuman is one of the positive, white-bearded tadi characters)

การแสดงสวมหน้ากากคนแก่ ศรีลังกา (An old man) | Photo by : JUKKA O.MIETTINEN

การแสดงมุทราของประเทศอินเดีย (The acting culminates in the eye movements) | Photo by : SAKARI VIIKA

การแสดงการต่อสู้ระหว่างยักษ์และครุฑ เป็นการแสดงแบบโกลัม ประเทศศรีลังกา
(The war between garuda birds and snake demons is also part of the kolam repertorie) | Photo by : JUKKA O.MIETTINEN

The mask of Ravana (III) | The mask of Ravana (as beggar) | The mask of Sankhachura | The mask of Simgha | The mask of Maricha (||) | The mask of Mayavi
ขอบคุณภาพจาก : หนังสือ Ramayana Mask in India