The artisans making the traditional wooden masks of Kushmandi in South Dinajpur district in West Bengal are seeking a bigger market for their artefacts to boost income.
The makers of the traditional masks lament that they get fame by creating 'mukha', as they call it locally, for generations but practically no money.
"I had made a mask of 10-headed Ravana which is now at a museum in London. But I was not much financially benefited from it. Fame is good, but it will not help meet my daily needs," said veteran mask maker Sachin Sarkar.
A London-based organization had arranged for sending the Ravana mask to the museum in 1987 after a member of the museum liked the artefact at an exhibition held in Kolkata.
The 'mukha' makers are concentrated in Mahisbathan village in Kushmandi block but their main source of livelihood is agriculture.
"We do not get good price for our masks locally. If the government can arrange for marketing the masks outside, it will help us immensely. The masks fetch good price from outside the state," said another artisan Paresh Sarkar.
The masks made are traditionally of goddesses like Durga, Kali, Lakshmi; mythological characters like Rama and Ravana, besides those of animals and birds, said Paresh Sarkar, who is also president of the Mahisbathan Hastashilpa Samabay Samiti, an organisation of the artisans.
The masks are generally made of 'chhatim' or 'gamar' wood. Spme bamboo masks are also made.
"Our masks are priced between Rs 1,000 and Rs 30,000. But the job of making masks is not readily available," said Sachin Sarkar.
"People buy the masks as showpiece items. They are also used in some folk dances," Paresh Sarkar said.
For the past four years, a fair on Kushmandi masks is organised by the state government in association with the UNESCO and a private body, Banglanatak.com, at Mahisbathan.
Nirmalya Roy, an official of Banglanatak.com, said the organisation had sent an artisan, Shankar Das, to take part in a handicraft exhibition in France in 2015.
Das said, "I did not have the slightest idea that our masks would be so sought-after in the exhibition. Whatever I had taken there were sold out," he said.
He also visited London, Edinburgh and Glasgow last year with Kushmandhi handicrafts and those too were sold out.
Tapas Kumar Roy, a senior official of the South Dinajpur District Industrial Center, said efforts were on to create a larger market for the mask makers.
"We have also sent a proposal in this regard to the government," Roy said.
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