Friday, May 9, 2014

Stolen Tharu masks

Masks have always been an enigma – the wearer gets into the skin of somebody else and appears to be starkly different than his/her self. Masks have been used during celebrations, festivals, shamanic rituals, worships and traditional dances.

The tribals and indigenous people around the world have been wearing masks during their magical and religious rituals and Tharus are no exception to this culture.   

While masks made of metal, leather, wood and even stone were used by our ancestors, to my knowledge, only wooden masks were used by the Tharus. And the masks were used to entertain and perform dances and rituals. Looking at the Tharus masks unearthed by collectors and auction houses in Europe, the masks were used during religious and shamanic rituals. The masks might have been used to disguise, hunt and tame animals, suggests the tiger mask below.

Bodhi tree shaman exorcism

Tharu monkey mask

Tiger mask

Ritual mask

Kali mask

Professor Dr Shanker Thapa, Central Department of History, Tribhuvan University has also included masks used by Tharus in his presentation “Cultural and folk masks of Nepal”.

European researchers like Gisele Krauskopff are also taking interest in traditional Tharu masks. It was great to meet her during one of my story collection tours to western Nepal. I have written about it in my earlier post “Unveiling the Tharu masks”.

As there is a lot of interest among collectors for the tribal and indigenous masks, Tharu masks have been stolen from Nepal and India and have landed at the auction houses in Europe. The theft and selling of the antique masks need to be stopped immediately and further research on Tharu masks needs to be carried out to unveil the rituals which have not yet seen the light of the day.

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