Charida, snuggled at a corner of the culturally rich Purulia district, is the village of 300 skilled mask makers of the celebrated dance form of the region, Chau dance. It is an acrobatic martial art based dance form inscribed in UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This quaint village in the land of red soil is located at the scenic foothills of Ayodhya Hills, about 5 kms from Baghmundi.
The tradition of making Chau masks started in Charida about 150 years back during the rule of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Baghmundi. The vibrant, colourful and elaborate masks convey the vigorous intent of the art form that portray animals or characters from the epics. Paper pulp and clay are used to make Chau masks. Decorations are mostly done with plastic feathers and beads. Embellished with Zari, glitters and foils, the eyes of the masks are wide open. Knitted eyebrows and thick facial hair made with jute fibers, give some masks a demonic character.
A Rural Craft Hub has been developed at Charida by Government of West Bengal's Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises & Textiles, in association with UNESCO.
One can also plan a visit to Charida during the artist's annual village festival. The nearby Ayodhya Hills and the panoramic view from the PPSP Dam are additional attractions. One may also plan a stay at the nearby Gandhi Ashram at Nimdih from Charida.
One can stay at hotels in Purulia/ Ayodhya or at lodges in Charida or at Gandhi Ashram in Nimdih.
The artists in Charida have formed a collective called Chau Mukhosh Shilpi Sangha. There is a resource centre at Charida also. The resource centre has a workshop space in the ground floor. The village has shops from where Chau Masks can be purchased.
Chau dance is believed to be over a century old practice. It is the lifestyle art form of this area. The lives of the bearers of this tradition have been intrinsically linked with the jungles they dwelled. With time and an ever changing landscape where human habitations took over the jungles, the dance form went through the crisis of the changing context. Nuances of the dance form like tiger, monkey or deer dance steps were almost forgotten. Thankfully, the efforts of the local exponents have achieved the desired results of reviving the lost traditions. Chau Masks of Charida have been witness to this crisis and evolution. Traditionally the masks mainly portrayed mythological figures like goddess Durga, Ganesh and Demons. They also depicted animal and bird heads like peacock, tiger, monkey, lion etc. But these days they are also creating home décor and lifestyle items.
The 5th edition of 'Chau Mask Festival' was celebrated on December 14 - 16, 2018.