Wednesday, October 17, 2012

master of masks

Every day in Boudha, I would pass a cluttered yellow workshop front nearly obscured by the heaps of bangles, embroidered slippers, and cheap bags that were growing like vines from a little stand just outside. From time to time over the past three summers, my attention would be drawn to sculpted brown faces carefully arranged on the pavement. I was always intrigued by the grinning skulls and suspicious deer, but for some reason felt a little intimidated to enter the workshop and inquire about their purpose. This was the summer I got past my silly inhibition, and walked in. It was a small, musty, badly lit room— the walls were covered with bulging eyeballs, ferocious teeth, and expressions of horror and surprise. There was a wispy-haired man sitting under a wildly coloured Garuda, carefully shaping a skull with knowing fingers coated in glue.

The man scarcely looked up from his hands, though he was willing to answer my nearly inaudible questions with a smile and a gentle voice.

"Not for sale— only for monk ceremony."

I learned through our quiet exchange in broken English, that he was commissioned by the local Buddhist monasteries to craft these beautiful masks for their ceremonies and celebrations. Last year, Lama S.T. had taken me to see a Lama Dance at a nearby gompa, in which I was lucky to see these masks in action— leaping and spinning in all colours. The man revealed that the masks are made by molding a mixture of sawdust and animal glue, then dried in the sun and painted with acrylics.

How I would have loved to have taken one or three home!

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