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Mukha or masks are the expression of mythological characters of the epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. The art of mask making in Assam was conceptualised by Srimanta Shankardev, a Neo Vaishnavait saint during the mediaeval period. He, also known by the name “Mahapurusha” was the pioneer who brought about revolutionary changes in literature as well as in socio-cultural life of the region. He established a new era of educating the common people through Bhakti movement. He created dramas, composed songs, poetry and paintings based on the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The dramas composed by Shankardeva, called Ankiya Bhaona were based on the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
According to Birinchi Kumar Barua, a renowned Assamese writer, “Shankardeva realized that the appeal of his kavyas is oracular rather than visual. So with a master -stroke he transformed and elevated this rudimentary play into a kind of drama built on classical concept and grandeur.” The performers in bhaona(drama) were called bhaoriya. Certain characters such as Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, Jatayu, etc. were difficult to portray using make-up or clothes. To accentuate such characters Srimanta Shankardev created their images through masks (Mukha).
A mask made at Samaguri Satra by Dr. Hemchandra Goswami, Majuli, Assam