The stories behind masked glories

The stories behind masked glories

Be it for ritualistic dances, theatre or worshipping –– over the decades, masks have had many uses. But for Rajaram, who has been collecting masks for close to 13 years, it’s the artistic appeal that made him start a collection of his own. Not having met anyone who actually pursues it as a hobby, Rajaram went along with his instinct to collect these rare items. Interestingly, he says that while it was he who started the hobby,  his family and friends helped the collection grow.

Now, these have grown beyond mere collectables. In all these years, each of these masks have become associated with his memories. As soon as one enters his house, one is welcomed by the many masks that stare right back at you and on a closer look, one can see the intricate details that tell a story. “I have always been a person who liked traditional and creative items that are easy to look at and appreciate. I found that in these masks,” he says.

Rajaram also chips in that more than the history behind the masks, he enjoys the work that has gone into making them. “There are some unique ones in the collection like the one from Nepal, which is made out of tortoise shell and another from Assam that is made out of Bamboo root. The creativity and the workmanship behind these are very impressive,” he says.

There’s also a mask from the South Coast, USA, which has intricate batik prints on it and another that stands out would be the Bhairava mask from Nepal.

 “Most of them are wooden. I prefer those as they have more craftsmanship than the ceramic ones. I do have a couple of ceramic masks,” he adds.

So inspired was he that Rajaram even attempted to make a mask once. And this small creation too has found its space with the collection. “I was curious to try making one myself. I don’t think I succeeded though. A lot goes into a and moreover, making it at home requires a lot of patience. Many materials are also required,” he says.

Whenever his family and friends come across interesting masks, they give it to him. “I have family in the USA, so whenever I am there, I visit all street fares, garage sales, flea markets and second-hand markets as this is where one comes across the rare masks, which are real as compared to those available at commercial gift stores.

I have even picked up many while travelling in and around India. Some of them I found at the small exhibitions in the City,” he explains. He always sticks to a budget. “There is no limit to the price tag. But I don’t go overboard. I keep a limited budget. Because of this I have lost out on many unique finds,” he says.  

But one wonders if the thought of spells and myths that revolve around masks ever crossed Rajaram’s mind. “I have never been a slave to such superstitions. For me, these are pieces of art and crudely speaking, another piece of furniture in my house. We bring in our own fate and no mask or item can change that,” he states.

In fact, going back into the history of masks, Rajaram says, “Till the late 19th century, masks in Africa were considered to be horrific ugly grimaces. It was only later that the Europeans got interested in them and saw the artistic side to them.”
Rajaram has kept the maintenance of the collection very simple. He dusts them as and when he finds the time and also rearranges them according to themes.

“I like displaying them according to the theme. We have some with the same expressions while others play an instrument. So I like to keep them together,” he adds.

The real challenge arises when he gets a new mask. “Space is a huge constraint. So each time someone gets me a mask, I have to rearrange them again to make space for it,” he adds.

If there’s one thing Rajaram hopes for, it’s more spaces for flea markets and street fares in the City.

“They provide a lot of scope for artisans to grow and even make it easier and more affordable for the common man,” he sums up.

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