Gomira dance: Gomira mask-makers see silver lining

Gomira dance

Gomira dance is a masked dance form. The word Gomira has been derived from the colloquial form of the word “Gram-Chandi” or the female deity who is the protective force of the village.

Gomira dance is a rural dance form mainly practiced in the Dinajpur district of West Bengal.

MoU between West Bengal government and UNESCO:

In 2013, after a memorandum of understanding was signed between the West Bengal government and UNESCO to promote culture-based livelihoods, things began to change for the better for these mask-makers.

Till 2013, Sankar Das, a skilled craftsman carrying forward the 300-year-old tradition of making the unique Gomira wooden masks in north Bengal, lived in obscurity. A native of Kushmundi block in West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur district, he was among the 200-odd artisans making a living creating these masks for the annual Gomira dance festival held in and around the village.

According to Banglanatak.com, a social enterprise that partners with UNESCO in capacity building among the mask-makers at the ground level, a survey carried out in 2015 pointed out that not only had the number of masks made by the artists increased, but also the number of days a craftsman put in to prepare the masks had risen from seven to 30 in a month.

Festival to promote art

Since 2013, a number of initiatives have been taken, which include setting up a training-cum-resource centre at Kushmundi and organising a village folk festival every year.

More about the Gomira Dance:

  • The dance has been evolved into mainly two forms – the Gomira form and the Ram-Vanvas Form. The Gomira form is the traditional form with the characters of Bura-Buri (Old man- Old woman), Smasan Kali, Masan Kali, Dakini Bishwal, SigniBishwal, Bagh (Tiger), Nar-Rakshas and Narsingha Avatar.
  • The Ram-Vanvas form depicts the Van Kanda of Ramayana. Traditionally, the dance starts with the entry of two characters Buro-Buri, who are actually said to be the human forms of Shiva and Parvati.
  • After their performance, other masked dancers enter their arena to perform. According to the Gomira tradition, these gods took human shape and descended on earth so that they may bless the humans and help them to fight the forces of evil and establish a righteous way of life.”
  • There are no vocal or oral parts in the dance. The performers dance to the beating of dhaks (a percussion instrument) and Kantar (cymbal like instrument).
  • The dance does not have any specific movement or form; dancers just go with the flow creating their own movements.
  • The masks worn by the dancers are quite heavy and they wear the masks in very suffocating conditions. The locals believe that while dancing, the gods enter the dancers and they are then able to dance in such oppressive conditions.
  • The dancers who especially put on bigger masks often go into trance supplementing the beliefs of the villagers; they have to be restrained by sprinkling water from the Gomira Ghot.

GOMIRA DANCE MASKS The Gomira masks are handcrafted by the villagers. The villagers often pledge these masks to their deities when they want their wish to be fulfilled. The wood-crafted Gomira masks represent the two forms of the dance – the Gomira and the RamVanvas. The craft of Gomira Dance masks or mukha is practiced in certain regions of North Dinajpur district of West Bengal more so in the village of Mahisbathan is the Kushmandi Block. These masks are usually objects of worship and devotion.

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