The origins and history of masks is shrouded in obscurity. It is believed that masks might have been used in black magic arts by performers in order to conceal their identity or may have been used by migrating people during pre-historic times. Masks however have always held a prominent place in tribal culture and are an important symbol of a deeply religious society. Tribal priests would wear masks to perform various magical rituals and masks of rakshasas were used to ward off evil and bring good luck to people.
Masks were also used in ritual performances (Gamira) and street theatre performances (Jatra). Gamira is a dance form invoking the Kali, the tantric Goddess. Jatra, a form of street theatre, originated in Bengal in the 15th century as a result of the Bhakti movement. Over the years, the jatra repertoire became secular and started dealing with love stories and socio-political themes. This collection also showcases vintage handcrafted wooden sarangis used in the performances which are over 60 years old.
Migration of highly skilled artisans to cities as manual labour led to the decline of mask making. Today mask making in this region comes under a UNESCO protective mandate. The government of West Bengal in association with UNESCO is now reviving this tradition and trying to create a sustainable livelihood for the artisans. Natsy by Design supports this cause and offers these artisans a platform through which they can popularize this art form.