Mask making is one of the most famous traditional crafts still practiced in Majuli. It is mainly practiced by the Sattras. Natun Chamaguri Sattra has worldwide acclaim in making exquisite masks. It has been practiced by the Bhakats here for centuries. Masks are an integral part of Sattriya culture. Traditionally, masks were used for religious dance and drama. They were conceptualized as a tool by Shri Shankaradeva to make and depict the characters of Srimad Bhagwat to the devotees. Masks helped to provide a physical form to the puranic characters. They also helped people to associate with the character and expressions of the mythical heroes.
However, presently the masks are made both for religious as well as commercial purposes. This art is practiced by a few Sattras like Uttar Kamalabari and Chamaguri. In most of the Sattras at Majuli this art is not practiced at large scale, only those Bhakats who are inclined towards mask making have continued the tradition. Apart from these sattras individual craftsmen from nearby villages also have been practicing the tradition of mask making.
Masks are used for religious performances and traditional dramas. Mainly materials like bamboo and cane, cloth, clay and rock color etc are used for making masks. In some case wood may also be used. Traditionally three types of masks are prepared viz.
Traditionally, first the frame of mask is prepared using bamboo and string etc, then using color and cloth the final finishing is done by the master craftsmen. Bhakats plant trees as per their requirement and maintenance of these trees are also their responsibility.
There are two types of masks based on frame material used:
Bamboo is spliced into small pieces and long thin sticks are crafted into a skeleton of bamboo shaped as per requirement of the character. Over that, a layer of cow dung or clayey soil is applied for minute details such as nose, eyes, ears and others. A piece of cloth is stuck over that with gum and dried in sun. Hengul, Haital, Neel, and Balichanda (mica) is applied for accentuation.The paper mache masks are made with clay cast. The clay is shaped with a knife, seeds of Bihmana or Kendu is crushed for making the gum which is applied over the pieces of paper. They are then soaked and cast on the clay cast. Hengul, haiatal, Neel, Dhalmati etc are powdered on a brass plate with stone and they are applied for color. The brush used is made of cat's hair stuck on a pointed bamboo. The colors and dyes are stored in small bamboo nodes. The paper masks are used only for making headgear. For other parts bamboo, mud, and cloth are used. The masks that are made for the characters of Brahma, Hansa, Ganesha, Gaduda, Jatayu, ten headed Ravana, Kumbhkarna, Taraka, Maricha, Subahu, Putana, Chakravat, Kaliya Naag, Bakasura, Aghasura, Dhenukasura, Batsasura, Hanuman, Jambuban, , Baraha, Nar Simha etc. Masks for Krishna, Rama, Lakhshmana are not made. For the day of the performance they are regarded as the God's incarnation. Apart from these the craftsmen also prepare Dadhishal, rathas (chariots) for war, swords, Gada, Bow and arrow, axes, trishula, Vajra, Chakra, Head gear, Nupur, full sized cow, horses etc are also made as per the need of the story being recited.