Masks of Gujarat # 9

Amongst various tribes who have settled down in large numbers in the soils of Gujarat, the name of these Kokna is worth to make note of. Too many of the anthropologists who have carried on research works in the soils of Gujarat, also identify these Kokna tribes in their alternative names also. These are Kokni, Kukni or Kukna. The Kokna tribes are considered as he Scheduled tribes.

As far as the original name of the community is concerned, it was lost with their migration. Their present name is derived from ‘Konkan’ which is the western coastal belt of Maharashtra. The area between the coastal line and the Sahyadris is the original abode of the Kokna tribal community. Apart from Gujarat, the Kokna live in and around Dhulia, Nasik and Thane of Maharashtra. They are concentrated in the Valsad and Dang districts of Gujarat. As per some anthropologists, the ancestors of this Kokna tribal community were the primary inhabitants of the Konkan and it is from their ancient speeches that the germination of the contemporary Konkni language has actually taken shape. The language of the Kokna tribal community is originated rom the Indo-Aryan family. Moreover, the Kokna people also speak in Marathi language and for writing they use Devanagri script.

The Kokna tribes shape up masks for the famous dance, namely, Bhavada, dance. These Kokna tribes made these masks from soft wood. Various facial expressions, eyebrows, moustaches, cheeks, nose etc. are all nicely highlighted in these woodcarvings.

Bhavada is more special because of its artistic zeal and acumen. The mask dance is held across a number of villages and only at nights in the summer. Each village has a different set of masks, and sometimes masks are even loaned to villages if they can’t afford to have their own.

Bright red, yellow and green in color, they depict Gods and Goddesses like Panch Pandava, Ravana, Ganesh and tribal deities like Kaloba, Mhasoba and Rangatai. Particular families are privileged to do a particular kind of mask. The male members of the family are expected to paint and decorate the mask. Masks may also be made out of cow dung, clay, rice-husks and paper. Every dancer enacts steps typical of the character whose mask he wears, as he dances to the tune of musical instruments like the Sur, Kahali and Sambal.

The art of mimic along with tribal dances still survives in Gujarat. During Holi, Kokna dramatic groups, sometimes using masks, perform in villages with young boys playing female roles laced with wit and humor. Songs of Mahabharata and Ramayana epics are sung to music.

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