Kerala Folklore Museum has a rich& rare collection of wooden& bronze masks of varying type representing the period stretching from 17c to 18Century.The cultural life of people who lived in the different historical period is revealed in these various masks of different shapes and designs. The origin of masks could be traced to ancient societies which employed human figures to symbolize deities. Masks are of 4 types-GOD mask, Fantasy mask, Human mask and Animal mask. The GOD mask and the Fantasy mask represent the meta-physical and super human traits. In certain folk & classical performances, the GOD masks are used to depict divine characters. In Krishnattom, a ritualistic art, GOD masks are used by certain characters in their performances. Hailed as the popular mask dance of Kerala Kummattikali, a folk art ,uses an assortment of GOD masks while giving performances. In certain parts of India, GOD masks are used to propitiate the SUN GOD, SOMA and other celestial stars.
There are ritual masks originally belonging to Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Orissa, West Bengal regions. Ritual masks are used to perform ritualistic acts in order to please deities going back to ancient times. Human Masks are found in some ritualistic acts of folk culture in India. The old lady who appears in Kummattikkali-the Kerala folklore is a prime example of human masks employed in folk performances.Certain masks showing a comic expression might have been used in folk performances or to humour Kings .The function of comic mask is to provoke laughter among the audience through their poker faces. According to Natyasashtra, this type of humour is called Parastham, meaning gesturing. Bharatmuni, the ancient sage in his magnum opus Natya shastram details the method used to make masks for theatrical performances. Some masks made of wood or metal were originally made for worshipping prominent persons after death in their villages. Animal masks are also made use of in folk & classical form of arts as well as in ritualistic performances.
Animal masks are used in ritualistic performances as well as gaming in the past. The bronze mask of Panjurli is being a spirit of totemistic origin rooted in Southern Canara region of agricultural & forest land, Panjurli is worshipped both as a family deity and venerated by the public. The serpant figures are placed around the panjurli mask and it shows the gradation the deity. Panjurli belongs to the vegetarian category among Bhootas. Pilichandi another spirit of totemistic origin is worshipped in the southern canara region of Karnataka, belongs to the non-vegetarian category among Bhootas. Pilichandi is specially invoked to ward off the menace posed by the Tiger & other wild animals to cattle and crops.Vishnumurthi is another Bhootha commonly found in Sothern Canera region.The origin of bhoota worship can be traced to worship of ancestors as ancient as the paleo-lithic age.
In Theyyam performances face masks are generally used.There are several features common to both the Bhoota rituals of Karnataka & the Theyyams in Kerala.South Canara district of Karnataka and Kasargode and Kannur districts of Kerala retained the ritual festivals which were part of the rich cultural history of south India. Legends of many Theyyams are related to the people & places of Tulunadu and some of the Theyyams and Bhootas bear identical names with similar physical forms and stories associated with them.During hunting expeditions, men of yore used Animal masks to intimidate wild animals.
Painting of facial masks is based on the position of six head features such as the eye, eye-brows, nose, lips, cheeks and chin. The expressions shown by these masks are based on the special prominence given to each feature.The black colour on the facial mask denotes fear, White for the Sathvagunas, Red for ROUDRA expression and yellow stands for divine aura.Skill and imaginative sweep of the artists who give shape to these masks are reflected in their colours and designs.Here one can find masks used to decorate building structures in ancient times and which were called Mughavadas in KarnatakaYou can see the remainder of natural lamination process on some of these face-masks.The sap extracted from the bark of pine tree and collected before sun rise is usually used for laminating the painted masks to retain their original appearance.
Certain masks display Roman or Anglican or even Latino features could be traced to the trade links between Kerala and Europe in early times and also due to the colonial influence.
The headgear and other ornamental decorations are an important part of various art forms of Kerala. It is ornamental in classical arts like Kathakali, Yakshagana, Mayilattam etc while decorated with wooden carving of goddess in ritual art forms like thira. Theyyam headgears are spectacular in sheer size and appearance and tall headgears give a touch of the supernatural. Thira is a beautiful headgear made from the root of Jack Fruit tree Thira is the symbol of Goddess Kali Poothanum and Thira is a ritualistic art form found in north Kerala. It is usually performed once or twice a year to cleanse the entire village off evil spirits. By this art form tribal class people are expressing their gratitude to the goddess in the harvest season. The Poothan and the Thira with their concomitant bells and anklets are synonymous with serene & unsullied villages that have long ceased to be a reality in Kerala. In earlier time Kathakali head rest is made from Jack Wood and is treated in medicinal water to reduce the weight is also exhibited here.