Tulu and Nandi Sarkar are brothers from Beldanga village of District Dakshin Dinajpur, West-Bengal. They have been practicing Gambhira and Gomira mask making from their childhood. Each mask making and usage has a rich history and place but both are used as part of the dance with the Gomira songs.
The brothers stay together in a joint family of 7 members: Artisan Tulu Sarkar is older of the two at 36 years with one son while Nandi Sarkar is 33 years old with 2 daughters. The two traditional craftsmen are proficient and immensely talented who have been adeptly trained and guided by their father Shankar Sarkar - an adroit craftsman himself who has been recognized several times with State and District awards.
The use of masks in rituals or ceremonies is quite an ancient practice worldwide and is no different in this cultural setting too. And the Sarkar family has always been able to differentiate themselves with traditional approaches vis-à-vis the younger artisans who have had learnt the skill with a contemporary approach to the craft.
Tulu Sarkar has studied up to class 12 while Nandi is a honours graduate and together today they work with their craft cooperative to preserve the ancestral craft and their livelihoods while also maintaining the respect to their father and the community at large.
In North Bengal, getting good quality wood and bamboo as raw material is never a challenge. But today the Gamar wood is not so widely available as the tree takes 30 – 40 years to mature. The Gamar wood is also particularly favoured because of its lightweight (as people wear it for the dance performance), strength, durability and resistance to termites or other damaging elements being naturally seasoned.
Mask-art is suffering a grave crisis and is seemingly dwindling due to lack of proper exposure, economic support and recognition, which is hard to over-come. And even though it has been a family trade for many, the enthusiasm and means to foster and nurture this craft is visibly missing.