Himalayan Masks

The Himalayan region is a culturally diverse region that integrates animistic, Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions in a unique cross-fertilization. All have had a masking tradition of some form in the past.

A wide range of styles and skill levels are reflected in examples that may be eloquently executed classical masterpieces or roughly hewn primitive expressions crafted by unskilled hands. Himalayan masks are often characterized by one of the three major cultural spheres present in the Himalayas. Primitive masks from animistic ethnographic groups, Vajarayana Buddhist masks and masks representing heroic characters from epic Hindu legends.

Tribal Himalayan Masks

A unique cross fertilization of religious ideals exists among the many ethnographic groups that inhabit the remote mountains of Nepal. Many of the parhari or 'middle hills' ethnographic groups were animists that worshiped local mountain deities that controlled all aspects of village life. They were subsistence farmers and animal herders who traditionally invoked shamanic cults to protect them from disease and natural calamity.

The tribal mask making tradition may represent ancestral, animistic and shamanic vestiges of now long lost or suppressed local religions. Not bound by an orthodox religious canon they created original interpretations out of simple forms.

Nepali shaman could intercede and petition malevolent mountain deities that controlled disease, weather and fertility in crops and animals. Today the jhankri and dhami who are traditional shamanic healers do not wear masks. Exactly how they functioned is somewhat conjecture adding to the mystery surrounding them. Some are undeniably very old and powerful despite the lack of verifiable provenance.

Profound changes have taken place as local myths have been transformed by the dominant Hindu and Buddhist cultures that surround them. Ancient narrative folk legends slowly change over time as dramatic development in social, political and economic conditions impact upon local village culture.

Buddhist Masks

Vajarayana Buddhist Cham dances were performed in parts of the Himalayas dramatizing the conquest of Buddhism over the indigenous shamanistic religion. Often appearing are fierce pre-Buddhist demons who were conquered and appropriated to become protectors of the Buddhist faith.

Historical heroic characters, animal masks associated with Buddhist legends and skull masks representing the "Lords of the Cemetery" appear in popular dances. "Old man" masks frequently appear assuming roles as wise sage, trickster or joker characters.

Hindu Masks

The Terai region of lowland Nepal is populated by Tharu and Rajbansi ethnographic groups who are culturally similar to adjacent Indian tribal groups.

Today they have adopted the Hindu social structure but still retain elements of animism.

Classical legends from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are performed in colorful masks depicting epic Hindu heroes and demons.

Himalayan Masks, Himalayan Mask, Nepal Mask, Tibetan Mask, , Tribal Mask,

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