India & Himalayas

Masks from India or the Himalayas

Monkey mask from the pile
Monkey mask from the pile

Q:  I am currently backpacking through India, and in Jaisalmer I came across a curiosity shop of sorts. I purchased the two masks pictured. One looks almost identical to what you identify as a Nepalese monkey mask. My question is about the cow-looking one. I found a great pile of dusty and dirt-covered animal and humanoid masks that appeared related (see photo I took in the shop). Initially the shopkeeper told me they were used in a village play over 100 years ago and then the next day his brother said they were hung on houses as evil eyes. Obviously I can’t trust either story and was hoping you could shed some light on their origins.  Will, 779

A: Thank you for your photos and comments. I decided to show the monkey mask because it is the best looking of the two. Neither appears to be native to that part of India, but from the northeastern states or Nepal. Perhaps they are associated with shamanism. Also there is the likelihood that everything in that pile was made for the tourist trade. Let’s hope a reader has something interesting to say.


  • Chris

    Although they might be culturally interesting and for themselves, they shurely represent some carver’s skills, these masks can be produced anywhere in the world (actually they resemble greatly Ecuadorian masks, in my opinion). They seem to be quite simply or quickly carved, covered with some varnish, and I would bet the dust and dirt was not lying on them for a long time. Don’t believe the stories, but take a close look on the material. So, I personally would not spend a lot on them, above all if I am a backpacker with limited kilos to carry 😉

  • Chris

    PS: However, I forgot to say something which cannot but be repeated again and again: Collect what you really like! Not everybody might be interested only in real antiques and is an expert in detecting them. In the end, those faces may look greatly on a wall – that’s what actually matters, I think.

  • Alain Rouveure

    I just came across this wonderful site about masks. How l missed it all those years…?
    OK. The monkey mask is old and from the Terai district of Southern Nepal. It of the monkey called Hanuman and is from a dancer’s set of masks used in that part of the world during the telling of the RAMAYANA epic. Ecuadorian is really is not, nor is it used in Shamanism… My goodness people will say anything to flog their stuff and tourists will believe almost anything. The weirder and darker the better.
    From what I can see on the photograph, the pile of mask in the shop has some old mask from the same region, but whether or not they match and are old….?
    If you look at the Ramayana, it is a great story. I have a large collection of masks from only that part of the world and have many like this one. I just love them.
    It looks old, probably mid 19th cent. Well done. Alain

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