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Every mask has a story in the Dashavtari Kalo

Suvarna Yashodhan Parvatkar has gifted the family’s treasure –the Dashavtari masks– to Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim, in keeping with her husband’s dying wish. NT BUZZ speaks to Suvarna whose generosity will put her family’s name in the annals of history


The tradition of wearing wooden masks to perform Dashavtari Kalo during karthik poonima has given way to face painting over the past few decades. Though many places ahve discontinued the performance of the kalo, it is still performed at various remote villages of Ponda, Sanguem, Canacona, Tiswadi, Bicholim and Quepem. Hence, Victor Hugo Gomes of Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim was amazed when a resident of Chandreshwar Parvat in Paroda, Suvarna Yashodhan Parvatkar, gifted the centuries-old kalo masks to the museum in accordance with her husband’s – Yashodhan Parvatkar – dying wish.

60-year-old Suvarna lives alone in a small cottage on the ‘parvat’. When she was engaged in 1976, she first witnessed Dashavtari Kalo at Chandreshwar temple, where her husband essayed the role of Lord Vishnu. Little did she know, she was watching the Kalo being performed for the first and the last time; she cannot recall seeing the performance at the temple after she married.

It has been around 40 years since. These centuries-old wooden masks were kept in Suvarna’s house and the family ensured their maintenance by painting them time and again. “My husband was an artiste. He would act, sing and play instruments. He was also good at painting and thus he knew that these masks are treasures. Whenever anyone suggested that he should give them away, he would never agree.”

Yashodhan was a man of importance as he would hold ‘prasads’ in Hindu temples. Taking a prasad is a ritual where devotees come to seek permission from God for taking a particular step or ask for his blessings. However he always wanted to be recognised as an artiste and thus would play various roles at dramas during village festivals and shigmotsav at Chandreshwar temple. He had art in his blood as the renowned table maestro Khaprumam Parvatkar was a distant relative.

Yashodhan passed on in December 2017 at the age of 73, wanting nothing more than recognition as an artiste. Suvarna always supported her husband when he refused to give away the masks. “Of late, I began thinking that these masks are only lying unused and if it is given to someone who has a museum, the heritage would reach the masses; moreover our family who gifted these masks will be identified with them. When I told this to my husband, he agreed to gift them,” says Suvarna.

And in keeping with that she gifted all the wooden antique masks of Hayagriva, Saraswati Mor, Putna, Karbari, except the mask of Lord Ganesha, to Victor to display them at Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim. The Ganesha mask used for Ganesh Vandana, a ritual held prior to Dashavtari Kalo was the only one her husband wanted to keep in the family’s possession for the future generations. Suvarna says her husband was spiritually and emotionally attached to these masks as they were passed to him through the several generations, and that is why they have been gifted with no price attached.

Another senior resident of Chadreshwar Parvat, Vishwas Jotkar had observed the Dashavtari Kalo at Chandreshwar temple in his childhood. He says that the hill is an artistic hub and in every house one will find musicians, dancers, singers or actors. The area has people who belong to three communities – Pednekar (hailing from Pernem), Narvekar (hailing from Narvem), and Jotkar (hailing from Kolhapur) – the people might go by different surnames but they have their roots in these three locations.

Vishwas describes Dashavtari Kalo as a theatre performance that involved dance, songs and music. In the month of November, during Kartik Purnima, the three communities participated in this Kalo and the Parvatkar family that hailed from Pernem and some from Narvem were majorly involved in theatre performances, while a lady named Ramabai and a man named Barve sung the ‘Ovio’ – short folk song – in Marathi in the background.

The Kalo generally included characters like Ganesha, Riddhi, Siddhi, Saraswati, Rishi Durvasa, Bhatji, Hayagriva, Ambarish Raja, Chaar (four) Ved, Vishnu, Gadhasur, Shankhasur, Matsyavtara, Putna and Karbari. “Following the Ganesh Vandana, Sarawati Vandana would take place. The mythological tale of how demon Shankhasur was killed by Lord Vishnu’s incarnation – Matsyavtara was showcased within a span of two hours,” recalls Vishwas.

A very nostalgic Vishwas describes the scenes where people from surrounding villages in Paroda especially came to observe Dashavtari Kalo at Chandreshwar temple, Paroda. Despite its popularity, it was discontinued 40 years ago for the lack of financial backing for the art. “All that artistes could earn through kalo was satisfaction. They neither received any state level recognition, nor any finances. Over time, people stopped valuing this folk form, a prime reason for its discontinuation,” explains Vishwas.

Victor from Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim believes that researchers, scholars, students and others who want to know more about antiques are often deprived as some of the unique pieces lie in the private collection of individuals. If these masks had remained with the family forever, not many would know of it. Hence, he considers it very important that private collectors come out with their collection for the knowledge and benefit of future generations, researchers and scholars. “What shook me the most about Suvarna is despite being in need of financial support and knowing the value of these masks she did not sell them to me but gifted them to promote her husband’s name,” adds Victor. For 40 years, these kalo masks lay forgotten in a closed area unknown to everyone. Now they will be seen at the Folklore section of Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim.

Suvarna on the other hand feels content that these masks will be seen by people across the world and thus recognise the family name. Having maintained it for centuries within the family, she wishes that these masks remain as beautiful as the story that lies within it!

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