The Masquerade Tradition

Masking is cultural versatility, a phenomenon known to many cultures. Ancient societies have masked faces to communicate with the divine; they have masked the leader – the king, the boss, the pharaoh, when he was on his way to the hereafter. The knowledge of the healing power of masks made of plants or clay, applied on the face of the sick man – Indian plants from the region of modern Mexico and Central America, for example. The power of the mask to mediate the contact with the hereafter is also found in the rituals of the creation of the world, in preparation for military action. Nowadays, we play with masks and masks are presented and perceived as a symbol of local specificity in countries throughout the world. The Bulgarian masquerade ritualism has a millennial tradition and comes from ancient pagan times. According to some scientists, the tradition dates back to the Thracians. Others say that the story of the Surva holiday connects us to distant lands such as Balchika, Persia, Haldeia and Shumer, and that it is our closest connection to the religion of our ancestors from the Volga Bulgaria and the honored by them God Tangra. Through the fiery Bulgarian custom, the fire, which bursts also at Surva time, is celebrated. Surova is an ancient pagan custom, with which our ancestors have opened the way to the new – the new year; they have performed rituals for fertility, health and prosperity. This is the feast during which the young men, ready to get marries, have presented their strength and energy, their ability to create interesting images and to preserve the genus and tradition. It has been only during these holidays when the bachelors could enter the house of the girl they like and see how the girl has arranged her home, appreciate her skills and her qualities. That is why the preparation of each family for meeting the Survakar group was so important, and every home welcomed the masked with wide open doors and with great generosity. A real excitement for the girls was the recognition of who was behind the mask. The holiday marks the beginning of the New Year, the celebration of creative human energy and the faith in the next year to be an even more fruitful and a healthy one. The masked men move with a specific step; they wear scary masks and original costumes; their waists are girded with bells, herd bells, rattles and copper bells. The masquerade games in Bulgaria are a living tradition that has been passed on for generations. Surva – the winter custom, is typical for Middle Western Bulgaria – the settlements around Pernik, Breznik, Zemen and Radomir. The performers of the Survkar bands are called “survashkari”, “sirviskari”, “survakari”. Traditionally, the groups consist of men According to the tradition the men pretended as a bride, bridegroom, father-in-law, mother-in-law, who first enter the homes and bless their hosts. Other characters in the group are also: a priest, bear, gypsies and accompanying musicians. The whimsical masks of the Survakars are their fantasy creation. Their garments are made of pieces of fabric, cut into strips, or fur-coats turned inside out. Children, together with their fathers and grandfathers, also take a part in the games as a proof that the tradition is alive and continues.