(Last Updated on : 19/11/2010)
The art of puppetry is a very ancient tradition of India and it is regarded to be universal art. Puppetry has served as a medium for human communication for several years. The origin of the art of puppetry can be traced back to India but now it has crossed the geographical boundaries and political frontiers and reached many other countries.
The puppetry art had flourished in India for many centuries
and it is proved from various records available. Even the 2nd century the Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar mentioned about `marionettes moved by strings` in his compositions. The mention of the `pavai koothu` in the Tamil epic Silappadhikareita by Ilango Adigal is also very significant regarding the history of puppetry. According to ancient writings, the `pavai koothu` was one of the dances performed by Goddess Lakshmi to rescue the devatas from the harassment of the asuras.
The Sanskrit playwright Bana also mentioned about puppetry in his Harshacharita. The puppets are regarded as the celestial creations and therefore all Indian puppets have been symbolic and stylized and do not follow the human anatomy. It is believed that the Lord Siva and Goddess Parvathi are the patrons of this art. It is said that once they in divine sport animated the wooden figures made by a clever carpenter.
But, now the art of puppetry has gone through a lot of changes. Now, the puppets are usually shaped according to the human figure they represent. The puppets of Rajasthan are represented as warriors, who have large heads, huge eyes, broad chests but undersized bodies with prominent beards.
Again, the puppets of Andhra Pradesh have divine figures and are usually double in size to give them superior appearance. The colours which are applied on the faces or on the costumes of the puppets signify a special quality. Those puppets which depict the devils are painted black or red while divine characters are marked with white yellow or blue. For example, the puppets of Lord Rama and Krishna are given pleasant faces with well-built bodies but oversized heads, which signify their divinity. Again, the puppets of evil characters like Ravana and Duryodhana are given distorted faces and clumsy limbs. Their movements are jerky and intense anguish is always showed by striking their heads against the ground.
The voices of these puppets are interpreted according to the situations depicted. Generally, the puppeteers having family tradition practice this art of puppetry. The elder members of the family train their children to acquire the skill of making and manipulating the puppets. There is no need of formal education for these puppeteers. They just need to memorise the dialogues. Many of the traditional puppeteers were agriculturists, either landowners or labourers. The puppet shows were organised during different seasons and the puppets were transferred from generation to generation. Sometimes they even formed a part of the bride`s dowry. During these days, the art of puppetry is taken as a full-time profession by many non-traditionals.
There are several types of puppets available in India. The string, rod, glove and shadow puppets are still practiced in many parts of the country. But, these puppet shows are organised only as a part of any festival, religious celebrations, ritual or marriages. In many South Indian villages the puppet shows are staged to get rid of the evil spirits or drought or epidemics. The art of puppetry is used as a popular medium of communication as it suggests and does not instruct any idea. The puppet shows involve a little bit of exaggerations but this art form never descends to vulgarity. The significant element of a puppet show is the mimicry of people or animals. This art form has an imaginative dimension that makes it surpass any other dramatic forms.
The colour of the puppets varies from region to region. The puppet show starts with an invocation and the Sutradhar or master of ceremonies takes over explaining the story and context. The entire troupe of the puppet show sings the chorus, which always includes women. In Karnataka, the art of puppetry is popular as `bombeyatta`, which is based on the popular folk musical drama, Yakshagana. In Tamil Nadu, this art is known as `hommalattam` with marionettes (puppets) made of wood wearing ornamental clothes.
Usually, the epic stories are used for the themes of the puppet shows and are manipulated by strings. The puppets are decorated with vegetable colours, which are locally available. The operators or the Sutradars stand directly behind the puppets on the stage leaving the stage wings free for the passage of puppets. In Rajasthan, the puppets are known as kathputli, which are small in size but very lively. These Rajasthani puppets are stylised and made of cloth, rags and woodenheads. These are taken from place to place by the performers for different functions. These shows continue with a parallel music running in the background and narrative also continues. The squeaking from a bamboo with rubber band tied between the two strips also accompanies the music.
The rod puppets used in Bengal are unique type of puppets. These allow the puppeteer greater freedom to manipulate them. Earlier, Kerala was popular for its glove puppets. These were made of clay, wood or paper. In Assam and Orissa, the shadow puppets are mainly used. While the leather puppetry of Karnataka have acquired fame over the decades as refined art forms, performed during specific occasions.
Now days, the attempt is continuing to experiment with the art of puppetry. It is being used to enhance the aesthetic nature of the shows by transforming traditional values in the modern puppet theatre scene. But, the popularity of puppet shows has decreased due to the invention of various other art forms and medium of communication.