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Glimpses into the silent world of puppets!

Kusum Kanojia, April 30, 2013

They are lifeless without their manipulators! Hung on the walls of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), more than 100 puppets from India and other countries are a visual treat.

On display since the 13th Ishara Puppet Festival got over, the exhibition provides a quick glimpse into the world of puppets, including ones from countries like Vietnam, Romania, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey.

Welcoming you are traditional string puppets from Rajasthan, colourful shadow puppets from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, water puppets from Vietnam and doll puppets from West Bengal. In addition, one also gets to see various forms of
modern rods, gloves and human puppets.


Otherwise, a traditional form of storytelling in rural India, the art of puppetry has evolved considerably through constant interaction with other arts forms and technology.

A K Das of IGNCA says in India the state of puppetry is in “very bad shape” barring kathputli from Rajasthan. “Because of tourism in the state, string puppetry of Rajasthan is thriving. But the puppetry of many other states is in bad state such as putula bhaona. On rare occasions, the puppets are exhibited but performances do not take place now. Similarly pavakathakali of Kerala almost died before a local
puppeteer revived it.”

Made from wood and lacquer, water puppets of Vietnam deserve a special mention. In recent times, water puppets have become popular in South East Asia. “Water puppetry existed in Assam also for a very long period. It still does but in some parts of the region,” he says.

Shadow puppetry of India shares its history and similarity with the shadow puppetry form prevalent in Indonesia. Episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana are popular across both the countries under this form. Shadow puppetry has religious significance and there are rituals attached to it.

“In contemporary times, however, new themes and stories have been incorporated into traditional forms. The focus has also shifted to areas of educational, political, environmental and social issues,” says A K Das.

Innovations are being done to keep this art alive and popularise amongst the masses. “Nowadays, the puppets and the puppeteer convey the message using light and sound in innovative way. The way puppets look is more or less same,” he adds.
The puppets belong to IGNCA, which has been collecting them from all over the world since the 1990s. The exhibition will continue
till May 3.

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