The puppetry tale of Kasargod

Puppetry is an integral part of India’s performance tradition. Despite its decline in recent years, it still forms a significant part of India’s theatrical activity. Puppets have been association with folk, mythological stories, music and yakshagana.

Of the two surviving Yakshagana string puppetry troupes in Tulunadu, one is based in Kasaragod and has successfully completed 30 years of its existence. The Uppinakudru Yakshagana string puppetry troupe, the other surviving troupe near Kundapur, is more than four decades old. There were eight such Yakshagana troupes in Tulunadu spread over Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Kasaragod districts few years ago.

Sri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha, Kasaragod, has been carrying forward the traditional string puppetry since September, 1981.

It was K Venkatakrishnayya who founded this sangha and the tradition has been carried forth by his son K V Ramesh.

Yakshagana puppets with their elaborate make-up, completed with jewellry and headgear, is visually stunning.

The dance contents are primarily movements, entries and exits. Each of these movements specify the characters represented.

The actors on stage move to the beats of the percussion. In string puppetry, the same moves are followed.

The string puppet tradition is called as ‘Bombeyata,’ wherein the regular Yakshagana prasanga (episodes) based on Indian epics and Puranas are staged.

Speaking to City Herald, Ramesh said “the Bombeyata Sangha has been staging puppet shows with all the ritualistic vigour of Yakshagana. We have neither deviated from the traditional prasanga nor will ever do so in future.” 

Each of the puppets has eleven joints with six strings and three main sticks to which the strings are suspended. The puppeteer, with his expertise, synchronises the puppets, making it move according to the dialogues and dance to tunes, he said.

Ramesh, who is also a yakshagana artiste has turned full-time to puppetry just to keep the family legacy marching forward.

 “This was originally started by veteran performers, late Kallkata Lakshminarayanayya and the late K Venkatakrishnayya. I, along with a few others in the family, have continued the tradition. It is not a smooth sailing at all,” he added.

“From very young, I was interested in yakshagana and painting. Later, I developed interests in puppets, which was encouraged by my parents and grandfather,” he recalls.

Award

Sri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha recently received the Best Traditional Puppet Performance award from the World Association of Puppeteers based at Prague in the Czech Republic.

He said that troupes from 38 countries participated in the conference. Finally, eight troupes from various countries received awards in different categories including animation and modern puppetry.

The troupe presented “Narakasura Vadhe” Yakshagana prasanga at the show.
Ramesh said it was with the efforts of late Venugopal P K, the Bombeyata team could spread its wings at the international level. Over the years, the team has staged more than 2000 shows.

Ramesh said that his troupe’s first foreign tour was to Pakistan in 1998 to participate in the Fourth World Puppetry Show at Lahore. “We presented ‘Sri Devi Mahatme’ prasanga in Lahore,” he added. His troupe presented demonstrations on Yakshagana sting puppetry in Paris in 2004 and at Dubai in 2009.

“We read out before the audience the gist of the text from mythology before our performances abroad. It helps the audience to understand the performance and characters better,” he added.

Prasangas

The troupe has staged about 10 to 15 prasangas so far. Some of the Yakshagana prasangas of the troupe for puppetry performances are ‘Panchavati,’ ‘Indrajitu Kalaga,’ Veeramani Kalaga,’ ‘Lanka Dahana,’ ‘Garuda Garva Bhanga,’ ‘Sri Devi Mahathme,’ ‘Narakasura vadhe’ and ‘Vali Vadhe.

He said that the puppets are made from light wood like ‘Haale mara,’ ‘Kumbala mara’ and all the members of his family are involved in the process. “We have to spend Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 to make one puppet. It takes nearly one month to make one puppet. The Sangha has over 500 puppets in its collection.

The puppets of Sri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha have been displayed at museums of America, Turkey, Pakistan, Paris, Poland, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, Slovakia.

Ramesh said “many foreigners from Australia, America, Paris, South Africa, Israel have visited our house in Kasargod and have taken puppets to their respective country.”

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