Carving a niche in puppetry

As Sri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha (Puppeteering Association), under the captaincy of K V Ramesh turns 30, its popularity continues to grow.

K V Ramesh with a puppet. Ramesh inherited the love for puppets from his father late Sirigannada Venkatakrishnaiah who founded the puppets Yakshagana troupe 30 years ago. Sirigannada is the title of  Venkatakrishnaiah’s famed press and book house in Kasaragod and the popular title of the press was tagged on his name too.

As a young boy, Ramesh spent his days carving and decorating the puppets and preparing costumes for the Yakshagana puppets along with his father. No wonder the exercise and tutelage under the father moulded Ramesh as an ace puppeteer .

Puppettring has thrived in various parts of the world and is considered as an attractive and as one of the most popular sections of stage arts.

Sri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha is unique in the sense that it is totally devoted to Yakshasgana art form. It is almost an one-man theatre as the puppeteer besides preparing the dolls of the puppet show, has to perform the role of Soothradhara  (one who controls the movements of the puppets through the strings in his hands).

He must have thorough command of the plot (Yakshagana prasanga), characters, rhymes and rhythm of the Bhagavatha who sings the Yakshagana prasanga tunes to which the dolls dance and choreograph under strings in the puppeteer’s hand. Ultimately, the puppeteer should have a thorough knowledge of the dialogue of the characters, so that a realistic atmosphere of the dance drama on the stage is created.

Ramesh having mastered the puppet show performance almost to its perfection, has taken the art form to greater heights. He gave a 10-day performance at the Mohammad Peer Puppet Theatre at Lahore in the neighbouring Pakistan some time ago. He has taken the Yakshagana puppet troupe to the French capitol Paris and Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the Gulf region.

Ramesh won the “Best traditional puppet performer award” at the international puppeteering show festival held at Prague in Czechoslovakia.

Last year, he was awarded the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award for his unique contribution to traditional puppeteering.

Back home, Ramesh has won several laurels. Sri Gurudevananda Swamiji of Sri Gurudeva Datta Samsthanam, Odiyoor, conferred him the title “Yaksha Puthali Kalathilaka”. Several other mutts and cultural institutions too have honoured him.

Impressed by puppet team’s performance, Infosys Foundation President Sudha Murthy came forward to sponsor 30 shows in 30 selected schools of Kerala and Karnataka. Under the dynamic leadership of Ramesh, the troupe completed the campaign successfully and the campaign will conclude with a  function at Bangalore in the presence of Sudha Murthy.

Hundred years ago, it is said that there were over 30 puppet troupes in the undivided  Dakshina Kannada district comprising Udupi, Dakshiana Kannada and the Kasaragod district which is now in Kerala. About 30 years ago, the number dwindled into a mere eight and today in the thenku thittu Yakshagana style, Sri Gopalakrishna Bembeyata Sangha is the only one of its kind. The Kogganna Kamath Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha in Udupi district is devoted to Badaguthittu Yakshagana style.

This situation also points to the challenges being faced by Yakshagana puppet teams and success in this field demands extraordinary talents like K V Ramesh. 

Composer of  many Yakshagana Prasangas poet  Kumble Parthisubba of  bygone era is considered as the patriarch of Yakshagana Thenkuthittu tradition  and Ramesh’s grand mother (mother of  Venkatakrishnaiah) Akkamma is a scion of  Parthiasubba’s clan.

Hence, Yaakshagana is running in the veins of Ramesh.

Ramesh’s puppet show team bears the very name of that supreme Soothradhari (puppeteer).  He is cherishing a dream of constructing a home for his puppets at the place where his ancestors’ home is situated.

The puppet home complex estimated to cost Rs 75 lakh will have a curator’s residence, guest house, an administrative block, information centre, puppets museum, workshop to manufacture puppets and dolls and a training school to provide training in puppeteering.

His sense of dedication to the art form and his love for puppets has made Ramesh confident of realising his dream and a good beginning has been already made when the foundation was laid for the ambitious project, recently.

There is also an added feature to Yakshagana puppet show compared to traditional stage performance by regular regular Yakshagana troupes.  It is not possible to depict perfectly, charectors like Garuda (a bird) flying in sky as vehicle of Lord Vishnu or arrival of chariots in an Yakshagana stage performance. But these things and situations could be staged in Yakshagana puppet show to a great degree of perfection to the delight of the audience.

Popular legendary character of Tulunadu Pulkooru Batcha who lived in Kasaragod  region and who was in the service of Maipady royal family was known for his physical prowess and also for the beautiful puppets he carved  for performing Yakshagana  puppet shows in temples. The glorious tradition of puppeteering has continued, thanks to K V Ramesh.

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