Charm of puppetry

Ancient art

If there’s one visual art form that’s both powerful and entertaining, then it is puppetry. This art form that dates back to around 5th century BC represents India’s rich heritage of arts and crafts like no other.

 The early puppet shows in India either related tales of valour of kings, or stories from our epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Gradually, owing to the appeal and reach of this medium, puppet shows were used to convey meaningful messages to a large audience. To this day, in the interior parts of the country, puppetry remains a popular form of edutainment. And of course, children enjoy these shows the most.

Though puppetry is practised in various parts of the country, with region-specific names, the forms I’m familiar with are from the state of Orissa. They are the Kundhei Nacha (glove), Ravanachaya (shadow), Kathi Kundhei (rod) and Gopalila Kundhei (string) forms.

In the Kundhei Nacha form of puppetry, three wooden pieces are joined to form a puppet, while a flowing costume covers the wooden pieces, and the hands of the puppeteer. These glove puppeteers are of two types – solo and double.

While solo puppeteers manipulate the puppets in one hand and play the dholak in another, double puppeteers share the responsibility of manipulating the puppets and playing the dholak.

 In the Ravanachaya form of puppetry, leather cutouts fixed to sticks are held close to a white cloth screen against an oil lamp in such a way that their shadows are distinctly visible to spectators sitting on the other side of the screen.

In the Kathi Kundhei form of puppetry, puppets are stuck to rods and manipulated from below by strings. This form allows the easy manipulation of the puppet’s head, hands and legs. However, only one group of puppeteers hailing from Keonjhar practices this form of puppetry.

The Gopalila Kundhei is the most popular form of puppetry where the puppets are wooden dolls from head to waist, have detachable arms, and a flowing dress to follow. Whatever the form may be, the fact that puppetry is intensely appealing, across all ages, cannot be denied.

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