String puppetry - A dying art form

String puppetry - A dying art form

The centuries-old art of string puppetry is slowly dying and the few practitioners of the art form blame lack of patronage by government and non-governmental organisations for its decline.

Now a handful of puppeteers from a remote village in Kendrapara district have taken an initiative to revive this ancient art locally known as "Sakhi Kundhei".

There is an obscure village in the district, Palakana, where this art form is still alive and the artistes perform live shows in the surrounding villages and even afar.

A researcher of puppetry, Basudeb Das, said, "It's a tough battle to keep the art alive when the more attractive popular entertainment is bombarded round-the-clock from electronic media."

So the question is how long these handful of artistes will be able to carry his ancient traditional art to future generations, Das says.

In the shows, wooden dolls attached to strings narrate tales from the Puranas and even modern social dramas to the accompaniment of music and background voice.

Fakir Singh, a 62-year-old string puppeteer from Palakana village said there are some people who still enjoy the shows.

"I carve out wooden puppets on orders received from puppet show operators. The dolls made by me fetch money, in addition to what I earn by staging the shows," he said.

Singh recalled that when he was hardly 12 years old, he had left home to join a puppet group in Dhenkanal. Puppet shows were in great demand back then.

Singh's eyes gleamed when he said that for the last one year or two there had been a positive development with the demand for puppet shows being on the rise.

"Invitation to stage shows are pouring in from rural areas of the western parts of the state. But the problem is that very few skilled puppeteers are left to cater to the demand. Unless they receive financial help from the government, the chance of their survival is bleak."

Puppeteers enliven the stage with mythological, historical and social themes. Wooden puppets shift on the stage with invisible strings attached to them, leaving the audience spellbound, said Prashant, who enjoys puppet shows. 

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