Miscellany- The magic of puppets

Miscellany- The magic of puppets
There was a time when the entire village cheered hearing the arrival of Bombe Ramaru, puppeteers of the Shillekyata community, who are known for their unique puppetry shows. All the people gathered at a common place to watch the show, a major form of entertainment at the time, and take a break from the mundane matters of village life. Shillekyata is a nomadic community that lives in shifting tents and moves from place to place organising puppetry shows. In the past, donkeys were used to carry   necessary materials. In those days, when electricity was still a dream in rural areas, oil lamps were used to light up the screen during the shows. Every village made sure that the community performs in their place before they moved on to another village.

After the whole-night theatrical performance, members of the community visited village houses where people generously gave food, grains, clothes and other essentials which met their day-to-day needs. It is believed that the village will be blessed with good fortune with sufficient rain, healthy cattle and people if the folks conduct a show in the village. Plots for the shows are derived from Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagavata. Although the tradition has lost its popularity, it has retained its significance in villages.

Shillekyatas make their puppets out of leather in a particular size and use a small bamboo stick to hold it. Once the puppets are ready with all body parts they paint them with colours that are suitable for the characters. These puppets communicate to public with their activities, movements of their bodies and sound effects from the puppet player. The entire family of the puppet player gets involved in the show playing musical instruments, harmonium and tabla, and sing songs. The women of the family play harmonium quite adeptly to provide music for the show. Other families of the community also help in running the show.

Some of the present generation families of the Shillekyata community continue the tradition. They have also retained the puppets prepared by their ancestors and use them at the shows. Though old, structures of these puppets are still intact. When the colour of puppets gets faded, they get them painted through professional artists. They have a practice of cleaning the puppets once a year after Ugadi and offer prayers to them.

Changed situation
Puppetry is one of the oldest and indigenous theatre forms of the State. Once a popular form of entertainment in rural areas, the puppet theatre carries with it messages of social awareness, safeguarding the moral-value of the society. But, with the entry of modern modes of entertainment like television, puppetry has lost its charm in villages. Consequently, the skills of the community is also fading away. As a result the number of performances is decreasing. Researchers opine that there is a need to give contemporary touch to the puppet art and make it appealing to people. In fact, certain troupes have put in efforts to explore new opportunities and one such troupe in Hassan district got a chance to travel to the USA and perform at international platforms.

Senior members of the community lament that they are not benefitted under government schemes due to lack of records to support their skills. Education is yet to be a priority for them. Only a few of the present generation have studied up to SSLC. The youth engage in small-time jobs like repair work to earn a living.   Though folklore departments of some universities of the State have made an effort to collect puppets, there has not been any systematic effort to sustain this art form.

(Translated by AP)

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