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Talking heads,jumping limbs

Keeping alive the art of puppetry
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST

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A colourful selection of puppets in all their beautiful forms and designs was on display in Jaipur for almost 10 days to celebrate the Sangeet Natak Akademy’s golden jubilee festival. The celebrations which commenced in 2003 with the  launch of a caravan of puppets or Putul Yatra from New Delhi travelled to different parts of the country and world. The Putul Yatra reached Jaipur on World Puppet Day (March 21st) after having enthralled the South-East Asian and European countired like Thailand, South Korea, Spain and Russia. Indian cities such as Mumbai, Lucknow and Chandigarh also had a glimpse of the show.
String puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets and glove puppets — a fair sample of the whole typology of puppets. The PutuI Yatra included: String puppets from Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan, puppets manipulated by both rod and string from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, rod puppets from West Bengal and glove puppets from Kerala, UP and shadow puppets from Tamil Nadu. In addition to over 200 traditional and modern puppets there was a small selection of puppets created by modern puppeteers in India that were also there.
Some puppets showcased the influence of the noted Russian puppeteer Sergeo Obrazstov, who is an icon for all aspiring puppeteers in India. Like artifacts from any other culture, the attractive and colourful puppets on view at the exhibition were evocative of tradition. They not only brought alive the diverse culture of the country but also highlighted the role of puppets in carrying the narrative legacy to distant shores. For modern viewers accustomed to remain glued to televisions and computers, the Putul Yatra amounted to a flash back movie. It was in fact, a double treat— educative as well as entertaining. What made the show special was the display of associated musical instruments and live demonstrations of puppet making and manipulation by traditional Rajasthani puppeteers.
From the dancing puppet shows in rural India to their present appearances in five star hotels, puppets have not been just objects of fun and merriment alone. Putul Yatra was like a walk down memory lane! Our cultural legacy has traveled with puppeteers as they moved from one place to the other performing Ramayana, Mahabharata or Krishnaleela tales, thus spreading the message of karma and good over evil.   With saint poet and social reformer Shankardeva who evolved Bhaona—the traditional theatre of Assam by fusing Sanskrit theatre and puppetry; the puppets there  spread the message of Vaishnavism.  In Andhra Pradesh, the tradition of string and shadow puppets can be traced back to the 12th century, when puppetry was considered honourable for its sheer art and erudition. In Orissa also puppets were used for spread of Vaishnavism and can be said to be a vital instrument in the growth of devotional poetry. The puppets of southern states had their own unique style and forms, quite similar to the beautiful dance forms like Kathakali. Though each state has its own tradition and regional differences in the puppet forms, a commonality could be seen. Each state must have adapted some attributes from migrating artists over the years.
The colourful puppets of Rajasthan, the Rajasthani kathputlis (made of wood) are perhaps the most visible forms of string puppets in north India. Very few people know that puppetry has long been the means of sustenance for the Nat or Bhat community of the state who earned their livelihood during the dry season by performing puppet shows in villages.
To bring alive the performing art of puppetry, a five day Puppet Festival was also organized featuring talented master puppeteers from West Bengal, Karnataka, Rajasthan and other places, like Dadi Pudumjee, G. Venu, T.N.Shankarnathan, Anurupa Roy, Ramdas Padhye, Rachel Mac Bean  to name a few.
The exhibition provided a glimpse of the modern art and craft of puppetry as well. The emerging new forms of puppetry signal a bright prospect for the art since the new puppetry is not one performed by traditional rural communities but by professionals who are fascinated by this art. They want to experiment, explore, enrich and enjoy what a string, a glove or a rod puppet can convey. The exhibition was almost a Bharat Darshan of puppets—how the art evolved or died in some parts, how the artists used it to religion and social awareness among the masses long before other forms of entertainment had knocked at our doorsteps. Putul Yatra was also reminiscent of some lost puppet forms like the old glove tradition known as Gulabo Sitabo, which is almost extinct now due to lack of patronage and the advent of movies.

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Published 09 May 2009, 20:29 IST

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