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Puppet Forms of India

Introduction

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Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance that involves the manipulation of puppets. Puppetry takes many forms but they all share the process of animating inanimate performing objects. Puppetry is used in almost all human societies both as entertainment – in performance – and ceremonially in rituals and celebrations such as carnivals.

Some scholars trace the origin of puppets to India 4000 years ago, where the main character in Sanskrit plays was known as “Sutradhara”, “the holder of strings”. Stories adapted from puranic literature, local myths and legends usually form the content of traditional puppet theatre inIndia which, in turn, imbibes elements of all creative expressions like painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, etc.

There are 4 Major Forms of Puppets in India

1. Glove Puppets

General features

Credits: www.puppetryindia.org/

Components: The head is made of either paper mache, cloth or wood, with two hands emerging from just below the neck. The rest of the figure consists of a long flowing skirt.

Manipulation: The manipulation technique is simple the movements are controlled by the human hand the first finger inserted in the head and the middle finger and the thumb are the two arms of the puppet.

Regions:
The tradition of glove puppets in India is popular in the states(sorting) Kerala,  West Bengal, Odisha, Rajasthan, UP.
Dialogues play an important role here

Regional Variations

Pavakathakali(Pavakoothu), Kerala

Basics In Pavakoothu, the height of a puppet varies from one foot to two feet. The head and the arms are carved of wood and joined together with thick cloth, cut and stitched into a small bag
Music The musical instruments used during the performance are Chenda, Chengiloa, Ilathalam and Shankha
Distinct features The face of the puppets are decorated with paints, small and thin pieces of gilded tin, the feathers of the peacock. Has resemblance with that of kathakali dance.
Manipulation The manipulator puts his hand into the bag and moves the hands and head of the puppet.

West Bengal-Bener Putul Nach( Dolls of Commercial People)

Basics The Head is made of wood earlier and now with clay. Head is generally bigger than body. Puppets are 1/2 foot high and hands are made of terrakota heads and wooden hands.
Music They clap the hands or they handle a drum with other hand. The songs are generally folk in hindi and bengali.
Distinct features Not epics, the show will run on social issues like gender-inequalities, population, lovers-couple, family planning etc.
Manipulation They handle with 2 hands(couple puppets), or puppet on hand and drum on the other.

Odisha– Kundhei Nach

Basics Made of wood and made by own using knife.
Music  They handle a dhol with other hand. The songs are generally folk.
Distinct features Mainly focused on Radha Krishna Theme, and in Radha and Krishna puppets are tied so that they can handle with one hand. In villages they name it as boy and girl and in temples they name them as radha and krishna
Manipulation They handle with 1 hand and dhol on the other.

2. String Puppets

General features:

Components: The string puppet has jointed body and limbs that allow movement. They are made of wood, or wire, or cloth stuffed with cotton, rags or saw dust and are usually small.

Manipulation: The puppet is manipulated by operating the control as well as by loosening or pulling the relevant string

Regions: Traditional string puppet shows are prevalent in the states of Andhra Pradesh (Koyya Bommalata), Assam (Putala Nach), Karnataka (Sutrada Gombeyata), Maharashtra (Kalasutri Bahulya), Rajasthan (Kathputli), Orissa (Gopalila), Tamil Nadu (Bommalatam) and West Bengal (Tarer or Sutor Putul).

Regional variations:

Andhra Pradesh- Koyya Bommalata

Basics 30-100 puppets are necessary for a show, the operators are hidden backside of the curtain of 3-4 feet high. No legs, no knees. The puppets are treated equally with god.
Music They make huge sounds, dialogues and music will run throughout the show
Distinct features Epics like Ramayana and other native mythical stories. Stories from Vaishnava tradition will be performed.
Manipulation Multiple members will handle the strings beside the curtain, few puppets have multiple heads and all heads will be handled with the strings.

Kathputli, Rajasthan

Basics Carved from a single piece of wood, these puppets are like large dolls that are colourfully dressed. Their costumes and headgears are designed in the medieval Rajasthani style of dress
Music Highly dramatized version of the regional music.
Distinct features Facial features: Oval faces, large eyes, arched eyebrows and large lips. These puppets wear long trailing skirts and do not have legs.
Manipulation With strings attached to puppeteers fingers

Gopalila Kundhei, Orissa

Basics Made of light wood, the Orissa puppets have no legs but wear long flowing skirts. They have more joints and are, therefore, more versatile, articulate and easy to manipulate.It depicts the story of Radha krishna
Music Music of Odissi dance.
Distinct features Made of light wood, have more joints and are, therefore, more versatile, articulate and easy to manipulate.These puppets have no legs but wear long flowing skirts. Puppets weigh 2 kilos each, 2 feet 9 inches height.
Manipulation Puppeteers often hold a wooden prop, triangular in shape, to which strings are attached( 3 strings- 2 for hands and 1 for head)

Gombeyatta, Karnataka

Basics Styled and designed like the characters of Yakshagana, have joints at the legs, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees.
Music Music is dramatic; blends folk and classical elements. Bells are tied to make sound when a character enters and to feel the puppet is walking
Distinct features  Bhagavathar– the Creator of Puppets. Yakshagana Puppet will be used for 7 characters and other puppets; namely Hanumana, Ganesha, garuda will be used.
Manipulation Manipulated by 6 nylon strings tied to a prop. Each Joint is named with the god.

Bommalattam, Tamil Nadu

Basics Techniques of both rod and string puppets. Made of wood and the strings for manipulation are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears like a crown on his head
Music
Distinct features The Bommalattam puppets are the largest, heaviest and the most articulate of all. (A puppet may be as big as 4.5 feet)
Manipulation Jointed arms sometimes manipulated by rods (because heavy)

3. Shadow Puppets

General features

Components: Shadow puppets are flat figures. They are cut out of leather, which has been treated to make it translucent. Shadow puppets are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it.

Manipulation:  The manipulation between the light and the screen make silhouettes or colourful shadows, as the case may be, for the viewers who sit in front of the screen.

Regions: This tradition of shadow puppets survives in Orissa. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Regional Variations

Togalu Gombeyatta, Karnataka

Basics These puppets are mostly small in size
Music Regional
Distinct features The puppets differ in size according to their social status, for instance, large size for kings and religious characters and smaller size for common people or servants.

Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh

Basics The puppets are large in size and have jointed waist, shoulders, elbows and knees.
Music The classical music of the region
Distinct features They are coloured on both sides. Hence, these puppets throw coloured shadows on the screen.

Ravanachhaya, Orissa

Basics The puppets are small in size and are in one piece with no joints. The puppets are made of deer skin and are conceived in bold dramatic poses.
Music
Distinct features They are not coloured, hence throw opaque shadows on the screen. Apart from human and animal characters, many props such as trees, mountains, chariots, etc. are also used

3. Rod Puppets

General features

Rod puppets are an extension of glove-puppets, but often much larger and supported and manipulated by rods from below. This form of puppetry now is found mostly in West Bengal and Orissa.

Regional Variations

Putul Nautch, West Bengal

Basics They are costumed like the actors of Jatra, a traditional theatre and are carved from wood and follow the various artistic styles of a particular region. They used to be of human size, but existing puppets vary from 3 to 4 feet in height
Music Jatra theatre (drum, harmonium and cymbals)
Distinct features Puppeteers themselves sing and deliver the stylized prose dialogues along with a group of musicians
Manipulation Manipulated by a bamboo-made hub tied firmly to the waist of the puppeteer on which the rod holding the puppet is placed; Puppeteers move and dance imparting movements to puppets

Kathi Kundhei, Orissa

Basics Are much smaller in size, usually about twelve to eighteen inches. Hands are tied to strings instead of rods. (because they are small)
Music The music blends folk tunes with classical Odissi tunes
Distinct features Most of the dialogues are sung.
Manipulation The Orissa rod-puppeteers squat on the ground behind a screen and manipulate.

Yampuri, Bihar

Basics In one piece and have no joints. It describes Yampuri (the house of Death). The show begins with appearanceof the death-god Yama and his messenger, followed by their record-keeper Chitragupta. One by one, the people (supposedly after death) are marched in front of Yama to receive their doles of punishment.
Music
Distinct features The narrative is meant primarily to put the fear of heaven and hell in people for their current deeds and thus has almost the same purpose as Morality plays of the medieval Europe.
Manipulation

Sources: www.ccrtindia.gov.in ; www.puppetryindia.org; Wikipedia;  Indian Puppets By Sampa Ghosh, Utpal Kumar Banerjee

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