TODAY -

Glimpses of Puppets in India

Ahanthem Homen Singh *



A puppet may be defined as an inanimate figure which can be manipulated by a human being, the puppeteer. It is given life by the puppeteer and made to perform according to the puppeteer's will. An important task of the puppeteer is to transform the puppet from being a mere "figure" towards embodying a distinct "character".

For this, the puppeteer applies various techniques of manipulation and the various types of puppet forms corresponding to the demands of the character. The puppeteer usually culls materials from his own traditions and also applies his creativity in formulating the appearance and function of his puppets.

Puppetry has been part of the sacred rituals which were performed to propitiate the gods and spirits apart from the common theatre practice. In India, this tradition continues even to this day. It is believed that commissioning a puppet performance is equivalent to an act of divine service.

The puppet plays are staged or commissioned to cure and eradicate diseases of men and animals, to invoke the rain gods to procure rain, or to free a person from an evil spirit's possession. In Karnataka, the episode of 'Virataparva' from the Mahabharata is performed through puppet plays to appease the rain god.

In Tamil Nadu, Bommalattam are performed in villages and temples to ensure rain as well as to placate gods to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Sometimes they are also performed as part of the death ceremony. Moreover, certain rites are associated with the making and maintaining of the puppets. The puppeteers perform ritualistic sacrifices before creating the puppets and also when the figures are finished.

In Karnataka, while making characters like Ravan, Kali etc., fowls are sacrificed and the figures are applied black tinge as the final touch (S.A. Krishnaiah: 1987). In some puppet traditions, the marking of eyes on the puppet which signifies the infusion of life into it is observed with sacrifices. The puppets are also worshipped on certain religious occasions.

Apart from it, as a ritual, the puppeteers regularly applied neem or eucalyptus oil on the puppets. This is beneficial as they act as a protective agent against insects and fungus and help in preserving the puppets. The purposes behind the manipulation of puppet figures can be variously defined as curing illnesses, ensuring fertility, eradicating the evil, propagating religious faith and also imparting education through entertainment or to just tell a story.

In India, puppets can be generally classified into four types according to its mode of manipulation. They are Hand or Glove Puppets, String Puppets, Rod Puppets and Shadow Puppets.:

1. Hand/Glove Puppet:

This is a type of puppetry where the puppeteer's hand is slipped inside the puppet and its movements are acted out by his fingers. Usually the forefinger becomes the head of the puppet and the thumb and the third finger act as its two hands. Hand/glove puppetry is quite prevalent in Orissa, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

A popular glove puppet theatre form indigenous to Kerala is known as Pava Kathakali. The puppets are carved delicately in wood in the manner of Kathakali actors with their headdresses and costumes, painted and decorated by transparent coral and peacock feathers.

Kundhei Nach (kundhei means 'doll' and nach means 'dance') is a popular play of glove puppets in Orissa. Another glove puppet tradition thriving in the Medinipur district is Benir Putul Naach. The heads of the puppets are made out of terracotta and the hands and stumps are carved out of wood. The puppets have bells and cymbals attached to their wrists.

2. Rod Puppet:

Traditionally, rod puppetry prospered in the states of Orissa and Bengal. The rod puppets in Orissa are called Kathikundhei Nach (rod doll dance). Bengal's tradition of rod puppet performance is known as Danger Putul Nach. The themes of this performance are derived from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and jatras.

Apart from these, there is a composite puppet-form in Tamil Nadu named Bommalattam which uses both string and rod puppetry. The performances were intended to ensure the timely arrival of monsoon and to placate the deities. The rods, unlike other forms of rod puppetry are attached from above. Strings are attached to the heads and limbs of the puppets. Smaller puppets are manipulated by strings only.

3. String Puppet:

This puppet tradition is prevalent in Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Kathputli (wooden doll) of Rajasthan is one of the popular string puppets of India. In this tradition the puppets are carved out of a single block of wood and generally stand 1.5 feet in height. The puppets have long flowing skirts that hide the feet and their arms and hands are made of stuffed rags.

Sakhi kundhei (companion doll) also known as Sakhi Nata, is Orissa's string puppet. The puppets are made of wood and the long flowing decorative skirts hide the legs. A puppet is manipulated by the strings (usually five to seven) attached to a triangular wooden control.

Bommalattam (doll dance) of Tamil Nadu are among the heaviest and the largest puppets with some of them being as big as 4.5 feet in height and weighing over 10 kilos. In Maharashtra, the string puppet tradition is called Kalasutri Bahalye (thread skill doll). Here the puppets' figures are artistically carved and painted. Sadly, this tradition is dying fast in Maharashtra.

4. Shadow Puppet:

Perhaps one of the oldest forms of puppetry, shadow puppets are found in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. Ravan Chhaya from Orissa and Tholpavai Koothu from Kerala are the two prominent shadow puppet theatre traditions of India.

Ravan Chhaya puppets are made from the skins of deer, mountain goats and sheep and they are not painted so as to retain their natural colours. Sizes of the puppets vary from less than 20 centimeters to over 60 centimeters, with no joints. This tradition is named after Ravan as it is believed that Ram, a divine and illuminated being, does not cast a shadow.

Tholpavai Koothu is an ancient form of art dedicated to goddess Bhagavathi, worshipped by the Hindu community of Kerala as the Mother Goddess. The puppets are opaque, thus casting black and white shadow, mainly in sitting or standing profile. Tolu Bommalatta (leather puppet dance) of Andhra Pradesh have puppets that are of human size with several joints. They are translucent and cast coloured shadows on the screens.

The shadow puppet show of Karnataka, Togalu Gombeyatta shares certain similarities with Andhra Pradesh's Tolu Bommalatta. The figures in this puppet show are also translucent and they shed coloured shadows.

References:

J. Tilakasiri, The Puppet Theatre of Asia. Ceylon: Department of Cultural Affairs, 1968.
Putul Yatra: An Exhibition of Indian Puppets, New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Suresh Awasthi, Performance Tradition in India. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2001.
S. A. Krishnaiah, Puppetry in Karnataka. Udupi : R.R.C., 1987.


* Ahanthem Homen Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is Research Scholar, Dept. of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi and can be contacted at homenahanthem(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on March 26, 2017.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.




LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Kang Khichri chaba @Kwakeithel : Gallery
  • Plastic Surgery Day @RIMS : Gallery
  • Kang Chingba @Keishampat : Gallery
  • Human rights of women in our society
  • AFSPA Gesture and Better Alternative
  • Leisure :: Poem
  • Restore Life After Burns : Plastic Surgery
  • IM accuses AR of 'cold-blooded murder'
  • Konung Kang Chingba #1 : Gallery
  • Dont waste searching for word/phrases
  • Hill People & Merger of Manipur
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #5
  • U-Mangra for biofuel for economic devpt
  • Painting competition on environment
  • Condemn Moreh terror attack
  • Climbing Shirui Hills, Ukhrul #3 : Gallery
  • Ichangthoubi, Thotmungchan :: eMing
  • Kang Chingba - Rath Yatra : Book
  • Why the impasse at Manipur University
  • Condolence Message for Tamenglong
  • Maharaj parleys Bizando
  • Opt for fruit/vegetable beauty product
  • DG Assam Rifles meets Governor
  • Recreation - a Serious Business
  • Tuilha Kolt waterfall @Kpi #1 : Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Lamjing Meira Ningsing Numit #2 : Gallery
  • Who Created the Border Pillar Conflict ?
  • EEVFAM amidst Numbness and Noise
  • Special Olympics Unified Cup 2018
  • Path for youth's bright future
  • Addressing core issues
  • Students Vs Centre's man : MU
  • Thangjam Manorama Anniversary: Gallery
  • A reflection on POCSO Act, 2012
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Fear :: Poem
  • War veterans laboured to clean compound
  • Free Career Counselling Program
  • NEFIS writes to University bodies
  • Sit-in-Protest Against House Search
  • 50th World Population Day celebrated
  • Something worrying
  • Congress : 2 days session too short
  • Jadugi Chei :: Funga Wari
  • Tribal protest for MU normalcy : Gallery
  • Framework Agreement: What is it ?
  • Some cairns from the way: Artist's retake #2
  • Cry of a Dying River # 36 :: Poem
  • Overview on Manipur University imbroglio
  • Tribal Students memo to HRD on MU
  • India-Vietnam Film Show 2018 at Delhi
  • Why the CM is helpless ?
  • No end in sight to MU crisis
  • Indo-Myanmar Pillar 81 @Kwatha #1: Gallery
  • Global Bamboo Congress @Beijing : Gallery
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #4
  • Kamesh Salam : Speaker at BARC, Beijing
  • Career in Cooperatives
  • Nagaland CM's speech at NEC
  • NPF Rejoinder to JD (U) of July 9
  • The Killing Fields - 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Unfair Game
  • Expecting documentary proof from villagers
  • Lamjing Meira Ningsing Numit #1 : Gallery
  • Woken Youth Clubs in season of World Cup
  • Converting tourism potential into reality
  • Let me live in your heart :: Poem
  • D-Jent.... Djentleman... Anyone ?
  • Socialism or destruction of humanity ?
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Demand action against KSO activists
  • 3 Manipur girls in BCCI U-19 squad
  • Rights meet on bill outcome
  • Naga integration will be democratic..
  • Ichangi Laidhi #3 :: eRang
  • Modernizing Manipur University Library
  • In the grip of nothingness :: Poem
  • Password protection - I
  • Congenital Heart Defect operated
  • Hill area bandh relaxed temporarily
  • State & central govt must stop conflict
  • Cohesion is sports
  • Explain 'devious purpose'
  • Willong Khullen, Maram #2 : Gallery
  • Manipur merger agreement 1947
  • Wari Jalsa at New Delhi
  • Congress grass menace in North-East
  • M A Thomas National Human Rights Award
  • What does worry do to us ?
  • Is Manipur a part of India ?
  • Rumours of child lifters : Dangerous
  • List of MLA (Jan 2018) #3 : Gallery
  • Forest Rights Act 2006 -context of Manipur
  • Supreme Court Hearing on EEVFAM case
  • Cry of a Dying River - 35 :: Poem
  • Terirama Th. met South Korea's first lady
  • Securing security cameras: invisible eye
  • Rejoinder to Nagaland CM's statement
  • Meitei Mayek - are the scales tipped now
  • Patronising non-locals : Nail the insiders
  • UNC oppose indefinite Manipur bandh
  • Tribal University @ Senapati : Gallery
  • Rally to remove MU VC #2 : Gallery
  • Some cairns from the way: Artist's retake #1
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #3
  • UN experts on 'fake encounter' killings
  • Nagaland CM Rio statement on July 4
  • Condemns inhuman eviction by Govt
  • Trainees Certificate of RPL at Kamrup
  • Minor reunited with mother after 26 days
  • Non-Operative Closure of "hole in the heart"
  • We are for the people, for the society
  • Over 30 days : Centre sleeps, MU 'burns'
  • Thokchom Brindashabi Devi :: Profile
  • Kshetri-bengoon Eviction Protest : Gallery
  • Successive pay commissions: It's impact
  • Research Support @ R-Square Design
  • leingakki thouwong - state terrorism
  • Rebuttal: Interview of Ranju Singh
  • Different forces pulling Manipur : Lim
  • Pakhangba Cheng Hongba #3 : Gallery
  • Some ideas for prevention of flood
  • Satisfaction :: Poem
  • Supreme Court hearing on EEVFAM - 2 July
  • Dark lips .. causes and care
  • Training on Handloom Weaver at Hojai
  • CME on 'Congenital Heart Diseases'
  • Nagaland CM should make his stand clear
  • 2019 LS polls : BJP on the offensive
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #4 : Gallery
  • Naga American conference in California
  • Life of an army officer's daughter
  • The Winter Blues :: Poem
  • 16th Mega Miss North East
  • NDPP on Naga integration
  • Allegations against VC holds no ground
  • Rally to remove MU VC #1 : Gallery
  • July Calendar for Year 2018 :: Tools
  • A Washed-Out Summer Vacation in MU
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #2
  • My short interaction with Penna Donna
  • 9th Men Mega Mister North East
  • Memo submitted to Kiren Rijiju
  • India- no interest to protect its boundary
  • Idea of who is a citizen of the land
  • Poumai Purul Hiimai Paoki #3 : Gallery
  • Dr Thingnam Kishan Memorial : Gallery
  • Black sheep in movement for ILPS #3
  • Our Common Crisis: What are We to Do #2
  • Jackichand Singh signs for FC Goa
  • No co-operation to MU VC
  • Nagaland CM contradicting himself : NPF
  • Career Guidance Workshop at Ukhrul
  • The tales of a forgotten University
  • Pulling at idea of Manipur : Lim, ATC
  • Climbing Shirui Hills, Ukhrul #2 : Gallery
  • Moirangthem Arup: 90 Km Marathon, Africa
  • Pitfalls on land acquisition for Mapithel Dam
  • Chinese dominance in 21st century
  • Caring for the elderly
  • IIT-G's Technothlon prelims at UAE
  • Mass Rally from Manipur University
  • Nagaland CM releases book by teenager
  • Why trying to dictate media time & again
  • MU, border pillar, Citizenship Bill
  • Oinam Dilip's Painting Exhibition
  • Intl Day Against Drug Abuse : Gallery
  • The Manipur Merger Agreement 1949
  • A road to Mandalay
  • Keeping up: medical diagnostics tech
  • The mother of all preventive strategies
  • Relief camps for Flood affected families
  • The dark side of Indian democracy
  • From three time CM to Oppn leader
  • Khumang Pokpa Haraoba #1 : Gallery
  • Enduring Theatre of Guerrilla War
  • Intl Day in Support of Victims of Torture
  • Impact of trade & floods on economy
  • Imparting training as profession #2
  • Najmaji's flood fixing formula
  • History of Yoga
  • Intl Day against Drug Abuse
  • Politicising MU issue: by whom ?
  • Effective ban on plastics needed
  • Thaunaphaba Marup :: Funga Wari
  • Naga Nationalism & Naga Integration
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #1
  • If I were :: Poem
  • Is football an anathema to the Indians ?
  • Miss, Mister North East contestants
  • MU Imbroglio: Power games now
  • MU crisis : Centre must act fast
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #3 : Gallery
  • Lamka's Dark Light House
  • Our Common Crisis: What are We to Do #1
  • Cry of a Dying River -34 : Poem
  • Textile industry in Manipur
  • Blood Donation Camp at New Delhi
  • Rahmani Program of Excellence
  • Mova Cave, Hungpung, Ukhrul #1 : Gallery
  • Expanding Economy Beckons :: Speech
  • Before trains arrive, must read
  • Impact of the Shirui Lily festival
  • Securing Wi-Fi: Negating doorstep threat
  • Blood donation drive in North East
  • Expecting changes in dealing SoO
  • Scourge of drug trafficking
  • Tribal Cultural Festival #2 : Gallery
  • Letter to JS-MHRD from MUTA
  • JS-MHRD did not meet with MUTA
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #2 : Gallery
  • Yoga Day: Celebrating Your Health
  • Chak-hao - black gold of Manipur
  • In response to the culture of shaming
  • 3rd Documentor Imphal
  • General Thangal Eco Park : Gallery
  • Deadline of 5 days time set : MU crisis
  • Garlic Festival @Ukhrul #4 :: Gallery
  • Flood in Imphal [14 June] #3 : Gallery
  • Dzuko valley #4 :: 360 Panorama View
  • Phumdigi Tantha : Dance Drama : Gallery
  • Manglandasu Nang - OST :: e-pao Radio
  • Laitonjam Rajnikanta : Profile
  • Amuktang-Ga Haikho #1 : eRang
  • Kang Tournament @ Yaiskul : Gallery
  • HSLC 208 Exam Toppers : Gallery
  • HSLC 2018 :: Toppers Listing
  • HSLC 2018 :: Check Result
  • HSLC :: Statistical/Subject Topper
  • HSLC 2018 :: External
  • Aerial view from Chingmeirong : Gallery
  • Front Page Photo 2018 #2: Gallery
  • Class XII Exam Toppers : Gallery
  • Temples of Manipur : Gallery
  • Recipients of Akademi Awards for 2014
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic
  • SPONSORED ADS