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by Elisabeth den Otter
In March 2003 the Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi organized a large puppet festival, together with the India International Centre and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The festival was held in honour of the 50th birthday of the Akademi, and in memory of the late Kamladevi Chattopadhyay. 35 Groups performed, of which 18 traditional groups from different states: Karnataka (4), West Bengal (3), Andra Pradesh / Kerala / Orissa / Tamil Nadu (2 each), and Rajasthan / Maharashtra / Assam (1 each). For twelve nights different groups performed, ususally accompanied by live music. At the occasion of the festival an exhibition was organized, showing around 200 puppets from the collection of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. A lovely sight! (Photo's of a number of these puppets can be seen in the article below.) There was also a two-day symposium with the title 'Puppetry: East-West, West-East', in association with the Union Internationale de la Marionnette (UNIMA). My contribution consisted of a lecture about the exhibition 'Distant Friends of Jan Klaassen', shown in the Tropenmuseum in 1996. The organization was excellent and being there was a fantastic experience! From March 17-28 a large number of puppet groups performed, traditional as well as contemporary. The majority of the puppets were stringpuppets (sometimes combined with rods) and shadowpuppets; there were only a few groups with glovepuppets. The stories are mostly based on the Ramayana, but also on the Mahabharata and folk stories. Music is an important part of puppetry; the melody is played on a harmonium or a shawm, and the percussion is played on a variety of drums, cymbals and other instruments. Puppetry often is part of a temple festival, and lasts a number of evenings; often the performance is preceded by a ritual.
A green face indicates a god. cymbals and a conch shell.Glovepuppetry is called pavakathakali in Kerala. whereas a red face indicates a villain. The puppets are between thirty and sixty centimeters high. in order to try and reconcile her stepfather and her . The play Dakshayagam is from the Mahabharata: Daksha. The musical instruments consist of drums. the stepfather of Sati (wife of the god Shiva). headgear. The puppeteers have adapted the dance stories of kathakali. The head and arms are carved out of wood. king or hero. The conventions of kathakali character types in respect to costumes. the head is manipulated by the index finger and the arms are moved by the thumb and the middle finger. Sati goes. make-up and color are followed in pavakathakali. insults Shiva by not inviting him for an important ceremony.
which was established in 1981 to revive the art of traditional Kerala puppetry. This center was founded in 1975 by Gopal Venu. their daughter Kapila is a kudiyattam actress and mohiniyattam dancer. Shiva comes to the ceremony transformed into the demon Virabhadra. The leather puppets are traditionally performed by the Vellala Chetty. and mohiniyattam (a classical female dance form). The puppets made of deer skin are opaque and small. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Krishnan Kutty Pulavar Memorial Tholpava Koothu & Puppet Centre. The theme. It is very exciting to watch the performance from behind the scene: the puppeteers that have to manipulate the right puppets at the right moment.and shadow-). the percussive music . Daksha begs Shivas pardon.husband. about fortyeight to eighty centimeters high. but revives him and fixes a goat's head on his body. Thanks to this center a number of theatrical traditions from Kerala have been saved from extinction. but is received with anger by her stepfather who insults her husband.. At least five artists are required to manipulate the puppets to cover the twelve meters long screen. together with his wife Nirmala Paniker. the story of Rama from his birth to his coronation. the scholars or poets. kutiyattam (an old form of Sanskrit theater). In great fury. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Natanakairali. Sati immolates herself. the musical accompaniment is provided by drums and cymbals. the intense singing. Puppetry in Kerala has been revived thanks to Natanakairali. The lively and colorful performance was much appreciated. The performers are known as Pulavars. Almost 130 puppets are needed for the telling of the entire story. a center for research and performance of traditional arts: puppetry (glove. The performance is a part of temple festivities and is conducted with a series of rituals. is performed from seven to twenty-one nights. The recitation of verse and prose is in a specific style. Shadowpuppetry is called tolpavakuthu in Kerala. He cuts off Daksha's head and throws it into the sacrificial fire. they are kept alive through performances and publications. the Nair and Ganaka communities.. . the interaction that goes on.
the structure of performance. a horse rider. The puppeteer 'speaks' for the characters in a squeaky voice with a swizzle. such as lighting a lamp or garlanding another character. cymbals and a shawm. Stringpuppetry is called yakshagana gombeyata and resembles the Yakshagana theater performances. The puppeteer can also push the heavy puppets with his knees to create more movement. He appears at the court of emperor Akbar. Tricks and turns are performed for their royal amusement by a magician. was a great patron whose heroic deeds and death are sung and enacted. especially in regard to the themes. They perform scenes from the Ramayana.Rajasthan Stringpuppetry is called kathputli in Rajasthan. The heads of the puppets are carved from mango wood. an episode of the Ramayana is the theme. String&rodpuppetry is called salaki gombeyatta. one end of which is attached to the puppet's head and the other to its back. In addition to the strings. music. held in the hands of the manipulator who also sings for the character he manipulates. etc. a wandering community. The string is looped around the puppeteer's finger and all movements are generated by a series of jerks on either end. claiming to be the chief performers during the reign of the legendary king Vikramaditya. a snakecharmer. two each attached to the ears. the puppets have an iron stick extending from each hand to form a rod. their large stylized eyes are painted white or yellow. The puppeteers are 'bhats'. The puppet is manipulated with six strings. an acrobat. Both strings and rods are used for manipulation. whose life and achievements they extolled. with the other end fixed in a wooden handle. the women sing and play the drum. Here also. and at the other end to a cloth-covered iron ring placed on the head of the manipulator. they believe in a divine origin of their art. This technique enables the puppets to perform special actions or effects. knee joints and hands. costumes and make-up. The strings at one end are tied to the ears and the centre of the head of the puppet. with bodies made of cloth and stuffed rags. Karnataka Karnataka is rich in puppetry. . They are manipulated with only one string. Amar Singh Rathore. Musical accompaniment consists of drums. They are up to sixty centimeters tall. The stories mostly revolve around the exploits of local heroes. These pairs are tied to three small wooden sticks. along with other Hindu 'rajas'. the ruler in the seventeenth century. costumed in the Rajasthani style.
is defined by very few incisions for clothing and jewellery. one on top of the other. Stringpuppetry is called koyya bommalata. An episode from the Ramayana is performed. Their ankle-belled feet stamp on two wooden planks. The puppeteers speak. It is a very old tradition.. The story is from the Ramayana. sing and dance for the characters they manipulate standing up.The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Sri Bhavaneshwari Sutrada Gombe Mela. and comic relief with local gossip and caustic comments on the contemporary situation is provided by clownesque characters. The performers are from the 'bhat' community. Thirty to one hundred puppets are required for a performance based on the theme of the play. whose ancestors were musicians and officers in the local royal courts. The shadows are created by simple opaque leather puppets. The combination of color.. . The manipulation is simple. sound and movement is magic . while the skin of mountain goats and sheep is used for all the other figures. The performance opens with an invocation to Ganesh. Shadowpuppetry is called togalu gombeyata. The leather puppets are large and brightly colored. to keep rhythm or for sound effects. literally: 'wooden doll' . Deer skin is used for divine beings. followed by an episode from the Ramayana. Shadowpuppetry is called ravanachhaya. The musical instruments are a harmonium. with no joints. the dark silhouette. Illusion of size is achieved by the distance of the puppet from the screen. The men and women in the group sing and speak for respective male and female characters. They are small. drum and cymbals. with up and down and sideways swinging movements. a drum and cymbals. literally: 'the shadow of Ravana'. delicately outlined. The stage is made with transparent cloth tied to poles on three sides. They are accompanied by a harmonium. Andra Pradesh Shadowpuppetry is called tolubommalata in Andra Pradesh. The leather is not scraped fully and the puppets are not painted. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by a group led by Mr Mote Upp orissa Orissa is a state rich in puppetry.
The small puppets have three strings which are attached to a small wooden rod: one for the head and two for the hands. his flute playing and flirting with the milkmaids and Radha as a young man. topical touches added to keep pace with the times. a shawm. The puppets are accompanied by a harmonium. Stringpuppetry is called sakhinata. Rodpuppetry is called kandhei nach. Puppetry is a speciality of the Kela. is preceded by an invocation. West Bengal Glovepuppetry is called benir putul. this ethnic group is also known for its diviners. and cymbals. The play is based on the epic 'Mathura-Mangal'. with terracotta faces and wooden hands. the declamatory delivery of dialogue and the ornate costuming. The play is from the Ramayana. with some modern. which is carved in wood and painted. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Ravan Chhaya Natya Sansad. The play. Rodpuppetry is called danger putul. The puppets keep the rhythm with bells or cymbals tied to their wrists. The shoulder joints are connected with strings from inside the torso of the puppet to two rings which are pulled for arm movements. The puppets measure up to sixty centimeters and are jointed at the shoulders. drums. are constantly sparring with each other. wooden clappers and cymbals. an episode from the Ramayana. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Utkal Vishwakarma Kalakunja Kandhei Nacha. The play is based on the Ramayana. The repertoire is from the epics. Tamil Nadu . snake charmers and magicians. The wooden rod holds up the head.Musical accompaniment is provided by a drum. There is the operatic singing. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Bishnu Priya Putul Party. and his batlles with the demons his mean uncle sent to him. be it an anti-smoking message or a projection of new roles for women. broad gestures. in which the young Krishna is the main character: the tricks he plays as a child. The two male and female characters.
along with a flute. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Sri Murugan Sangeetha Bommalatta Sabha. This festival was an excellent occasion to see fascinating performances. Somewhat akin to shadowpuppets from Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. the play begins with an invocation to Ganesh. one male and one female. drum and cymbals. to attend interesting lectures. Two singers. As in the traditional theater forms of the region. these puppets are smaller in size. accompany the performance. with the other end fixed in a wooden handle. In addition to the strings. String&rodpuppetry is called bommalatam and closely resembles the string&rodpuppetry of Karnataka. Both strings and rods are used for manipulation. the puppets have an iron stick extending from each hand to form a rod. Musical accompaniment is with a harmonium. and to talk about puppetry with old and new friends. and at the other end to a cloth-covered iron ring placed on the head of the manipulator. The play is based on the Ramayana. The strings at one end are tied to the ears and the centre of the head of the puppet. The puppets seen in the following video are manipulated by the group Selvaraja Shadow Puppet Group. and includes the clowning of the jester. . The theme is taken from the Ramayana.Shadowpuppetry is called tol bommalatam. a drum and cymbals.
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