I used to conduct Kilbil, a children's programme on Mumbai Doordarshan, during 1975-79 using a hand puppet who was called Dhituklya. This programme was very popular. Many non-Marathi-speaking people also used to watch this programme. Dhituklya and I used to chat and conduct the programme. Children knew that Dhituklya was a mere puppet, but they used to identify with him. Dr. R.S. Saraf, Director of the Language Development Project of the Education Department of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, saw my programme one day and called me, he expressed his wish that I should work with him as an advisor on the Language Development Project which was funded by the Ford Foundation. This meant that research had to be done on how puppets could be used in primary education, I thought it was a challenge and I accepted the offer.
During 1976-78 I studied the curriculum of the 1st to 4th standards. I dramatized some poems and lessons, made puppets for this, recorded the skits, conducted workshops for teachers and taught them how to make simple puppets. Therefore, in 1987-88 I was given a 3rd standard class in the Kherwadi Municipal School to conduct two-hour sessions every Saturday for a year. During this period I worked with a 3rd standard class by devising games based on theatre techniques and puppets. The then Director of the Language Development Project, Panna Adhvaryu, and her colleagues realized that these children had not only developed language skills but their overall personalities had also improved. She invited some teachers to train under me.
In this manner I developed a vision about how puppets can be used not merely for entertainment but also for other specific purpose. I then conducted hundreds of workshops for teachers, social workers, nurses, psychologists, medical students, education workers, theatre persons, dumb and deaf children et al. those worth specially mentioning are: sex workers of Kamathipura to Create awareness about social issues; education officers of the Bombay Natural History Society to create environment awareness; to make children of alcoholic parents more articulate etc. I have recently produced a play on child sexual abuse. I successfully used shadow puppets to depict the sexual abuse part more graphically without hurting the sensibilities of the audience. Similarity in my latest play on child trafficking I have used life-size puppets for the victims, again for the same purpose and also equally successfully.
After and during acquiring knowledge and imparting it to others for over 28 yrs. I realized that people have now become curious and inquisitive about puppets. Thirty years ago people had almost forgotten about puppets. Though this situation has now changed people still do not know how to use them. They are enthusiastic about making puppets but they have not yet realized how to use them effectively and this aspect is being neglected.
I think that if some reference in the form of a book is made available this understanding will improve. There are no such books available and so I thought that I should write one.
The basic idea behind writing this book is to bring back the lost glory of puppetry.
Puppetry has a very old history. We come across references to puppets in the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra, Naishadeeya Charita, Kathasaritsagar, Jnaneshwari and many other books. There is a shloka in the Mahabharata.
Paraprayuktaba purusho vichestate
Sootraprota dasamayeeva yosha
(Just as a puppet makes movements as per the manipulator's wish, So does man make movements as per god's wish.)
What is a puppet? In Marathi it is called kalasootri. Kala is a key or lever, and sootra is thread. The one who holds the string is the sootradhar. The term sootradhar is often used in the theatre, but it has its origin in puppetry. Experts believe that Indian theatre has developed from puppetry. We have many idioms based on the concepts of kalasootri and sootradhar. The art of the puppetry is one of the sixty-four arts mentioned in ancient Indian literature. The word kashtha-chitra-kreedan appears in the Panchatantra. Kashtha is wood, chitra is picture and kreedan is play: hence a play of wooden pictures or dolls. A reference is also made of yantra-putrakaleela. Yantra is a machine or device, putraka is a boy or girl and leela is play. The Naishadeeya Charita (biography) of King Shree Harsha mentions that puppet plays were often performed in the court of King Nala. Kathasaritsagar has a story wherein a princess goes to meet another princess and takes with her four key-dolls as a present. The Marathi saint poets Jnaneshwar, Tukaram and Namdev refer to saikhadyancha khel. The art of shadow puppetry is very ancient. It is believed that Vishnudas Bhave, the pioneer of modern Marathi theatre, was initialy a puppeteer. Despite this glorious tradition the art of puppetry did not develop and sustain in our country. It has not been accepted as an honourable profession. In Japan, Russia, Czechoslovakia, USA, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, England and many other countries, however, this art has developed and has reached its peak.
There are four major forms of traditional puppets: (i) glove/hand puppets; (ii) rod puppets (iii) string puppets/marionettes; (iv) shadow puppets/leather puppets.
Glove or Hand Puppets
These puppets are used mainly in Kerala. These puppets are used for entertainment as well as in some religious rituals. These kathakali-like dolls are worn on the palm like gloves and are made to dance sitting around a homakunda (well of holy fire). They are called paavaikuthu or paavaikali. Paava means doll and kuthu means dance or play. In Bengal wandering puppeteers use traditional puppets popularly known as beni putul. These nomadic puppeteers tie, two dolls by their long plaits and hang them around their neck while travelling from one village to another to perform. Traditional hand puppets are found in Orissa also where they are known as kundhehi naachaa; kundhehi is doll and naachaa is literally dance but means play. Usually there are only two dolls: Krishna and Radha. The puppeteer does not hide behind a curtain while manipulating these dolls. Such dolls are sometimes used in Pinguli in coastal Maharashtra while depicting the Mahabharata.
These puppets are especially popular in Bengal where traditional as well as modern puppeteers use them extensively. Sometimes these are even four to five feet high. The face of the puppet is attached to a long rod and is made to dance by moving the rod. One stick is attached to one palm of the puppet and another to other palm, and these are held by the puppeteer in his hands. Sometimes sticks are attached to the puppet's feet and these are held by the puppeteer in his hand as well. The puppeteer sits in a low position unseen to the viewers and makes the puppet dance. Sometimes one puppet needs more than one manipulator. He attaches the rod connecting the face of the puppet to a belt on his waist and manipulates hand and leg movements with other rods. In Bengali this is called putulnaach or putulkhela. In Orissa a puppet play is called kathi kundhehi. In this performance the rods are 12 to 18 inches. In Bengal putulnaach is done by manipulators in a standing position. On the other hand, in Orissa kathi kundhehi is done sitting down.
In Karnataka it is observed that the device of both, a rod or wires and strings, are used. The Sootradhaar has a ring attached to his head. Strings attached to the ears of the puppet are tied to this ring. When the sootradhaar nods his head, the puppet also nods his head. The doll's hands are attached to two thick wires. The sootradhaar holds these in his hands and manipulates the hand movements of the puppet. These puppets are very heavy. They do not have legs. These puppets look like the Gauri installed during the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra. The manipulator himself dances with ghungroo on his feet. This form is called gombe ataa. Gombe means doll and ataa means dance or play.
String Puppets or Marionettes
Rajasthani kathaputalis are world famous. These puppets often do not have feet. These puppets are made to dance with strings attached to the hands of the manipulator. These puppets have wooden faces, but their bodies/torsos are of cloth. The lower part of the body is clad or made of a ghaagra (loose skirt). The manipulators hold pipaani (a sort of musical paper pipe in their lips and play it and accompanists play the dholak (drum) and the puppets are made to dance to this tune. The underlying themes are mostly those of Rajput warriors like Amarsingh Rathod and Prithviraj Chauhan.
Kogga Kamat is the puppeteer in Kundapur in Karnataka who presents Yakshagaana in this style. He uses wooden puppets with legs. These dolls are draped and made up like the human actors in the Yakshagaana style. These dolls are 1.5 to 2 feet tall and each has 8 or 10 strings and their movements are as rhythmic as Yakshagaana actors.
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