Archiving Performances of Kondhei Nacho

Archiving Performances of Kondhei Nacho.

The aim of the project is to create an audio visual archive of Folk Puppetry Theatre performances of Odisha, make an informative database of the artists available, their repertoire and the style of puppetry that they practice.

Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr reputed, veteran puppeteer and a specialist on Rod Puppetry (‘Kathi Kondhei’) from Keonjhar district of Orissa will be associated with the project as an artist collaborator/guide/’sutradhar’.


Project proposed by :

Indraneel Lahiri



Project Collaborator :

Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr

Veteran puppeteer, expert in Rod Puppetry (Kathi Kondhai) Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy award winner 1982-83  Kendujhargarh, Odisha Odisha can be seen as a magical playground of puppets.


There are four kinds of techniques used for puppet theatre which is prevalent India, viz. Glove puppetry, String puppetry, Rod puppetry and Shadow or Leather puppetry.  In Odisha all of these techniques are common as well as a wide variety of their sub forms are found.  Most of the artists performing puppetry were from the Jhara fishermen community or Hatua community, both considered belonging to the lower castes. Traditionally the performers used to travel with their family members, perform at one village, halt for the night and carrying on to the next. Sometimes they performed with a glove puppet in one hand and playing dhol/drums with the other.  Orissa has its own share of a couple of forms of Ramayana and four Mahabharata. Viswanath Khuntia’s Vichitra Ramayan and the improvised ballads of Mahabharata mostly form the literature base of folk art forms like Pala and Daskathia which influences the puppetry forms greatly.


The performances are not only based on the epics and Harivamsha but also on social satires and dances. For example, in the puppetry dance of Kela Keluni, the puppeteers construct about 4 ft high model characters, based on a snake charmer and his wife, a lion and a lioness and the like.

The amusement lies in the skillful performance of the puppeteer and his story telling ability. The attraction of the puppets is their simplicity.

Though the Ravanachchaya performance is based on the hugely popular epic of Ramayana, which people have read, seen on television numerous times, still whenever the performances happens they do not cease to amuse/entertain. The shadow formed by primitive leather cutouts of the characters leaves most of the drama to the viewer’s imagination and he is enthralled by the drama unfolding in front of him.

For puppeteers like Sri Maguni Kuanr puppetry does not only mean the performance. Being an ace wood craftsman himself, he creates his own puppets from wood, makes clothes for them, paints, makes the backdrop where the performance is going to take place, writes the piece of drama to be performed, memorizes them, sings and performs.

The art form does not depend on new technological breakthroughs in projection and sound techniques as the production cost is kept at bare minimal but it is adorned with its own share of indigenous technical innovations.

Puppetry as a theatre form was very popular with the patronage of the kings of Kendujhargarh (Keonjhar ), Mayurbhanj, etc., today the performances are rare.


Relavance of the project:

Odisha especially is a state where many outstanding puppeteers have performed over the years.

In some remote villages, puppetry is a form of amusement during the fairs, but otherwise it is a rare occurrence. The puppeteers also have taken up other means to sustain their family. For example Sri Maguni Kuanr is also known for his carpentry skills. His talent for sculpting is best seen in the Kali idol that he is making in his locality.

Other puppeteer theatre groups in Bhanjanagar of Ganjam District have grocery shops or own bike repairing garages. Only during the festival season do they plunge themselves into puppetry, breathing a life into the puppets who for most of the year lie closed in a box… and there are hundreds of them.

Times have changed, mode of entertainment has changed for the masses. It’s an irreversible process. There are a few books on the history and tradition of puppetry in Odisha. The lucid writings of Gauranga Charan Das a scholar on the subject give the reader a vivid idea about the history and ethnography of the cultural practice. Through his efforts, a museum devoted to puppetry is going to be made in Pallahara near Kendujhargarh. Sri Das has been performing as well as teaching puppetry.

But there still remains a huge need for audio visual material of puppetry performances, both as training material for interested learners and also as reference material for future studies.

The aim of the project will be to create this audio visual resource by comprehensive video recording of the performances of various artists from all over Odisha both public performances during fairs,etc. and controlled training videos .

In today’s age the youth should see puppetry as an alternative career option, to have innovative new performances with contemporary stories.

Sri Maguni Kuanr our artist collaborator and resource person will guide us through the process helping us to understand the intricacies of the performances, the innovations and the challenges. I am privileged to have Sri Maguni with his solid fifty years of experience and expertise in the field as the ‘Sutradhar’ for the project. Sri Kuanr can elucidate on the change in materials that have been used in the puppetry for the last fifty years, i.e the technical advancement and also the change in aesthetics that it must have brought in. A small interview and performance of Sri Kuanr is compiled in the video submitted.

I have studied film making as my post graduation in the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune with cinematography as my specialization. I wish to make a small stage or performing space for the puppeteers for the video recording. I hope my knowledge of photography and lighting will come in handy during the process. Having a keen interest in different forms of puppetry and with the guidance of Sri Maguni Kuanr we will be able to build a comprehensive audio visual archive.


The Fellowship will ensure a professional, dedicated academic collaboration between Sri Maguni Kuanr and myself. With the financial support we will at least be able to bear the cost of travel of the artists’ and a small remuneration for their performance.

Mehodology :

Phase 1 : First Six months

The festival months when the puppeteers are most active are from November to April. Various performances in villages, towns, fairs, festivals will be captured in verite style.

A database of artists with the help of Sri Kuanr and sri Gauranga Charan Das will be made. Artists will be contact and their public performances will be captured.

Some artist will be selected for the next phase of the work.

Phase 2 : Next six months

The selected artists will be called (about ten) to a makeshift studio/ performance stage/ shooting arrangement near Sri Maguni Kuanr’s residence. Their performances would be shot in detail. The materials used and the entire process pre shoot will be recorded. A brief interview of the artists about them and their art will be made.

All the performances in Sri Maguni Kuanr’s repertoire will be covered in detail.

Very few people perform Ravanchchaya or shadow puppetry today. The puppets are small cutout pieces of leather very intricately designed. A detailed training video of the performances will be recorded.

Proposed output:

HD video clips of the artists’ performances and interviews in (1920X1080 lines) PAL and 16 bit 48 KHz audio.


Contacts: Sri Maguni Charan Kuanr
Purana Bajar, Kendujhargarh, Odisha. Ph: +91 8895975444.
Indraneel Lahiri
79, MIG II, Kanan Vihar Ph 2, Bhubaneswar Odisha Ph: +91 93731 99047
+91 98531 58011 Email : Skype Id : lahiri.indraneel

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