Tag Archives: Puppetry

Indraneel Lahiry Report

November 2013 report

 

To get started on the task of archiving contemporary puppetry practices of Odisha, it is imperative that I have an idea about the history of the art in the state, the different cultural influences that has gone into it over the years and its present state. When I had asked my collaborator Sri Maguni Charan Kuanar to help me with this, I realized that he is more of a performer, and cannot satisfactorily and coherently answer my queries. He seeing my interest suggested I meet Sri Gouranga Charan Dash a Professor of

Oriya at the Ravensaw University, Cuttack. I met him at the University; he was also holding the post of the Head of the Department and was an extremely busy man. He had done his doctoral thesis was o the puppetry theater of Odisha. I did not realize then that he too was a puppeteer. He gave me a lot of time though. We talked about his experiences in being a practitioner of Ravana Chhaya(shadow puppetry) tradition of Odihsa, of which only two professional troupes exist. He was very happy to see that such a project has been undertaken as there has not been a comprehensive film on the puppetry art of Odisha, and invited me and my wife to his village in Khamar, Angul district about four hundred kilometres away from Bhubaneswar.

In his village Sri Dash has created an institution called ‘Kondheighara’ , a space where there will be a museum on puppetry of Odisha, research books on the subject, an amphitheater where regular shows can be held and a  place where all puppeteers across the state can come together and discuss their future. A sprawling five acres of land full of old trees adjacent to a Kolha village. It is name after Guru Kathinanda Das the revered guru of Ravana Chhaya. Sri Dash and his wife both are academicians and have learnt the art of puppet manipulations, sing and perform for traditional texts as well as for new ones that they have developed mostly for Sangeet Natak Academy. There has been a rift with the other Ravana Chhaya troupe which is in the village of Odasa very close to Sri Gouranga’s village. He has been blamed for modernizing the tradition. Sri Gouranga also has arguments in his favour, about why such changes and innovations are required for an art form to survive throughout the ages. He is of the opinion that the traditional Bhata community who were the pioneers of this tradition had also improvised on it as no one knows in which form it was available in antiquity. No Bhata people perform anymore though. The people from the ‘Kela’ community, who were the traditional puppeteers and snake charmers of Odisha, have migrated to different profession other than probably one troupe who practice Sakhi Kondhei (glove puppetry). We discussed extensively the complications that have arisen after the Government has started giving grants for the development of the art. Most of the money is devoured by the middle men and sometimes the poor artists are cheated off their remuneration. Also we see that nowadays many artists are ashamed of their identity as a man of very low caste, as it was the practice before, which deter them from travelling different places in search of their audience. He has also helped me with giving me contacts of other practicing puppeteers, all of whom I intend to document in the course of the term of the fellowship.

Sri Gouranga is about to publish a book called ‘Sacred Shadows’ about shadow puppetry practices of our country and his research material has been also very helpful for my study. We extensively shot with him about the techniques of making leather puppets and their manipulation, the songs that are used, etc. which are currently being edited.

 

December 2013 report

 

Maguni Charan Kuanar, veteran rod puppeteer of Odisha and my collaborator for the fellowship was invited by the Dept. of Tourism to perform at the 7th Toshali National Crafts Mela in Bhbaneswar.

Maguni arrived at about 5 pm. The show was scheduled at 6:30 pm. For his performance he needs to create a small wooden box, large enough to house two men who would sit on the floor and manipulate the puppets. Maguni came in a rented out truck from Keonjhar, about four hundred kilometres from

Bhuabaneswar, with a team who had been brought together specifically for te show. Maguni previously had dedicated band members who would travel with him all throughout the year. He would also give them a salary and take care of them. He prefers to work with freelancers as he does not take up shows as much as he used to.

Maguni’s crew hurriedly got busy in constructing their stage. One of the people from the Organizers, a

Govt. officer was seen rebuking Maguni in the Green Room. Later on we came to know that Maguni’s crew did not wear an uniform, they had just their different trousers and shirts on which the organizers would not allow on stage. Maguni went to the far and bought all his crew members a saffron coloured

‘kurta’ but did not buy for himself. Folk artists are hardly treated with any respect in Odisha, may be because most of them belong to lower castes or they come from poor households. The classical artists,

Odishi dancers, singers though are treated with extra courteousness. Many of them are city based, Brahmins or daughters of eminent families. While talking to Maguni just before his show we could feel a hint of sadness in his voice. Maguni and his crew were called up on stage and felicitated by the distinguished guests. He started with a small sequence of ‘Maishashurabdh’ (killing of demon Mahishahura by Devi Durga). Then he started with a sequence from Ramayana. Most of the puppeteers in Odisha even Maguni borrow heavily, mostly the songs, from ‘Bichitra Ramayana’. An early eighteenth century text by poet Biswanath Khuntia in Oriya. It was written keeping Ram Leela peformances in mind and was hugely popular at that time. Maguni also is heavily influenced by the ‘opera’ culture or ‘Jatra’ as it is known in this part of the country. Maguni has incorporated small comic episodes in his show. Characters like Bhagirathi who is a drunkard. The character of the Messenger to Ravana is very popular with audiences. Maguni’s characters are very life like in their body language and expressions. He is a wood sculptor par excellence and a skilled mimicry artist too. The voices of both Bhagirathi and his mother are Maguni’s. What is fantastic is the emotions that he renders through his voice.

Maguni abruptly ended the Ramayana sequence because he had to leave the stage for the next artists.

He quickly performed the fight sequence between Rama and Ravana and ended his performance with a huge applause from the audience.

Maguni and his crew left for their hometown soon after in their truck in the cold of the night as the organizers would not arrange for their stay in the city. Previously they would used to come and stay during performances at the guest house of Sangeet Natak Academy. The organizers claim that they would charge at least five hundred rupees more if they would stay for the night, which is beyond the budget allocated for such programmes.

This was my second visit to Sri GourangaCharan Dash’s house, a two storied, modestly made, overlooking a five acre of cultivable land in the middle of the village Kutharimunda in Khamar in Anugul district. Sri Dash plans to make a museum for puppets and a research centre and an amphitheater for screenings and performances. He and his architect friend from IIT, Mumbai have meticulously planned the venture. Sri Dash was very happy to show us the empty land where he is planning the Centre and added that in a couple of years the entire construction will be complete. By the end of my fellowship period the amphitheater should be done and we planned a small gathering of all puppeteers from Orissa here.

My interest of visiting his house again was to see the leather puppets that he had made for his shows and gathered from others. He had only formed his troupe called Sri Ram Chhaya Gabeshana Parishad in the year 1996 so all his puppets are fairly new. All the old leather puppets of Orissa have been over the years been sold to collectors in India and abroad. So, most of the leather puppets that we see today with the puppeteers are new. Incidentally he was preparing the leather to make a cutout of a puppet.

The process starts with the selection of the animal hide eg. cow, deer, mountain goat, etc. . Deer hide was the most commonly used animal hide for puppets as it is smoother than the others, light transmission can be more, it is thinner and lighter. Nowadays, mountain goat is preferred as there are restrictions in procuring other animal hide. But, with different kinds of leather the effect on the screen is different. Cowhide or mountain goat hide is thicker, heavier less translucent. Since it is heavier its manipulation is limited. The skin can be suitable for characters like trees or animals who are not the main characters and whose movement does not forward the narrative. Deer hide being the lightest and the skin being more translucent can be used for human beings or godly characters like Rama.

The hair was removed from the dry skin of the mountain goat. The skin was then cut according to the sketch on the paper. After the cut is done finely, the linear cuts inside the puppet and perforations will be made to give the shape of the body, a resemblance of the costume and ornaments, etc. Previously the Ravanachhaya puppets had very few lines in the body and the shapes of the figures were rather primitive. Nowadays the puppets resemble the Pata painting style with more ornamentation and intricate cuts. Still the puppets do not have joints, so their limbs cannot be moved separately. Unlike the other shadow puppets from Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh the puppets in Orissa are not coloured. Sri Gouranga Dash however paints the skin of the puppet slightly to give an appearance of skin tone, also to make a dramatic composition. For example he had painted the hut, in which Rama, Sita and Lakshman were staying during their exile, black. The hut will be always in the background and will not interfere with the storytelling. Also it might help in creating depth in the composition. Interestingly he had also used Saura (tribal community of western Orissa) painting on the walls of the huts. He suggests that if Rama had been staying in the Dandakaranya forests he must have encountered such paintings on the huts. These additions also can help to make the stories more human and acceptable to the local audiences.

All moving shadow puppets are cut such that they give a profile section of the characters. The characters are also limited to move from one end of the screen to the other horizontally. The depth is compressed as all background elements that set up the ‘mise en scene’ are almost on the same plane as the characters. So, either one can use puppets diminished in size to give a notion of perspective or play with a movable light source. Traditionally for some actions like Hanumana’s flight across the sea the puppeteers have incorporated three distinct body positions of Hanumana to give a feeling that he is flying. But, in traditional story telling style it is probably not important to make the puppets resemble the characters in great detail, the shadows look more vibrant and dramatic when they are not defined. The songs that accompany the play and the puppets in the hands of a skillful artist can only make it come alive.

The traditional shadow puppeteers were the ‘Bhata’ community who took up the text ‘Bichitra Ramayana’ by BiswanathKhuntia. BiswanathKhuntia was a celebrated poet of the early seventeenth century. His work the Bichitra Ramayana or the Wonderful Ramayana has become the most popular Ramayana in the Oriya language because of its lucid and simple language, also as it contains dramatizations that appeal to the common folk.

Two printed editions of the work are available at present .One is published by RadharamanPushtakalaya, Cuttack and other by Jagannath Singh. Both the publishers have included passages from poets other than Viswanath, like Vikram, Gopi, Gopal, Narana, Padmanabha, Lakshman, Jadunandan, Shyama, Kapila and VaisyaSadasibha. The work was completed in the 25thAnka of Divyasimha Deva I, corresponding to 1692-1720. Composed with UpendraBhanja’s(  roughly 1670 – 1740 , also known as ‘Kabi- samrat’ , the emperor of poets ) BaideheesaBilasha which greatly appealed to the learned pundits, Bichitra Ramayana of Khuntia mainly appealed to the common folk, particularly the dancers and ballad singers. – fromEncyclopedia of Indian Literature vol.1, edited by AmareshDutta.

The puppeteers

There are two troupes of RavanaChhaya presently in Odisha -Ravana Chhaya Natya Sansad from Odasha village and Sri Ram Chhaya Gabeshana Parishad of Khamar both from Anugul district. Guru Kathinanda Das(1900 -1986) was one of the most prolific artists of the form and had been a mentor to both the present troupes which are led by Guru Khageswar Pradhan and Dr. GourangaCharan Dash respectively.

Guru Kathinanda Das was not an original inhabitant of Odhasha. His father Basudevdas(? – 1942) had settled there from Seepur a village 21 km away. Basudevdas’ father Hrushi Champattiray was an inhabitant of Domal village of Dhenkanal and married in Seepur. The king of Dhenkanal had given someone from his family the title ‘Champattiray’ after seeing a soulful rendering of Ravana Chhaya. Since Basudebdas did not have any children in Seepur he came and settled himself at Odhasha village.

Ravana Chhaya had flourished in Seepur during the patronage of the Kings of Talcher. The Bhata community who knew the art of shadow puppetry was nomadic. It is believed that they have immigrated from Jajpur district or Puri district of Odisha. The Bhatas used to sing praises of the King and his Sepoy’s and beg for alms as their profession. The King of Talcher recruited some of them as musicians to entertain his subjects, gave them land in Seepur and asked them to settle down. These Bhatas used to roam around villages at the time of festivals, auspicious days, and marriages and perform shadow play.

There were three troupes of Ravana Chhaya at the end of the nineteenth century at Seepur. These were owned by HrusiChampattiray, Chintamoni Das and JogendraDas’ family. Jogendra Das then left for Athamallik(a nearby town in Talcher) for some unknown reason may be family dispute. Along with Jogendra,KritarthaRai, Purnachandra Das, Natabar Ray also left for Athamallik. They started RavanaChhaya there under the guidance of Jogendra Das. The troupe disbanded during the 1930s. The puppets were not taken care of and were ruined.

Basudevdas’s daughter Kanchan was given in marriage to Baishnab from Seepur. The old troupe in Seepur had fragmented so Baishnab joined his father in law Basudev’s troupe. Kathinanda Das who was the son of Basudevdas along with now Baishnab gathered men from the Dhobi community, barbers and farmers and started their RavanaChhaya troupe.

JeevanPani writes in his book RavanaChhaya, “This rare form of shadow play was on the verge of extinction when the documentation unit of the Akademi discovered it in a remote village in April 1971. The only surviving RavanaChhaya puppeteer, Kathinanda Das, was one of the most neglected persons in the village. When the villagers saw us filming, photographing and tape recording his performance they were amazed.”

Maguni Charan Kuanar , rod puppeteer from Keonjhar , when speaking about guru Kathinanda Das mentions that he used to be a blind devotee of Rama and said everything around him was made by Rama. His deep love and devotion towards Rama was reflected in his rendition of the songs from Bisi (popularly known) Khuntia’s Ramayana. Every evening he would sit in the courtyard of his house with his tambourine and sing the songs.

After Guru Kathinanda Das’ death, many scholars are of the opinion that the puppets used by him were sold to foreign countries or are in private collections. Some of them also must have ruined because of neglect. Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo took leadership of the troupe in Odasha and was immensely supported by the villagers. Currently the troupe performs under the guidance of Guru Khageswar Pradhan.

Apparently all the puppets used today are new. Even the puppets that were the property , family heirlooms, of the troupes in Athamallik,  Seepur have magically disappeared.

Moushumi Photos

Padmini Rengarajan Photos

Specific traditions of PutulaNaach followed by Assam Puppet Theater

Introduction:

Puppetry as a Performing Arts of Assam has faced many ups and downs in its journey so far. At the initial stage of its inception, the religious and mythological themes attracted huge number of audience and puppet shows became a very popular entertainment medium. But these hand held small-scale figures lost its charm with the advent of new media.

The String Puppets of Assam are known as Putula-Naach, Putula-Bhaona and Putula Bhaoriya. However some contemporary troupes also use the term Putula- Theatre- which is a popular folk entertainment medium in the plains of Assam. Narayan Deka is one such puppeteer who is into this art form since 1985. Initially he was associated with the Brahymaman Theater (Mobile Theater) but gradually started disliking it because of the intervention from cine artist of the Assarnese Film Industries. “With actors stepping into the dimensions of stage, mobile theater lost its rustic touch and traditional appeal”, says Deka.

Narayan Deka started his career as a background musician In ‘Guru Shankar Putula Theater’ owned by Late Shivaram Das. Deka gradually started developing interest in the art form, so his owner friend taught him the entire nuances of Puppetry. With strong dedication and hardship, he established ‘Assam Puppet Theater’ in 1985 and on 18thFebruary 1986, Deka organized his maiden show at Bansigopal Namghar on the theme ‘Shakuntala’. He got his theater registered under Assam Natya Society in the year 1988.

Deka’s repertoire comprises of shows from mythological tales, popular legends, historical episodes, social issues, old classics and even adaptation from famous novels. ‘Tejimala’ ,’Sati-Joymati’, ‘Behula Lakhinder’, ‘Sabitri-Satyaban’, ‘Lav-Kush’, ‘Ahom Krishi’, ‘Purbanchalar Mati’, ‘Kargil Juddho’, ‘Probashilo’, ‘Anamoy Senduriya Baat’ are some of his selected plays.

The main focus of the study is to evaluate the reasons for which puppetry, once a popular performing art form of the region had to wane and how globalization helped our contemporary Puppet theatre groups to revive this art form to save it from extinction. As my data is necessarily primary- due to the nature and scope of the study, I have adapted my research tools adequately to suit my material in so far as they provide relevant information in collecting data from the field. To establish the conceptual bases of my argument, I would use tools made available by existing framework and analyze them to make significant evaluation.

Puppetry is a projected play. It needs its own language and animation to come to life and transmit its message. “Puppetry has everything,” says Narayan Deka, a major force in keeping the tradition of string puppetry alive in Assam. “You need voice, you need acting, you need music and dance, you need expressions, you need emotions, characters, and a good script. A good mixture of all these components makes puppetry.” And this is the reason why true puppetry requires a lot of practice. “Puppeteers must not only be talented performers, technicians and artists but also good story tellers as well”-says Deka. A perfect coordination is the most vital element of puppetry.

Research Questions:

The aims and objectives of the study are enumerated below:-

  1. To study the inception of Puppetry as a folk art form.
  2. Review the waning of Puppetry as an art form.
  3. To study the influence of the participatory nature ofPutula Naach.
  4. To find out the techniques and contents of Putula Naach.
  5. To find out the symbiotic relationship between popular culture and folk media.
  6. To study its importance as a communication tool.
  7. Evaluate the role Putula Naach plays in social change and how it is used as a Uses
    and Gratification approach.

Research Strategy:

For gathering information’s on the inception of Puppetry as an art form I would try to make use of the Historical-Geographical Theory (Finnish School) of Folklore Research developed by Karle Krohn, C.W.Von Sydow and Axel Olrik. According to this theory, a rigorous methodology is developed to reconstruct, the original forms of the tales or other folklore items, by a scientific method, and the probable routes they might have travelled.

To evaluate the participatory nature of Puppetry the ‘audience’ as a concept will be studied in details. Through audience research] would try to answer my questions on the role of puppetry as a communication tool, as a catalyst for social change and how the audience uses it as a uses and gratification approach.

Current Status of the Research:

From all available accounts it is clear that apart from string-puppet no other forms of puppetry like shadow-puppets, rod-puppets, hand or glove-puppets ever existed in Assam. However experts believe that water-puppetry existed in Assam long before Sankardeva’s birth but it got its due recognition only during his time. He in a way was the pioneer in developing the tradition which is now the national heritage of countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.

“To make this art form survive in this part of the region we are innovating new forms like string puppetry is replaced by rod puppets to give it a new flavor”, says Bani Kanta Barman- a famous puppeteer of Assam. Not only in form the transition can also be seen in terms of theme selection, costume, language, music, lighting and not to forget the performing arena. ‘Sabitri-Satyaban’ is now replaced by ‘Notun Suraj’ – a play on modern lifestyle. Similarly ‘Phulan -Devi’ has taken over ‘Behula-Lakhinder’. ‘Soriyahar Oulite’ a play on witch-craft, a burning issue hovering Assam these days also finds a place in puppet theatre.

The traditional musical instruments like taal (cymbals), khol (drum) have been replaced by microphones, drum-sets. Air-conditioned halls, public halls are the new venues in lieu of the open air stages. Petromax, flood lights, carbide gas lamps and electric lights have taken over the ariya (torches). Though small, but the overall effect created by these modern instruments, lighting and not to forget the sophisticated arena have by far brought in delightful departures from conventional forms and practices.

Significance of the Proposed Research:

Folklore and Media both deal with communication and therefore are connected with each other in far more complex ways than those simple oppositional categories. The Indian society is a complex social system with different caste, classes, creeds and tribes. The high rate of illiteracy added to the inadequacies of mass media to reach almost 80% of people who resides in village. In spite of the national literacy missions and campaigns, over 350 million people are still illiterate. To them mass media is seen to be too glamorous, impersonal and unbelievable in the context of their lived experience.

In spite of being an old and a popular art form, puppetry in the modern scenario is fast loosing its fervor. Even for the puppeteers what initially was a passion has now become just a means of livelihood. In the words of Martin Esslin – “In an age where, the world is flooded by a deluge of cheap commercially motivated material on television, the live theatre, the guardian of and individuality of cultures, threatened by this avalanche of homogenized triviality and become more vital to the continued richness and variety of human culture than ever before in the history of mankind” (Canplay, Vol-6, N02, April 1989). As Narayan Deka- a consummate artist of puppet theatre and a resident of Makhibaha, Nalbari says, “though I have been at it for the last 27 years, the going has not been smooth at all.” It is not only the verdict of Deka, many opine the same views as they think that modern media is fast eroding away these kinds of art forms. So through my study I would like to contribute whatever I can in reviving this art form.

Schedule of the Proposed Work:

Puppet performance in Assam starts after Bishwakarma Puja, towards the end of September and continues till Bohag Bihu i.e the month of April, the Assamese New Year. The shows are organized religiously during the festive season because of the optimum audience participation at that time frame. A gap of around four months is seen because of the inclement weather condition at that period in Assam. So keeping the objectives of the study in mind the ethnographic data collection shall be done accordingly. For data collection, some elements of quantitative methods, use of folk art to promote their products: the LG advertisements where glove puppets were used; Life Insurance Corporation of India uses puppetry to arouse the . interest of rural folk in Bank Savings and Insurance policies. Doordarshan also uses folk media as a tool in their educational programme titled Gali Gali Sim Simsponsored by NCERT. Narayan Deka also highlights many instances where religious themes, when imparted by means of puppetry got a positive response from the students at the grass root level as they could easily associate themselves with it because of its local flavor. Deka himself organized puppet shows on AIDS awareness at the Nalbari Raas Mahotsav held in the month of November,2011 in collaboration with the AIDS Control Society. Ms Zebin Hazarika, who is also an event manager recently organized a campaign for an NGO called Gold making use of Putula Naach in disseminating information on Pulse Polio Programme at Guwahati under the guidance of Dr. Rajiv Sharma.

Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta says, “Earlier the content of the puppet shows were spontaneous but now to compete and survive in the competitive world improvisations are made and informative messages as subject matter are taken into considerations.” The modern media is not solely responsible for the gradual decline in Puppet performances, we should rather blame ourselves for it. Thanks to the improvisation being adopted by the puppeteers, this folk art form has successfully survived its dwindling fate. Because I believe, to save puppetry from becoming a ‘museum piece’ more needs to be done for its promotion with responsibility and clear objectives.

 

Ravana Chhaya

A research proposal on Ravana Chhaya

Submitted by

Shankhajeet De
2nd floor, House no – 34
Hauzkhas Village
New Delhi – 110016
Phone: 0-9313012087 : Email: shankhajeet@gmail.com : Skype: shankhajeet.de

Collaborating senior artist
Guru Khageshwara Pradhan
Ravan Chhaya Natya Sansad
At/Po: Odash, Via: Khamara
Sub div: Papalalahada, Dist: Angul
Odisha – 759118
Phone: 0-9658819293

Priority areas and themes

Ravana Chhaya, a shadow puppetry tradition in Central Odisha that integrates artistic, social, cultural and spiritual aspirations of low caste Bhata and the agrarian Chasa community which carries influence of the Juang tribe living in the area nearby.

Priority sub-theme

Verbal arts including oral epics

The specific cultural tradition of the community elder/artist I seek to research and document

CULTURAL TRADITION: RAVANA CHHAYA-SHADOW PUPPET THEATRE OF ODHISA

Art form and Socio-Cultural History: Ravana Chhaya is a form of shadow puppetry known to be practiced in Odisha. It is considered to be the most ancient form. The puppets and their manipulation, being very basic, are devoid of any complex stylization. Today it is performed in area around Odash village in the Pal lahara subdivision in Angul District, in central Odisha. In Ravana Chhaya performance, a part of the tropue sit hiding from the audience behind a screen made of white cloth and manipulate the shadows cast by the puppets from a lamp lit above their head. The other part of the troupe of artists provides musical support with traditional instruments –Khanjani, Cymbals and Daskathi. The musicians sit in front corner of the screen facing the audience side-wise. The puppets are made locally by the artists themselves using various animal skins for translucence, longevity and ritualistic needs. The skins are usually procured from the Juang tribe living in nearby Malayagiri hills.

The main narrative in Ravana Chhaya is borrowed from the famous literary work ‘Bichitra Ramayana’ by medieval Odiya poet Vishwanath Khuntia.  The lyrics and musical style is also borrowed from the performance that is practiced at the “Bhagabata Tungi”(i.e. a community hut in the village where  scriptures narrating Ramayana and other stories are recited every evening).

 

Local oral histories say that originally this folk tradition was taken up as a means of livelihood by the Bhata community, who claim their original ancestry to the temple city of Puri. Later they migrated and got settled in Angul district. While others in the community discontinued the profession Basudev Das, a singer from Gadajat (a larger area deeper into the interior of Odisha largely inhabited by indigenous tribes), believed in this folk tradition and relied completely on it for livelihood. He trained his son Kathinanda Das on the techniques of Ravan Chaya . After his father’s death Kathinanda Das continued to practice but could not sustain with the decline in patronage. During 1945-46 it almost vanished as an art form. It was on the occasion of a performance for Independence Day in 1956 that he could see the renewed interest and patronage by people. The shows increased gradually so did the monetary support but with the sudden death of his son in 1966, Kathinanda was emotionally broken and became aloof.

 

Existing Research documentation and On-going Initiatives: Ravana Chhaya was brought into the realm of documentation by pioneering work of Jeevan Pani under the aegis of Sangeet Natak Academy (SNA).  He visited Odash in 1972 to trace Ravana Chhaya. On his insistence Kathinanda Das, a reclusive and only living artist agreed to perform one more time after over two decades.

 

Jeevan Pani’s insistence and continued patronage by SNA brought Kathinanda out of the trauma of his son’s loss. Later he arranged for shows in Delhi and other parts of the country leading to promotion of the practice in the media and urban areas. This gradual attention outside Orissa fuelled the local interest and increased the number of shows in and around Odash.

 

After his death, Kathinanda left behind eight trained craftsmen adept in this folk form, Kolha Charan Sahoo being the senior of them all. Sri K.C Sahoo belongs to the Chasa community. His role since then has been significant in reviving the art form with new inventions. More shows under the encouragement of Jeevan Pani and Sangeet Natak Academy helped the troupe win many awards and recognitions.  The entire engagement with Ravana Chhaya by the state through SNA for its preservation and promotion has been commendable.

 

The Government of Odisha set up a research unit to preserve this art form. But maximum contribution has been to adapt itself to the changing times by utilizing other forms of light sources such as tungsten bulbs, bigger lamps, making the whole stage setup light, collapsible and thus mobile. This has made the troupe able to tour many places for performances, with state’s support. Other agencies have come in to support artists but it has been termed with preconditions of using newer themes and narratives such as Mahatma Gandhi, Panchatantra, Mahabharata, etc. This surely has led to diverse engagement of the form but nothing substantial has been done to delve deeper and suggest new ways of looking into the folk tradition, the communities involved and their livelihood.

 

Evolution and Existing Research gap: Initial research led by Jeevan Pani foregrounds the tradition of shadow puppetry over the musical tradition. Minimal and limited academic research took place thereafter, notably the work by Gauranga Charan Dash, but it revolves around the arts and its aesthetic dimensions. Kathinanda Das’s confidence to adapt it into a musical tradition came from existence of singing traditions in the Chasa community in his neighborhood. This is yet to be explored further to understand the building blocks of Ravana Chhaya aesthetics. It can be better understood and appreciated if dynamics of its constituents and their practices are brought into the realm of proposed research framework.

 

Oral traditions as well as research documents mention that Kathinanda and Basudev Das were known as Kathi Guni, meaning the stick wielding sorcerers. Their specialization was to manipulate leather puppets with sticks to create shadows of gods and mythical heroes. The idea of leather puppets may be an offshoot from their community’s relationship with the indigenous tribes living in nearby hills. The tribe with their animistic tradition worship nature gods to ward away evil spirits and appease and invoke good spirits. It is still considered sorcery and black magic by neighboring Hindus. Thus their knowledge of shadow puppetry might have been considered to be some sort of sorcery. But they were never integrated completely into the agrarian society. Even today, Bhatas live in the periphery of the village and most of them are landless. They still collect and make puppets as well as manipulate them in Ravana Chhaya performances. They depend on indigenous people to collect leather for making the puppets till today. Shadow puppetry outside tribal communities needed a reason to survive. Thus it needed a musical tradition to evolve a new narrative tradition. This support was easily given by the peasant community. Thus, Ravana Chhaya became an outcome of both the communities’ aesthetic as well as spiritual aspirations.

 

ARTISTS AND INSTITUTIONS:

The history of Ravana Chhaya is shrouded in mystery beyond for last 40 years. The development since its resurgence is fraught with dire need of state patronage, grants and funding. Occasional recognitions of these pursuits have led to bitter internal feuds emerging out of greed and betrayals.  Many a times the many rival groups have emerged and vanished in these 3 – 4 decades.  Each tried to appropriate the legacy of this folk form and challenged the other. Thus the definition and historicity of Ravana Chhaya in the contemporary times is steeped with convenience and creative form of recently developed narratives.

 

Artist: I plan to work with Guru Khageshwara Prdhan. He was trained along with Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo, by Kathinanada Das. He has also joined other groups lead by bitterness and ego. However today, he is more spiritually inclined and looks at this tradition with detachment and objectivity. In fact his position as current Guru is rather an act of truce by all participating members who know they need some one senior and whose integrity towards preserving Ravana Chhaya is respected.

 

Institution: Like it is in any other folk tradition, the project requires working in close association with a Ravana Chhaya troupe. I have decided to work with Ravan Chaya Natya Sansad, Odash Village, Pallahara Subdivision, Angul District, Odisha. In the village life, I would like to make the Bhagabata Tungi as the fulcrum and see community around its activity.

 

The research questions those are central to my project

To investigate the correlation of Ravana Chhaya as an art form that integrates the musical tradition with shadow puppetry. The musical form having emerged out of late medieval Bhakti movement in agrarian Odia peasantry (Chasa) and the much older tradition of shadow puppetry brought in by the lower caste alcohol brewers (Bhatas) who had intimate contacts with the indigenous tribes. The project aims to delve deeper into identifying important denominators that have gone into this synthesis through history in terms of techniques, skills and traditions. It works on the premise that in the aesthetics of Ravana Chhaya that is practiced today are embedded the codes of rich artistic heritage of both the communities.

 

The proposed research project aims to further the premise that Ravana Chhaya denotes the synthesis of caste Hindus and tribals in Odisha. The kingdom of Pallahara is part of the Gadjata region (a unique fiefdom where kings were high caste Hindu and majority of subjects were indigenous tribes and they coexisted with mutual respect and economic dependence). The Bhatas who worked as King’s bards sustained their subsistence with dependence on tribes living in nearby Malayagiri hills. As their society became part of main stream economy through the British takeover of administration, they had to adapt themselves to the new agrarian community.  The Chasas had a well established musical tradition through their ‘Bhagabata Tungi’s’ led by the Bhakti movement from late 17th century onwards. The Tungis were established in every peasant villages so as they can collectively connect to God and seek salvation of their souls. Every evening, Tungis used to reverberate with kirtan and other musical traditions such a Pala, Daskathia and Bhajans. These included instruments such as Khajani(Tambourine), daskathi(sticks), khol(percussions), kartal(cymbals), etc. Even today these instruments are worshipped in the Tungis. Advent of modern modes of entertainment might have reduced their importance but the religious fervor with which these are still revered signals to its importance in Chasa’s collective consciousness and identity.

 

The research and documentation methods I seek to follow.

The project will document oral narratives, archival material, tribal practices, practice of the Bhagabata Tungis and division of performers within the Raavan Chhaya troupe and their social structures in the village setting.

 

The methodology will follow a mixed approach of documenting oral histories as well as sourcing existing archival material mentioning the tradition through the passage of time; thus making it partly investigative and partly explorative.

 

  • Investigative Documentation:

*        To see how the contemporary aesthetics still retain specific styles, rituals and internal divisions of constituents according to participating communities, I will look at and record a Ravana chhaya performance once again for decoding specific parts.

*        I would also document historical proofs District Archives in Dhenkanal (erstwhile undivided district head quarter) Angul and Pallahara. I intend to contact member(s) of Pallahara’s king’s family and explore their photo albums and any document that might mention their patronage of Raavan Chhaya during their reign.

*        I will have to research in state archive and museum in Bhubaneswar looking at state gazetteers for Bhat community’s activities as well as Juang tribes’s cultural and ethnographic documentation.

 

  • Explorative Documentation:

*        To observe the internal dynamics of the group members; their division of specific activities, access to specific skills and roles during rituals. I would observe their socio dynamics in the village setting in relation to livelihood, community rituals as well as access to common facilities around Bhagabata Tungi.

*        I plan to visit Malayagiri hills with a Bhat puppeteer to source leather and meet the people of indigenous tribe. I would document oral histories of indigenous people mentioning their relationship with the Bhata community and Ravana Chhaya.

*        I would ask the group members to talk about themselves regarding their ancestry and Ravana Chhaya’s history. Simultaneously, I would like to talk to villagers in the neighboring areas to document their memories about Raavan Chhaya, its origin and existence of the practitioners.

 

Description of what I consider important in the collaborative undertaking between me and the other community elder/ artist.

It is important for me to work with Guru Khageshwara Pradhan, as everyone listens to him as the head. Also, he is the only one who got trained under Kathinanada Das. His words matter a lot when disagreements arise within the group which is made up of not so equal communities. My research includes dealing with both the communities and the tribals living nearby in the Jungles. His guidance and recommendations are crucial for me to delve deeper within these areas and communities. Besides that he is the repository of memory of the most crucial time when Ravana Chhaya got this new lease of life. His narration of how the tradition re-defined itself to the present form is integral to my project.

 

A monthly field work plan for a period of one year starting from November 2012 to October 2013. (All activity will include documenting in Audio visual terms)

November 2012
Document oral histories of all member of the troupe at Odasha
Observation of activities at Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of key elements of a Ravan Chaya performance at Odasha
Develop contacts and personal meeting with someone from the Pala Lahada Royal Family
Visit to State Sangeet Natak Academy in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar

December 2012
Compilation of all interviews, transcription and developing key elements in visual terms of the performance

January 2013
Compilation of all interviews, transcription and developing key elements in visual terms of the performance
Follow up with Pala Lahada Royal Family for sourcing out any archival material

February – 2013
Visit the Royal Family to access archives and older photographs, if any
Visit the Juang villages in nearby Malayagiri Hills in the process of sourcing leather for puppet making
Detailed documentation of Puppet making in the village, its related rituals and customs and any myths or folk roles related to it
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State museum in Bhubaneswar

March 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material
Visit to Delhi Sangeet Natak Academy
Visit to Tribal Museum in New Delhi

April 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material

May 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material

June 2013
Visit the Royal Family to access archives and older photographs, if any
Visit to
Detailed documentation of Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of Ravan Chaya Performance
Detailed observation of intercommunity relationship during agricultural time
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State museum in Bhubaneswar

July 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material
Development of detailed project report

August 2013
Compilation of and editing of audiovisual documented material
Development of detailed project report

September 2013
Detailed documentation of Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of Ravan Chaya Performance
Detailed observation of intercommunity relationship during agricultural time
Compilation of and editing of audiovisual documented material
Editing and designing of detailed project report

October 2013
Finalisation of audiovisual documented material
Finalisation of detailed project report

About me

My interest in Ravana Chhaya is decade long. I had the opportunity to meet Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo and his troupe in Delhi, in the year 2004, when they were on their first international tour to Kuala Lumpur by arrangement of ICCR. Since then I have kept in touch with them knowing the ups and downs through the years. During this period, I created a framework for my research under the guidance of Dadi Pudumjee.  I made a self initiated field trip to Odash in the month of February 2012. I lived in the house of the current Guru of ‘Ravan Chhaya Natya Sansad’. I have initiated documentation through conducting primary interviews, watching preparation and performance in the village.  I also participated in Bhagabata Tungi activities in the evening.

 I belong to Odisha and spent my childhood in Gadajat area that gave me perspective of the dynamics in the interactions between tribals, Bhatas and Chasas. My proposed investigation comes from past engagement with this folk form and reading about Ravana Chhaya written by Jeevan Pani, Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo and other scant available information online.

 I have been making films for over last 16 years without getting any formal education in it. The opportunity to hone my skill of translating ideas in audiovisual terms came through working in many areas over time.

 TV PROGRAMMES:
Team director, Production, Cinema Vision (Mumbai), 1997-99 for following programmes:

Surabhi” (India’s first Cultural Show)
Kaleidoscope
The Good Food guide

 

  • Freelance Researcher and Script-Writer, DELHI, 2000-2004

 

  • Zaike Ka Safar
    Saare Jahan Se Achha
    Animal’s Ark

 

  • DOCUMENTARIES:

 

As Film Director:

Puppetry training to children by Dadi Pudumjee, 2006 funded by UNESCO
Ecological Restoration of Man Sagar Lake with preservation of Jalmahal monument in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Women ascetics in Vrindavan for IGNCA, 2008

 

  • Assistant Researcher to Bappa Ray (National Award winning director) for research, scripting and production, on following projects:

 

Agarias – the iron smiths of central India, 2002
Lepchas of Sikkim, 2004
BHEL, 2006
Buddhist Chants of Ladkh, 2008
Traditional Tibetan medicine – Sowa Rigpa, 2009
Ayruveda, 2010

Under him, I explored my interest on culture and ethnography.

DOCUMENTATION PROJECTS:

 

  • Documented Panchayatiraj and Women empowerment initiatives, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1999.
  • I worked for many projects for various departments of GOI and UN agencies. 1999 – 2004
  • A documentation project for KISS, Bhubaneshwar, World’s largest Residential school exclusively for tribal children, 2012
  • 88 short films and audiovisual clips for the interactive multimedia exhibition on the legacy of India’s first multinational business man Aditya Vikam Birla at BITS Pilani, 2011.

 

WEBSITE-DESIGN AND CONTENT WRITING PROJECTS (1999-2002):

    • Microsoft
    • HP
    • Cisco
    • Canon
    • FACULTY, SCRIPT-WRITING AND DIRECTION, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication, New Delhi, 2004-2012.

My area of interest is art, culture, ethnography and contemporary life styles. My past experience of filmmaking as well as research and script writing backed with the learning for my teaching experience has helped me to develop self confidence in taking research and documentation projects within a stipulated time frame and diverse production canvases.

Revivial of wodden string puppetry of Ammanapuram Andhra Pradesh

All India Tata Fellowship in Folklore 2012-2013

Project Proposal

 Introduction

For century’s visual community has been teaching, enlightenment, entertainment and education to the community as a whole using traditional folklore and folk art forms. Pats, Puppets, Masks, Clay dolls-toys, special and specific boxes with paintings and other oral narratives have not only entertained the common people, but in fact have also taught ethics of the lives, heroic tales of the soil close to the people, and also highlighted the struggle and the emergence of saver as heroes or women warriors fighting the battle against male chauvinists and so on.

In the process, these traditional folklores and folk forms have not only gained importance of  the essential force that breathes life into the commoners midst of workload, struggle, suffering, happiness, and celebrations but has remained as a guiding  force for the commoners that regulates on ‘Do’s and Don’ts of livelihood.

Popular folklore, narratives of our country are in an unheard zone. Some have become extinct without traces and some are on the verge of extinction with few traces ofthe art form as remains.Traditional Puppetry a visual folk art our country also more or less on the verge of extinction.

Puppetry is a mother of folk theatre or performances that involves the manipulation of puppets believed to have originated in India. To substantiate this fact, the significant evidences found in the Indus Valley Civilization by the archaeologists who  have unearthed one terracotta doll with a detachable head capable of manipulation by a string dating to 2500 BC. Perhaps, this could also be one of the reasons to find all forms of puppetry in our country and also a matter of pride.

Puppetry is more popularly known as Katputliof Rajasthan in North India andKoyyaBommalata in Andhra Pradesh, Bommalattam in Tamil Nadu and even as Gombeyatta in Karnataka in South India. These are string puppets or marionettes. The other forms of Puppetry existing in India are Rod Puppets are PutulNautch or Yampuri of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Glove Puppets called Pavakoothu in Kerala. This tradition of Glove Puppets is also visible in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. Yet another form called Shadow Puppets called Tollubommalata in Andhra Pradesh or Togalugombeyatta in Karnataka or Tolupavakoothu in Kerala and RavanChaya in Orissa.

In Andhra Pradesh both String marionette puppets as well as Shadow Puppets called Leather Puppets are in existence.Although traditional puppetry is on the verge of disappearance, so are the traditional puppeteers. Nevertheless, leather puppets are still surviving with few traditional families in different regions of Andhra Pradesh, Wooden String puppetry vanished, unheard, unnoticed and even got wiped out from the folk art performance. Thanks to the support extendedby the scholars, folk art lovers and others the wooden string puppetry was revived and restored back with great difficulty. However, recovered, unearthed and relocated along with other folk art forms; development sustainability of the wooden string puppetry in the modern times in Andhra Pradesh was not that easy and comfortable.

There are two groups of traditional wooden string puppeteers performing in Andhra Pradesh. One in Ammapuram village Warangal district and another one in Santaveluru village, Chittoor district. The latter group though exists, is not fully equipped due to the disintegration of family members and the new family members are not trained or equipped with the manipulation technique, rhythemic, narratives. Again, the new members of the group are again not from the same caste group or sub group, hence the traditional authenticity, the episodes of the story, flow of narratives got lost.

At Ammapuram there are two traditional wooden string puppeteer families who are also well versed in manipulation of leather puppets, and Yakshaganam.  Again, these two groups merged as one are well equipped with trained members as artists, music accomplishment with the essence of retaining the narratives from mythologies, historical, semi-historical and adaptation to the relevance of modern times.

MotheJaganathan and troupe from Ammapur Village, Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh is the only family still practicing wooden string puppets. The troupe consists of 10-12 members who are again interrelated to each other. All artists are singer, narrator, musician and also puppet manipulators. Most of them are men with 2-4 women also accompany during performance.

Although in India there exit wooden string puppets in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Ammapuram wooden string puppets are unique. Wooden string Puppets are called as “Koyya or Chakka” meaning piece of wood. “Bommalata” meaning playing with dolls. The puppets are huge with a height approximately around 4-5feet weighing in between 12-15Kgs. They are around 150-200 years old puppets in good manipulation state Folklorists, scholars and experts in folk arts opine these wooden string puppets bear least resembles with the Puppets from neighbouring states like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu  or even the Santaveluru Puppets which are comparatively smaller in size and thus makes them incomparable.

The manipulation techniques, the stage set up, the traditional procedure followed before the commencements and closure of the show adds further to its unique characteristic. The revival back into the present day spectrum of varied entertainment mediums and also making its existence and identity felt is yet another task of challenge.

The stories adapted for narrations bear resembles with the narratives of Yakshagana. The duration of each play lasting for 7-8 hours. Apart from playing episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharath they also give performances from Balanagamma, Lava-Kusha, BhaktaRamadasa, BhaktaPrahaladaChanchu Lakshmi-Adi Lakshmi, Jayantha-Jayapala, Epidoses from Mahabharath-VirataPravam, Ali-Arjuna,  NagalokNagkanya, Sathyavathidevi Katha, KanthamathideviDharmanganda Story and so on.

Furthermore, these puppets are stored in specific boxes made for them and kept aside during non-performing days along with neem leaves and other disinfectants to safeguard the puppets form insects.

Interestingly, in those days’ bullock carts’ being the one of the best mode of transports was convenient enough to carry the puppets along with storage boxes from one place to another. This facility or conveyance is perhaps not met by the modern transports of today-be it shutter open omni vans or so called public buses. Again, bullock carts connected all the villages with or without proper roads, however, the modern day transport system does not connect to all the villages and if at all connected the frequency of buses plying is not much.

Other medium of modern channels of entertainment like cinemas, Televisions, wide varieties of private channels have overtaken the traditional folk art forms even in the rural areas. This has also true with respect to wooden string puppetry. Over a period of time with the mobility of rural folks to urban settings in search of employments or so has also resulted in lowering the puppet performances

Additionally, unable to make lives for themselves and also maintain bullocks have made them the puppeteers to put the puppets back behind the shelf from refraining them from use.

In addition to the above said, the expertise skills to manipulate the puppets need great strength and vigour to hold the weight of the puppets and manipulate as well as  do oral narration of  the stories proper legs  movements synchronizing with the musical rhythm throughout the performances.

Essence and understanding of music and learning to play instruments and also oral recitation in the form of Padhyascalled verses.

 

Sri MotheJaganatha–Traditional Wooden String Puppeteer

MotheJaganatha belongs to the fourth generation of Traditional Wooden String Puppets player. He is the main performer who leads the Ammapuram team. He has also taken keen interest in reviving traditional wooden string puppets. He has vast experience in giving performance of Yakshagana, VedhiBhagavatham, leather puppets along wooden string puppets. He is 63 years old recipient of Telugu University Folk Artists Award. He has also travelled far and wide in India for giving performances.  He even today is learning from existing family elders and imparting training to the younger generation in order to maintain the continuity going on.  He has the capacity to impart overall performance oriented training in a traditional way along with manipulation of puppets, music-song rendering, voice modulation, narrative style and preparing the stage setting for the puppet performance.

He has also participated in the awareness campaigns and workshops organised by the National Mission of Manuscripts, New Delhi in imparting the traditional knowledge of narratives  to the scholars and research work. He also has the capacity to conceptualise the themes related to present context such as awareness building on environmental and other social issues.

Why Traditional Wooden String Puppetry?

Almost all the folk arts and oral narratives are at the verge of extinctions with few exceptions throughout our country. Thanks to the good Samaritans efforts put by scholars, academicians, educationists, folk art lovers and philanthropists who are safeguarding the traditional folk art forms in the original formats and dissimilating it for the present generation as a rich traditional art source and resource.

Among them, traditional wooden string puppetry is a rare folk art form still alive though seldom known in the state itself.Again, as Puppetry has evolved in a different manner to suit the modern days, the relevance of traditional wooden puppetry is equally useful and importance in the context of learning the manipulation and mechanism adopted.

It has again proved as the best communication media apart from entertaining.  It has the capacity to connect and address the modern generation. It has proved effective in teaching in Schools and colleges on socio-environmental issues. As the traditional folk art form has every scope to revive and change to the suitable social dais. Merely, with three puppets enactment of different characters like a teacher, a Parent and a child address the modern education system and teacher-student relationship, parent-teacher relationship and also parent-child relationship emphatically in no time. At the same time from the episodes of mythologies life-skills and communication skills areimparted effortlessly.

Yet again, being an educational puppeteer, knowledge of traditional wooden string puppetry would enhance and upgrade the essential skill as an educator and also as a performer.

Documentation and Research Methods

b) Research Methods

  • Observation: Observation of traditional performance and methods of performance.
  • The Study of folk musicology involved in the performance.
  • Rhythm and manipulation techniques.
  • Right posture and movements of handling puppets during the performance and also later.
  • Movements of hands, head, body and legs during puppet manipulation.
  • Narratives- concept, story, songs, dance, language, style, rendition, voice modulation, high and low stress on syllable and verses.
  • Application of Performance Theory for research and learning folk art forms. Acts and aesthetic methods will be adopted along with the performance theory. The history of this traditional art form with the help of Anthropological theories will be studied. Altogether the cultural studies, artistic creativity and adaptation to the modern times will be viewed.

 

Basically I belong to the contemporary or modern list of puppet performers using puppets as learning and teaching tools. As a scholar and as a non-traditional performer it is a good opportunity to learn from a well versed, well trained and well equipped traditional performer. This is also an opportunity to study and know the Socio-cultural aspects of the traditional performer. As a systematic learning from traditional guru that would enhance the discipline of learning. Again, this would also be an occasion to record, document the narratives of the stories played by the traditional puppeteers. Nevertheless, also would be an opening to study the audience responses and feel about this traditional folk art form.

 

 

 

 

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

Cinematographer.

 

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 : indraneellahiri@gmail.com Skype Id : lahiri.indraneel