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PUPPETS: The tale of emotions in motion
6/23/2018 11:01:52 PM
Dr. Pragya Khanna

Dance puppet dance; Dressed in colors bright! Strings pull left, left then right; Dancing on stage, puppets take flight!
As per the historical record, puppets are as old as civilization. Dating back to 2500 BC, to the times of the ancient civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, it has been revealed amid the diversity of archaeological relics a terracotta bull with detachable head that can be operated by a string. Another form found is a terracotta monkey that slides up and down a stick creating a vertical movement.
Man must have fashioned a puppet with animation long ago. Since puppet-like masks, charades and cave-paintings formed part of the magical customs of ancient men living in caves. It is thought that an urge to create his imitation (or caricature) and give it movement might have been a persuasive reason for the creation of a puppet.
The Hindu epic, Mahabharata also refers to popular entertainment in India that includes the art of puppetry and shadow theatre. The finest reference is from the holy 'Gita' where the three qualities of the Sattah, Rajah and Tamah, found in men, are the three strings pulled by the Divine to lead men in life.
Patanjali, the great grammarian, articulated many illustrations from the Sanskrit plays and entertainments of his time in his Ashtadhyayi Mahabhashya, which relate to the three major streams, viz., the dance drama, the puppet theatre and the musical narrative of story telling. The other great grammarian Panini, even prior to Patanjali's time, laid down the rules of grammar with puppets as illustrations. Puppet theater has also been mentioned in the writings of both Aristotle and Plato. These references are enough evidence for the creativity and uniqueness of this fine art since ages and the puppeteers are known to breathe life into their creations.
Although India, Java and Thailand are known to have strong traditions of puppetry, no one exactly knows where puppetry first began though the existing evidences indicate that puppetry as an art form started in China with the introduction of the shadow puppet. Later, it flourished in China, originally in Pi-ying Xi, the 'theater of the lantern shadows' or as it is more commonly known today, as Chinese shadow theater. Japan also has many forms of puppetry. Egyptians and Romans made jointed puppets from terra cotta.
The art of puppetry is known to have survived due to the efforts of puppeteers through the ages. Initially, it was the traveling puppeteers who kept the art and the craft alive as they moved from place to place and puppets found a home in folk art.
In India, the traditional puppetry was based on religious and historical themes only telling the stories of kings, gods and super natural events. Religious portrayals in puppetry developed in South India with shadow puppets performing stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Besides dealing with religious themes, Indian puppetry also conveyed useful messages from Panchatantra and other mythological and historical epics.
Though the art is practiced in the states of Orissa, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, the traditional string puppet shows are much prevalent in the state of Rajasthan.
The Rajasthani puppets (also called Kathputli) originated a thousand years ago when the Bhaat community began to practice this art. A typical characteristic feature of this form is the sharp piercing voice produced by the lead puppeteer spoken through a bamboo reed. These days the shows are also seen to tackle the dilemmas like the dowry system, women's empowerment, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and cleanliness.
Today there are many different varieties of puppets that exist all over the world, and they are made of an extensive assortment of materials, depending on their form and intended use. Some common types are carnival puppets, body puppets, finger puppets, hand or glove puppets, human arm puppets, light curtain puppets, string puppets and so on.
Ancient India and many other kingdoms visualized the puppet as divine conception. An endearing Indian fable of the eleventh century reports about exquisite dolls shaped by a carpenter. Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife liked them very much and Shiva bestowed them with life to perform dances. As the legend goes it is believed that they are some pious creations and accordingly most traditional puppeteers of India begin their shows with prayers and, at the end of the show, put the puppets respectfully to one side. When puppets break up or crumble, they are floated away in rivers after performing the worship. The secret thought still is to treat puppets as blessed by the gods and respect due to them since the legacy of Indian puppets is to tell stories from the epics and myths depicting gods and men.
It is very much clear that puppets can work the edge between entertainment and information. They line up alongside drama, storytelling, drumming and dance as art forms that can also teach and persuade. Speaking of the state of Jammu and Kashmir where cultural festivals and folk theatre are an integral part, the art of puppetry is missing. In order to get through this deficit puppet shows are staged from time to time by the expert puppetry performers from different parts of India. Moreover, nowadays such performances are being made frequently by the artists in Jammu and by the school children. Many schools in Jammu have introduced this art in their regular curriculum where teachers use finger, hand or glove puppets in the classroom for storytelling and introducing new concepts like teaching alphabets, poems, cleanliness or good manners. Also, puppets are used for interactive activities and creating stories to teach specific concepts in science and social studies.
It appears to me that man has always been attracted to the ways of creating and controlling other worlds, as well as in attempting to characterize his own. Puppetry is an extension of one's personality. It may have been provoked by the requirement to elucidate, explore, embrace or evaluate the human stipulation. It is still, one of the safest, efficient, imaginative and original traditions to amuse, instruct, commiserate, wonder out loud, relieve yourself or liberate your feelings.
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