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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

puppet on a string

The 21st. of March is celebrated as World Puppetry Day. It was started in 2000 by UNIMA – British Union Internationale de la Marionette, the World’s oldest theater organization. The day is an occasion to draw attention to puppetry, its creative abilities and its appeal to the masses as yet another form of art.

Remember Elvis Presley’s song – ‘Every time you look at me/ I’m as helpless as can be/ I become a puppet on a string/ You can do most anything to me …?’

Well, whenever a leader faces problems with his electorate, he takes recourse to the well known phrase – ‘I’m only a puppet on a string!’ The implications are that he is at the mercy of his Boss who controls him remotely. Like remote sensing satellites.

Jokes apart, puppetry has been a form of art known to us for centuries. When Doordarshan was still in its infancy, puppet shows were a popular medium of entertainment in villages where radios were also few in numbers. The puppet shows used to be main attractions in local village fairs. They were considered good vehicles for communicating the Governments policies (like family planning, hygiene, disease control etc.)

A small news item prompted me to search the net for more useful information on puppets in India. The following samples extracted from relevant websites may appeal to readers:

‘…..Traditionally, India has a rich heritage of puppetry. The history of puppetry in India dates back to around the 5th century B.C. The early puppet shows in India mostly dealt with histories of great kings, princes and heroes and also political satire. 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 conveys useful messages from Panchatantra and other mythological and historical epics….’

‘….The European scholar Richard Pischel, in his book The Home of the Puppet Play, stating that "The birth place of fairy tales has long been recognised to be India. They wandered from India to Persia and then the Arabs brought them to Europe…."

‘……Bhartiya lok Kala mandal was founded by Padma Shri devi lal samar in 1952. The main objective of the Institute is to conduct studies on the folk art, songs and festivals of regions like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh etc and to revive a vanishing folk culture. The institute has a puppet unit that trains children, teachers and other artists in the art of puppetry, as this is a very powerful non-conventional educative medium. It also boasts of regular performances that are a feast to behold. A group of 25 artists go on tour, both within India and abroad with a repertoire of puppet-shows and various folk dances. Their performances have brought the Institute a number of honours on a national and international level.


India has a tradition of about 2000 years in puppetry and the style that the centre presents is the oldest and most developed one. Legend says that the puppets come from a celestial body to entertain the human audience and have whistle -like vocabulary which nterpreted in human language. The puppets are abnormally stylized, symbolic, and colourful. The first Indian puppet play "Sinhasan battisi" was produced in this style(popularly known at present,as "Rajasthan Style"). This form of puppetry has been in existence since the time of Emperor Vikramaditya and the puppeteers claim their heritage from the entertainers of his time. The centre aims at the preservation of traditional puppetry through regular research, experimentation and performances. The centre also offers regular courses in puppetry….’

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