Puppets or “Kathputli” is an ancient and popular form of folk entertainment. Egyptians are probably the earliest known puppeteers. String Puppets of wood performing the action of kneading bread is the oldest evidence of puppets in Egypt as early as 2000 BC. Puppetry in India must have originted earlier than 5th century B.C.
In the 2nd century the Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar mentioned about `marionettes moved by strings` in his compositions. The mention of the `pavai koothu` in the Tamil epic Silappadhikareita by Ilango Adigal is also very significant regarding the history of puppetry. In Srimad Bhagvata, the God Almighty has been likened to a puppeteer who with three strings-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas-manipulates all the beings in the created universe.
Shadow puppetry being performed
There are four types of puppets glove, rod, shadow and string. They are differentiated based on the different ways of manipulation of puppets. Puppetry as a Performing Arts of Assam has been through many phases . At the initial stage of its inception, the religious and mythological had huge influences on the masses.The String Puppets, which are originally thought to pre-exist Srimanta Shankardeva are locally 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. 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 during the festive season because of the optimum audience participation at that time frame.
String-puppet were widely performed in the state and no other forms of puppetry like shadow-puppets, rod-puppets, hand or glove had that kind of influence. 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.
Expert puppeteer taking charge of performance
But as the growing space for new media increases puppetry too has incorporated innovative practices. The Life Insurance Corporation of India uses puppetry to arouse the interest of rural folk in Bank Savings and Insurance policies. While Doordarshan also uses folk media as a tool in their educational programme titled ‘Gali Gali Sim Sim‘ sponsored by NCERT. While many veteran puppeteers are raising AIDS awareness 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.
– Compiled by Payal Bhattacharjee with inputs from internet sources.