Puppetry in considered as the most expressive of all theatrical forms.
In India, puppet troupes are found in states like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh,
Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka. In Rajasthan, the paper puppets and
string puppets are popular. Andhra is famous for Shadow puppets.
In Karnataka, the puppet theatre is said to have existed
since ancient times. Puppetry in the state, is believed to have existed at the
time of 'Kanakadasa' and 'Purandaradasa' and its roots are traced to the coastal
tract of Karnataka. The health and family welfare department has been using
puppetry shows for spreading messages like family planning, anti-dowry etc among
the rural and semi urban places. The two prominent forms of puppetry of the
state are (a) String puppets or Marionettes and (b) Leather or Shadow puppets.
String Puppets or Marionettes
present many marionette troops exist in the Karnataka state. The whole family
works as a team besides outside members as the art may be practiced by a member of any caste. A Brahmin family
in Nelamangala near Bangalore, owns a puppet troupe, which possesses a set of
almost a century-old puppets. It appears that these string puppets are quite
ancient and the puppets of Hallare, in Nanjangud taluk, Mysore district are said
to be of 300 years old.
string puppet means a puppet manipulated from above and controlled by long
strings invisible to the audience. Made of wood, the puppets of North Karnataka
are short and slim in appearance possessing a pair of legs and hands whereas the
puppets of South Karnataka are 3 feet high but without legs. All puppets are
controlled by strings and the strings are tied to the hands and the head of the
puppet. Some of the puppet troupes have discarded strings and have replaced them
with rods for easier manipulation of puppets.
The stage is simple, usually consisting of a thick black backdrop, two or
three wooden poles and a curtain to cover the puppet players from being seen by
the audience. Puppet artistes of a Nelamangala based troupe have developed a box
type stage which is easily removable and mobile. The conventional puppet
stage is covered on all the three sides to make the puppeteers and musicians not
visible. With the result, the audience can watch the show from only one side.
musical instruments used during the performance are 'Mrudanga' (also known
as Maddale in Kannada), 'Mukhaveena' (a unique wind instrument made of wood,
measuring one feet long and consisting twelve holes), cymbals and a Harmonium.
Approximately ten persons are required to stage a puppet show. The troupe
consist of puppet manipulators, instrument players, musicians and a Bhagavata.
Bhagavata is the chief musician followed by few performers who assist him in the
background. Depending on the story, the artistes use about 15 to 20 puppets in a
puppets perform against a black backdrop and are controlled and manipulated by
black strings. The puppets are suspended from above and played by puppeteers who
rest their hands on a 12 feet long wooden pole called 'Manthu'. The puppeteers
of Karnataka perform the dual role of a narrator and an operator simultaneously.
They not only manipulate the puppets behind the curtains but also conduct
dialogues. The puppet operator wear anklets and dance along with puppets but
such actions are not visible to the audience. The puppets are on an average 3
feet high, with fully articulated arms and hands. In some of the marionette
puppets of Karnataka, the heads, the eyes and eyebrows move up and down and even
move to the left and right. The master puppeteer controls the head, trunk and
arm. Coordination with other puppeteers is a skill for any puppeteer to master.
The discipline of movement, is extraordinary and the puppet move, dance and
enact their roles that provide a perfectly balanced spectacle. The duration of
the puppet show varies from 6 to 8 hours.