Puppetry in Assam

by Gitali Saikia | 2018 | 39,831 words

This represents a methodological study of Puppetry in Assam, which forms a major part of their ancient traditions and folk dramas. The art of puppetry has close relation with Assamese culture and society. Even though the availability of local literature is limited, there are many books on Indian puppetry....

Music used in puppetry of Assam

Music is the soul of a successful show.

“Music has now become so important and integral to the performance that it has acquired the status of a theatre language like that of the dramatic text itself. It has its own channel of communication.From the Natyashastra to the other treatises, all have laid great emphasis on music in drama.In all traditional forms music and movements are integral to the performance.”[1]

Music helps in creating an environment suitable to the plot of the show. Audience of folk drama adores those plays which are blended with folk music and simple attractive story. Puppetry is a dance and music based folk drama. Here music plays a vital role and music gets preference to dialogue.The puppeteers have deep knowledge of music they applied. Especially the Bayana should be highly qualified in music.Sutradhara’s posses good sense of rhythm for smooth manipulation of puppet. As puppets reflect the art and culture of the particular region they belong, so some difference can see in music of different groups of Assam. The music and the song used by the traditional puppet troupes are mainly folk based.There are numerous folk songs in Assam,which can classified in different categories. Noted scholar Birendranath Datta has classified folksongs into three sub-classes.

“Since the folksongs themselves are of a very rich variety, they have been divided into the following sub-classes:

  1. Cult songs: songs connected with religious beliefs and practices;
  2. Songs of social ceremonies like marriage;
  3. Songs of a lyrical nature;
  4. Miscellaneous songs.”[2]

Puppet groups adopt tunes and sometimes lyrics from folk songs from any categories discussed above.

The music and song used by the puppet group of Sattra’s (hermitage) of Assam have similarity with the invocatory song of “bhaona”. We can take an example from the play “Ram lila” of Auniati sattra.

The first part of the song is identifying as “dhura” and the next part is call “pad”.


De Khowa ai sabhajan
Ai koro nibedan
Mithila nagare aji
Sitar sayambar

Meaning: Dhura: Addressing to the spectators, the singer sings that, today is Sita’s sayambar in her home town Mithila nagar.


Adi kanda Ramar janma
Bibah sitara
Bibah sitara
Ane gate Puran Rarie Munibar

Meaning: Pad: The holy sage said that, Rama was born in Adikanda(a period) of Ramayana and during this period he got married to Sita.

Songs used in puppet play have different parts in it. Shloka (Verse), Vandana (Praise),song based on the story of the pay,concluding song etc.are different parts of songs used in puppet shows.

“In the traditional types of lower Assam,the play itself used to proceed through narrative singing consisting of such parts as dhura, suchana and sutra and frequently interspersed with dialogues and humourous interludes (including clowning of the song type).These features were obviously derived from the Khuliya–bhaoriya theatre immensely popular in these parts in the recent past.Most of the upper Assam troupes,on the otherhand,more or less meticulously follow the Bhaona pattern complete with elaborate preliminaries featuring Gayan Bayan and the introductory sequence centering round the sutradhar”.[3]

Song used in puppet plays of Darrang district

Vandana: Vando prabhu raghunatha
Vando Surjya bansadhara
Ramare sarane vandu
Kousholya kumara
Vando prabhu Raghunathahe
.” (Saharia,2005)[4]

Meaning: Here puppeteer offers Salutation to God Roghunatha. He is decendent of Surjya pedigree. Puppeteer again offers Salutaion on foot of Rama, who is the son of queen Kousalya of Ayodhya.

In case of different theme, different Vandanas are used.While the puppet troupes adopts stories from the Ramayana, they use “Ram vandana” and while they adopt stories of Mahabharata or Krishna related, they use Krishna vandana.

Songs based on subject of play:

Samudrak bandhilanta paharak dia
Senasome Roghunathe uttaria giya
Adikanda jnmilanta Ramarupo dhori
Janak nandini Sitak pai biya kori
Koikeyi bipode rajya porihori
Pitribakya ramachandra sirota dhori
. (Saharia,2005)[5]

Meaning: Lord Raghunath built a rock bridge to cross the ocean. Raghunatha crossed it with his soldiers to rescue Sita from Lanka. He born on the Adikando, i.e the first carto of Ramayana as Rama.He married to Sita,the daughter of Janaka.Due to Koikeyi’s crookedness Rama left home land by showing devotion to father Dasaratha.

In the beginning of the play, eulogy is sung for deities like “Saraswati”, “Laxmi”, “Nataraj” etc.

Presenting the puppets of Saraswati, oja sings—

Ohe ma Saraswati
Nakaria hela
Amar kanthe hoiba thiti
O ma o jibakhini pahoru
Amak diba suorai
’ (Saharia,2005)[6]

Meaning: Mother Saraswati please does not ignore us. Stay in our larynx and help us in memorising what we cannot remember.

Song of character’s wailing cry

O bhai lokha lokhai
Ki loi ki loi banchim moi bane
. ( Saharia,2005)[7]

Meaning: Brother Lokhai, how my days in forest will pass where no hope.

Closing song:

Aparadha khyama narayana he
Najanu tuti noti
Najanu minoti
Seware tusto hoiba
Probhu Jodupoti
Jani ki najani
Namo korilu prosar
Shato shato dosa khyomiba amar
Aporadha khyoma Narayanahe
.’ (Saharia,2005)[8]

Meaning: Narayana please forgive us for the crime we have done, we do not know how to pray you, be satisfied with our service. Lord Jodupoti, we tried to spread your glory, please excuse us for our hundreds of faults, excuse us for our crime.

Most of the puppet troupes, which are not belonging to satra,are adopting bihu song,marriage song (biya nam) and other folk songs of different tribes of Assam.Songs of famous artist of Assam,like Jyotiprasad Agarwala,Bishnuprasad Rabha,Dr.Bhupen Hazarika etc. are used in the plays,specially patriotic songs are used in the first phase of puppetry,i.e Dance drama or Sangitalekhya.In sangitalekhya,music gets preference over dialogue.According to a famous puppeteer Narayan Deka of Nalbari district, patriotic songs are used in puppetry with the purpose of creating love for motherland among spectators.Patriotic songs of Bishnu Prasad Rabha, Jyotiprasad Agarwala,Dr.Bhupen Hazarika gets preference. However,now a days most of the puppet troupes use pre recorded music.

According to puppeteer Manoranjan Roy of Sagarika puppet theatre,they used pre recorded music because it enables them to apply all types of music according to the story.According to him,there are some rules while doing music for puppetry.Musicians have to take utmost care while using it.Not using of proper music in proper time can harm the smooth running of the performance. However,puppeteer Narayan Deka told that live music is more effective in puppetry.The authenticity of live music creates an emotionl bridge among audience and performers as tunes as well as songs are collected from their surroundings.Therefore every puppet troupes have their own singers.In most cases wife of the main puppeteer leads the musicians.They also deliver dialogue for female characters depicted by puppets.One of such example is Narayan Deka’s wife Binita Deka.

Footnotes and references:




Datta,Birendranath;A Study of the Folk Culture of the Goalpara Region of Assam,University Publication Department,1995,p:144


Saharia Dr. Kanak “Darangi Lokagit Sangrah” Adarani Samiti Asom Sahitya Sabha, astosasthitam adhibeson, p:493











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