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....

Chapter 5: Comparative Study Of Indian Puppet And Assam’s Puppet

Assam endowed with various folk dramas. Puppetry is one of the important folk drama of Assam. Although there are four kinds of puppet prevalent in India, Assam has only “String” puppet tradition in its possession. History says that there was tradition of “Shadow” puppetry and “Water puppetry” in Assam. Some of the puppet performers support existence of water puppet in ancient Assam. String puppet prevalent in Assam have great similarity with String puppets of another region of India in terms of selection of themes, manner of presentation making process of puppet and functions performed by puppetry.

The main discussion of comparison of puppet of Assam with another state of India will confined only among String puppets, as there are no tradition of other kinds of puppets. However new generation puppeteers are trying to adopt other three techniques to bring new look to puppet.

String puppets of Assam and Rajasthan:

Tradition of string puppet of Rajasthan is very popular. In Rajasthan, puppets are made of single wooden block. They are known as Kathputli. In Assam, also traditional puppets are made of lightwoods. They are with different joints. Puppets of Rajasthan do not have legs. Traditional string Puppets of Assam also performs without leg. Long garments used to hide puppet’s lower part.Different quantity of strings attached on both kinds of puppets according to the technique of manipulation. “Amar Singh Rathod” is the most popular play performs by puppets of Rajasthan. The dancer puppet of Rajasthan is called Rasdhari or Anarkali. The dance perform by Rasdhari has similarity with Kathak dance. In Assam, no particular name for dance puppet is used. Bihu dance of Assam is extensively use by puppets group of Assam. Puppeteers of both Rajastahan and Assam enact stories of Puran, myth and legends. Using of folk song of their respective place is common feature of Rajasthan and Assam’s puppet.

As puppeteers of Assam, Rajasthani puppeteers also use high pitch voice produced by speaking through a bamboo made instrument. This is called “Boli”. In Assam also a bamboo or cane made “penpa” is use to create hight pitch voice by pressing it on the middle of puppeteers lips. In Rajasthan, traditional puppeteers are known as “Bhat”. Bhat is a community of Rajasthan and there is legend prevalent that they were first community blessed with technique of puppet dance in world. Formerly Puppeteers of Assam were known as “Tatekia Baazigar”. Now, the main puppeteer of a traditional puppet troupe of Assam is known as Oja.In Assam, puppetry is not confined only in a particular community. Mambers of any religion and caste can perform puppetry.

String puppets of Assam and Karnataka:

String puppets are known as Gombeatta in In Karnataka. These kinds of Puppets are made of wood with different joints in their body. Using of themes from, Epic Mahabharata and Rammayana is common feature of string puppets of Karnataka and Assam.

Puppets dress has similarity with dress of live actors of Yakshagana.

“The puppet figures look like Yakshagana live actors in headdress, facial make-up, costume and jwellery. They perform regular Yakshagana plays known as prasangas (episodes) based on the two epics and Purana.”[1]

In Assam also traditionally available materials are used to make puppet dance and they were traditional dress of Assam, excluding the mythical plays. Puppets costumes are like live performers of Bhaona. The techniques of manipulating string puppet of Karnataka are almost same with puppets of Assam.

In both states folk musical instruments are used. In Assam Khol, flute and Cymbal is the main folk instruments.While in Puppetry of Karnataka, Mukhbina, Mridanga and Dhol is the main musical instrument. Sutradhar is the common character in all kinds of puppet shows.

In karanataka also has the tradition of using traditional lighting system like Ariya and Mahata.

String Puppets of Odisha and Assam:

Puppets of Odisha and Assam have great similarity. Infact, it is said by well known puppeteer Narayan Deka of Makhibaha of Nalbari district of Assam that, Sankardeva borrowed the tradition of puppet from Odisha and introduced it in Assam. Puppets of Odhisa are made of soft and lightwoods like puppets of Assam.

Like puppets of Assam, puppets of Odisha also have no legs and long skirts are used instead of it.

“Costume of the puppets is similar to that of the Jatra which is the folk theatre of the region.”(Awasthi, 2001)[2] .

Similarly puppets of Assam used costume of the Bhaona, the folk drama form specially prevalent in upper Assam. Music also draws from folk music of the region as like as puppetry of Assam.

Puppets of Assam and Tamilnadu:

Bommalattam is the string puppet of Tamilnadu. String Puppet of Tamilnadu is largest and haviest form of string puppet prevalent in India. These days in Assam also, large figure puppets are used by modern puppeteers.Both rod and string are used to manipulate large puppets of Karnataka.Followers of modern techniques of Puppetry of Assam also uses both rod and string puppet. In Tamilnadu also puppeteers depends on epics for the source of their theme. Using of traditional Ariya and invocatory song is another common feature of puppets of Assam and Tamilnadu.

String Puppet of Assam and Tripura:

String puppet tradition of Tripura is called “Putul Nach”. There are similarities in making of string puppets of Assam and Tripura. Puppets are made of lightwoods of local trees. Puppets of Assam are also made of light local woods. Mother tongue Bangla is used in string puppet tradition of Tripura use as their medium of perfomance. Mythical story are popular in Tripura as like as in Assam. Paying homage to God before starting of the show is one common feature of string puppets of Tripua and Assam. Like string puppets of Assam, puppeteer of Tripura also keeps their puppets in wooden or bamboo box.

String Puppets of Manipur and Assam:

The Puppet tradition of Manipur is known as Laithibi Jagoi.The costume of string puppets of Manipur are like human performers of Rasleela.In Assam also during performance of stories from Purana and Epics, puppets are decorated like live characters of bhaona.Technique of manipulation of puppet is otherwise same to string puppets of Assam.

String Puppets of Maharastra and Assam:

The string puppet of Maharastra is called Kalasutri Bahuliya.The beginning of Maharstra string puppet show has similarity with Assam. Puppeteers of Maharastra perform Purvaranga.Which is also perform by puppeteers of Assam.Themes of Maharastra’s puppets are also adopted from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

String Puppet of Andhra Pradesh:

String puppet of Andhra Pradesh is known as Keelubommalatta. String puppets of Andhrapradesh is also made of light wood.Like string puppets of other states, puppeteers of Andhra Pradesh also use stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They are not very huge but curved beautifully on wood and attract audience with traditional attire.

Above discussion indicates that although there are regional differences in puppets of different corner of India, still their basic characters are same.

The exact birthplace of puppetry is still in dark. However, it can assume that puppetry spread into different corner of the country with untiring effort of puppeteers.

“Puppeteers being intinerant performers, the art of puppetry follows a migratory course. Migrations have also occurred when the patronage has been extended to puppeteers by kings.With so many regional traditions prevalent in the country migration of puppeteers from one region to the other is an interesting subject of study in itself. Migratioin is so integral and common to puppetry that few forms can be said to be totally indigenous. Due to the improvisatory character of puppet stage with easily portable or locally borrowed material, it is easy for the puppet groups, (which in most cases are family-based, except in Kerala) to travel from one place to another to give performances.The performers lead a nomadic life except in Kerala where there is a permanent structure called “Koothu Mandap” built within the Bhagavati temple compound for Shadow puppet performances”[3]

Thus it is seen that although there are regional differences in styles of performances, the major aspects of puppetry of different parts of India have great similarities.

Footnotes and references:


Awasthi Suresh, Performance Tradition in India, National Book Trust of India, 2001, p: 44


Ibid, p: 44



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