Puppetry Through the Ages

Posted on December 8, 2022 by admin

Govt. College of Technology for Women in the city LahorePuppetry is one of the most ancient forms of entertainment in the world. Besides providing entertainment, this visual art form was Technical Lahore also used for conveying meaningful messages. Over the years, puppetry has developed into a powerful medium of communication as it offers a real challenge to the imagination of viewers and creative ability of the presenters. This art is probably the least restricted in its form, design, color and movement and at the same time, the least expensive of all animated visual art forms.

A puppeteer is a person who manipulates an inanimate object – a puppet – in real time to create the illusion of life. Depending on the type of puppetry, the puppeteer may be visible to or hidden from the audience. In the present time, animators make a puppet move on film by using stop motion, where the puppet is moved tiny fractions in between each frame. A puppeteer can operate a puppet indirectly by the use of strings, rods, wires, and electronics or directly by his or her own hands. Some puppet styles require puppeteers to work together as a team to create a single puppet character.

Traditionally, Sub-continent has a rich heritage of puppetry. The history of puppetry in the Sub-continent dates back to circa 5th century BC. The early puppet shows in the here dealt mostly with historical themes, stories of kings, princes and heroes. In addition to this, political satire was also a favorite subject.

Religious portrayals in puppetry developed in South India with shadow puppets performing stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabarata. Besides dealing with religious themes, Indian puppetry also conveys useful messages from Panchatantra and other mythological and historical epics. The folk puppeteers are also the traditional exponents of the craft.

The oral transmission of knowledge had ensured a much closed door familiar environment where the secrets of the professionals had been passed on from generation to generation. The folk puppeteers, nearly all, trace their ancestry to various areas of Rajasthan, in particular Bikaner. Generally they are called Pakhiwaas or gypsies; they are a nomadic lot that has roamed around from place to place, taking part in puppetry or singing from the vast repertoire of folk songs in various dialects of the language spoken in Rajasthan. They have been part of the history of this area since times immemorial and probably migrated to Bangla Fazil in district Ferozepur (now in Indian Punjab) sometimes in the past and from there they migrated to the new country Pakistan in 1947.

Even now these puppeteers do not live a settled life. Very few own houses and their community on the outskirts of the cities consist of temporary huts and small mud houses, something which places them in the lowest strata of society. Being landless and without any immovable property, they live in localities which in Pakistani parlance are called Kachi Abadis (the slums).

They are all performers of traditional puppetry and have learnt the art from their ancestors, elders and other senior members of the family. The art of actually making the puppets from wood is dying out or is probably dead because all the puppets that they operate are old ones which they have inherited. New puppets are not made now, and when asked why? Most of them reply that it is a time-consuming handicraft, and in view of the dying art of puppetry and falling demand it is not worth the effort. The puppets that they possess are enough to meet the work load. They do not want to put in an effort for something that brings so little reward. Since these puppets can not be easily damaged they manage to carry out the minor repairs themselves.

These puppets, made of wood of the mango tree, are dressed up in colorful costumes which are made once a year. The puppeteers say that they make new costumes once a year as a kind of a ritual, not according to the wear and tear. It may be the paucity of resources which makes them change the costume not more frequently.

These string puppets (marionettes) are operated by the traditional puppeteers when they are invited by people. As a rule they do not go and perform in huge public gatherings like the various melas and urs that dot the countryside of the Punjab, Sindh and North West Frontier because of their preference for smaller audiences. Their show is probably designed in such a fashion that it is meant for smaller groups of people rather than a teaming crowd of thousands. The size of puppets and the set is also too small to be properly seen and appreciated in a large crowd.

The shows are normally held on invitations where the amount of fee is decided before the show. Earlier they used to roam in the streets of the villages and cities hawking for children to see the show and on finding an audience would immediately put up their simple set and start to perform. They would then be paid by the audience. It was a kind of ticketing system, the value of tickets was pre-decided, quite inexpensive, which the children of localities could afford easily. Now they are usually invited by people to their houses on occasions like birthday parties of the children or even more rare a marriage ceremony; purely for the sake of enjoyment and fun.

The groups which perform vary from a couple to about six members. In the general division of labour, men operate the puppets and act as narrators while women usually sing. They can even play the musical instruments, but in certain circumstances only men do that as well. The shows are usually held at night under an indigenous variety of tent or camp called tambu. First, they raise a wooden platform, usually in the shape of a flat wooden top with legs called takht so that its level is above that of the squatting audience, and then hang a cloth called chaddar. At times even a charpoy is used to cordon off the performance area which generally is done by hanging a cloth. In old times the lighting was done by burning the oil lamp but now, electric bulbs are used. Lighting is of a most basic kind as the stress is not on the light effects but the story and the skill of those operating the puppets.



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