When we think of Maharashtra we generally tend to gravitate towards the exquisite beaches be it Tarkali , Devgad or Alibaug, however there is more to what meets the eye. The cultural diversity and lifestyle is also something worth witnessing. This article deals with one particular aspect in this theme. It deals with the art of Puppetry and its various forms which had flourished in the region and the efforts at holding onto this slender piece of dying out heritage.
So, the region that I am referring to is the Konkan region of Maharashtra. I had ventured out here few days back, taking a detour of the main tack and driving into the numerous villages that are spread all over and thus had landed at Pinguli, in the Konkan region which has been the home for nearly five hundred years to a wide variety of ritual performance arts. Out here I met Shri Parshuram Gangavane a national awardee and thus the content s of this article germinated. He has taken the initiative to set up the Thakar Adivasi Kala Aangan , an art arena to revive and preserve a dying folk traction and creation of a platform where traditional artists pursue these age old crafts . So read on about the fascinating forms of puppetry and culture that is and was the heritage of this region.
Kalsutri Bahulya ( String marionette )
Kalsutri Bahulya is a Marathi folk form which was immensely poplar till the early years of this century with its origin in the 1600 A.D. This particular art was pioneered by Vishnudas Bhave in early century years as a part of the Marathi theatre and in the modern era, this art is being kept alive by the Thakar Clan, in the village of Pinguli situated in the coastal Mahrastra belt. The rulers of Sawantwadi region gave patronage to this art especially the Bhosale Dynasty. ‘Kal” signifies the forefingers of humans while “Sutri” means black thread while “Bahuliya “means puppets.
The puppets are made of clay or carved from wood and their height varies from 20 – 45 cm. The puppet is having movable arms and shoulder joints. These are draped in colorful cloth and then with strings attached to the upper torso, lower torso and sometimes even to the jaw these are manipulated on the stage. A word about the stage itself which is specially prepared and is covered on the sides and forward too with only a 1 metre space kept open for viewing. The singer and the musicians sit on one side of the stage to participate in the tale. The musical instruments used are tal, cymbals, stringed tuntuni and dholaks. These performances in the olden days used to start at night after dinner and continue right till the morning hours. Tales of the Mahabharata in addition to Ramayana are displayed.
In today’s age, due to insufficient reassurance by the state or central government this art is on the verge of extinction. The Lok Kala Bhavan is the museum of the Thakar traditional folk arts and it is here that this art is still kept alive and practices.
Dayati (Shadow Puppetry)
Only four states in India still have a trace of this ancient form of Puppetry out of which Maharashtra is one. The shadow puppetry involves a white stage with a pin hole and an oil lamp is kept behind the white stage providing background illumination for the scenes. The puppet which is made of leather is portrayed in front of the hole and the oil lamp thereby creating a larger than life image. The puppet is made from very thin leather with no major decoration and on a single stick Special musical instruments are used with their unique way of using them like for eg a brass thali turned upside down and used to generate a tune using a long reed with a spot of wax stuck on it , as the artist moves his hand up and down , the reed makes a specific tune. The tunes are used to explain the tale told through the puppetry movements. This art is also known as Chamdyacha Bahuliya. This art was practiced by the members of the” Thakore” community whose main occupation was fishing and harvesting.
In the olden days for a full show close to 65 puppets were used and the entire play used to be staged in parts with tales derived from the Ramayana epic. The performance used to start with a short prayer to Lord Ganesh and Goddess Saraswati.
This is also known as Paithani paintings and was the work of migrating story tellers found in Maharashtra in the yester years. The tradition was named after the village of Paithan. Chitrakathi paintings is narrative tradition imparted to the village people of tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The tales used to be told village to village by the artists. The story tellers accompany their recitation of the epics with paintings. In the Shivaji era, the spies used to use this form of entertainment to pass information amongst the followers of Shivaji Maharajah. Eventually this art form got converted into beggary and eventually diminished.
The tales used to be told using paintings, dyed in vegetable dye and on hand paper. The stories used to run in to close to forty paintings and each painting in itself had a script , song and music. The color also had a concept with color filled first and then the outline used to be made.
This involves using bullocks decorated with intricate designs. The bullock Is bought to the stage whilst the artist recites the traditional tales with dhols. Performed only by male artists. These bulls used to along with the artist and the drum beater move from house to house or village square to village square performing the tales in the yester years.
It was a enthralling moving experience to spend some hours out here , getting exposed to something to an experience which was totally on an alternate beat , imbibing a cultural facet of our country in its natural surroundings. For readers who are interested , a stay can be arranged at Pinguli and performances on any of the specific puppetry be organised by Mr Parshuram and his team.( contact : 02362 222393 /09821483765 )