Origin of Puppetry
Puppetry originated around 3000 years ago. Some believe that it originated in China, in the form of shadow puppetry. Others believe it originated in India.
Some of the earliest kinds of puppets were the tribal masks with hinged jaws and jointed skulls used in religious ceremonies. Puppets evolved from these masks into doll like figures with movable limbs.
Puppetry seems to have existed during the Indus valley civilization. Terracotta dolls which seemed to have strings attached have been found during excavations.
Puppets were made on sticks and were used to display our famous Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. In India the wooden puppet performers were called Kathputli Bhats.
What is Bunraku?
Japanese puppets called ‘Bunraku puppets’ were made with very expressive faces and began replacing human actors on stage. This happened because playwrights grew tired of these actors and wanted to replace them by these wooden puppets.
Vietnamese Water Puppets
In Mua Roi Nuoc, or ancient Vietnamese water puppetry, the puppets shows were organised in a pool that was waist high. A large rod under the water was used by the puppeteers to control and support the puppets.
It appeared as though the puppets were moving over water. This began when the rice fields would flood and the farmers and villagers needed a way to entertain each other. They would hold puppet show competitions between villages.
Tholpavakoothu Shadow Puppetry
In Kerala, a unique form of shadow puppetry called Tholpavakoothu is performed. The shows are based on selected verses from the Tamil epic Kamba Ramayana. These are performed at various temples across Kerala.
The puppets are made out of animal skin and are held by a thin stick in one hand. The limbs of the puppets are manipulated by a thinner stick, held by the puppeteer in his other hand. Around 160 puppets have been used to show the entire storyline of the Kamba Ramayana.
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