Updated: Dec 20, 2018
Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance that involves the manipulation of puppets – inanimate objects, often resembling some type of human or animal figure, that are animated or manipulated by a puppeteer. Such a performance is also known as a puppet play. Some scholars suggest that puppetry has existed in India for over 3000 years. The surprising thing is that there are so many forms of puppetry that we are not even aware about. There's shadow puppetry from Kerala, then there’s Kathaputli from Rajasthan and Kundhei from Orissa. The earliest puppets probably originated in Egypt, where ivory and clay articulated puppets have been discovered in tombs. Puppets are mentioned in writing as early as 422 B.C.E. In ancient Greece, Aristotle and Plato both made references to puppetry.
A rod puppet is made out of wood wire and string and is manipulated with wooden or wire rods. Rod puppets can sometimes have a complete working hinged mouth but many do not possess the same. A rod puppet has a fixed facial expression. Arms are usually a requirement as rods are attached to them. Puppeteers bring inanimate objects to life in order to make them perform and interpret scripts with the same degree of integrity as that of actors. They work with a variety of different puppets, including hand puppets, stringed puppets (marionettes), puppets that are life size or bigger, animatronics etc. In each mode, there is background music based on the classical and folk music of the particular region. The puppeteers deliver the songs and dialogues in prose. These puppeteers have to be not only skillful with their hands but also versatile at singing and dancing.
It is a known fact that this ancient art is dying a slow death due to neglect and more sophisticated forms of entertainment. India’s age-old art form of puppetry is struggling to stay relevant, much like the artists behind the stage who are struggling to make ends meet. There are very few artists left that know the art. Some NGOs have tried to bring puppetry to urban cities, yet this art form is nearing its end. This classical art form, however, has been kept alive by children of around 2,600 families from the slums of Delhi, who put up shows under the banner of Kalakar Vikas School. They believe in creating a safe and positive learning environment where students can explore emotions and enhance several skills is important. The power of puppetry never stops; it’s a way of learning and playing that so many people around the world have grown up with. It’s also calming, and creates an emotionally safe learning environment to explore difficult, taboo and frightening issues much more comfortably. Puppet performance is a discipline that puppeteers are labouring to preserve, like the Malaysian puppet show style that one puppeteer recently used to create. Pak Daing, a master of the Malaysian puppet tradition Wayang Kulit translated the famous film for his style of puppetry in order to preserve the art and share it with a wider audience. And puppets are also being explored as a way to help children: the charitable arm of Sesame Street is currently aiming to help refugee children use puppets to deal with trauma.
Puppetry has played an important role in disseminating knowledge in most parts of the world. Puppetry imbibes elements of all art forms such as literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama and enables students to develop their creative abilities. Puppetry has been used traditionally in India as a popular and an inexpensive medium to transmit knowledge about Indian myths and legends. Importance of puppetry in the field of education lies in the fact that this medium helps in developing imagination, creativity and observation skills in the children. A good educational message is the core of the puppet play. Great emphasis is given to the writing of the script for puppet plays.
The Role of Puppetry in Education aims at the following :
There is a need to introduce Puppetry as an aid to education;
Teach preparation and manipulation of glove, shadow, rod, string and other puppets;
Prepare educational scripts and programmes for teaching curriculum subjects through puppetry and to study the impact of training for evaluation;
To enable teachers to acquire knowledge about traditional puppet theatre forms of India and to provide them with an opportunity to interact with traditional puppeteers;
To encourage teachers to improvise inexpensive teaching aids and to make creative activities for students, an integral part of classroom teaching.
Since Puppetry is a dynamic art form that appeals to all age groups, this medium of communication has been selected to serve as an aid for imparting education in schools. The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) provides a comprehensive and an integrated training in the preparation, manipulation and production of such puppet programmes which may be used in a variety of formal and non formal teaching situations.
The art of puppetry will never completely die out as long as there are creative people alive (including children). What has made puppetry less accepted is technology, film and computer graphics. Puppetry won’t die if you tell people good stories and make yourself available to them as an artist. Let your audience know you as a person, not as some faceless production company. Allow your puppets to have personalities which don’t fall into cliché or trope. Engage frequently online and give your audience a place to find you regularly, with consistency, and you will eventually succeed.