Marionette also known as string puppets, are a great form of entertainment to the young and old. These puppets have over 3000 years of history, which is mention in the books of Aristotle and Plato. String puppets were not only the form of entertainment but there were also the medium of delivering strong message to common people, emperors and many times people believed gods come down to earth in the forms of puppet and communicated with public. Marionette form of puppetry is different from other kinds of puppet, these puppets are controlled using strings from above, allowing the puppet to have total freedom of movement compare to other form of puppetry. Puppeteer (person controlling the puppets) owns great skill and technique which is required to bring life into the puppet.
Throughout the history, puppets have be found in use by different country for different purpose. Many time marionettes were used to communicate the massage, which could not be communicated directly through humans. For example, a king would ask the marionettes leader to perform a play/story which will help in correcting his children or his wife about their irresponsible activity, during the program wife or the children will find out their mistake and are given a chance to correct it. This way the common public is entertained and irresponsible activity of a person was also corrected. During the play, puppeteers will also mention about the latest activity happening in the present and other kingdom.
Puppeteers, were always considered of high standard among the common public, they were considered wise and educated because they had the skill to deliver and communicate massage to the most uneducated part of the society. One could easily say that, marionettes were the actors of ancient time. Common men used puppets as a medium to inform their feelings about the governing kingdom. It was considered an offense to directly oppose the rules made by the royal kingdom, punishment for such an offense was beheading. So this way puppet could say anything to the kingdom in the form of comedy or entertainment and without any disrespect. As a puppet, it need not to follow any of rules and regulation made for the human actors.
Puppets has no restriction to do any characters with well decorated with color full cloth and jewelry, silver was extensively used because it provides shine even under dull light, whereas humans were allowed to perform with lots of restrictions.
String Puppets in India
Even though there are no written documents, but it is strongly believed that the earliest puppet show was held in the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat which was known as “Kathputli” (string puppets) and it was operated by the community called Bhats. People of bhats community have travelled to different parts of India like West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Tripura, Manipur, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. It is said that 1st ever string puppet show, which was held in the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat was based upon the stories of king Vikramaditya, who had 32 stories associated with him, so the 1st show consisted of 32 puppets with was operated with help of strings.
Development of string puppets in Karnataka are known as Sutrada gombeatta in the Mysore area and yakshagana gombeatta in coastal. These puppets are highly inspired by the art form of yakshagana (a unique theater play well known in Karnataka) they are highly decorated with cotton fabric and jewelry. Traditionally, puppets were controlled by the “Bhagavathar” (the holder of strings) who had amazing skills in controlling the puppets through strings and were also great musician, music composer and excellent story teller handling all together. Due to the popularity and demand, groups were made in puppeteers and musician, where bhagavathar took the position of musician.
The stage is buildup 6 feet from the ground, using wooden planks. Width of the stage is 15 x 10 feet. The outer area the stage is covered with cotton fabric. The wooden frame is covered with black color cotton back drop. The puppeteers stand behind the back drop and use both the hand to control the puppet with the help of strings. Puppet show starts with the blessing of lord Ganesh, it is believed in Hindu religion that worshiping lord Ganesh keeps all the hurdle away, and then main character enters the stage. Generally yakshagana puppets are controlled using 6 strings, each pair of strings are used for head, legs and for hands and each puppet weigh up to 20 kgs. Three types of wooden controller are used and each one has 2 strings attached. The first controller is known as Lord Maheshwara (the destroyer) Middle controller is considered as lord Brahma (the creator) which is used to balance the puppets, last controller is known as Vishnu (the operator). Puppet movements are controlled using 7 tala’s (rhythmic notes). Yakshagana puppetry consist of 7 talas, which are known as adi tala, eka tala, jampe tala,trivde tala, maate tala, rupak tala and asta tala.
Puppets has eleven different parts which are joined together. The movement of the puppet match the raga and tala sung by the bhagavathar. Up to 5 puppeteer’s stand on the stage controlling about 5 to 6 puppets at a time, the main character is controlled by the master puppeteer. Yakshagana puppet team consist of 15 team member. Due to the proper combination between the puppeteer and bhagavathar, the movement of puppet resembles the movement of yakshagana artisans.
Yakshagana puppets has a history of 5 generations working endlessly since mid of 16th century by “Kamath” family from a small village of Kundapura in south canara. This family has attained international recognition with many awards. At present Mr.Bhaskar Kamath is a puppeteer running this folk art as 6th generation from Kamath family and has trained many youngsters. Kamath family can be contacted through their website, www.yakshaganapuppets.org