Rejoicing the day of the Puppets

-Dr. Moushumi Bhattacharjee

Across the globe we celebrate World Puppetry Day on March 21 every year to recognize puppetry as a global art form. This day aims to pay tribute to and honour the puppeteers from around the world with the objectives of using puppetry as a means of ethical aesthetic education and maintaining and safeguarding the tradition of puppetry along with its renewal. The World Puppetry Day was established in the year 2003 by UNIMA – Union Internationale de la Marionnette which is a non-governmental organization affiliated with UNESCO and it was their initiative to use this day not only to promote puppetry arts but also to create a space for the puppet actors to come together. This day seeks to maintain and safeguard the traditions of the art of puppetry.
Puppets were born before theatre actors, is what the historians claim. Even before people started performing on stage, these in-animate players were doing a great job of entertaining a wide range of audiences from different parts of the world. In India, the origin of puppetry was traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization in 2500 B.C. Archaeologists found terracotta dolls with a detachable head capable of being manipulated by a string which justifies their statement.

Tracing the roots of its practice in Assam, if we exhume into the historical data, we can find a huge gap from 8th century to the 15th century. Whatever little information we have, are mostly oral records and there exists a huge vacuum in terms of written literature. Puppets of Assam, in their long history of modest dramatic performance continuously used innovating narratives figures that are expressed beyond any verbal language. During its journey so far the puppet never failed to adapt itself to new situations in a constantly changing world. The puppet’s flexibility is the source of its life; however, this feature is acutely contrasted with the puppet being an icon image of the character or ideas it portrays. By using a puppet as a tool through which they communicate, the puppeteer is extending and redistributing the boundaries of his physical being. On one hand we have the traditional mode of Putula Naach in Assam which is still paving its way through conventional style of presentation and on another we have the contemporary groups who not only want to take this art form to new heights with innovation and technique but also aim at creating a mark for themselves in the vast and unexplored world of puppetry.

One such organisation is Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust (ARMT), which made its debut with the art of puppetry as a part of the larger collaborative project of two-months (November and December, 2020) with UNICEF Assam titled as ‘Risk communication and community engagement to promote ‘COVID Appropriate Behaviour’ (CAB) among children, women and urban population’. This year the trust started with its own puppet division ‘ARMT Creative’ and has produced a series of puppet shows (to be released soon) derived from the broad objectives of Poshan Maah as underlined by UNICEF. To catch up the trend of convergence, ARMT has come up with the idea of merging two different forms of puppetry- Glove and Rod puppets. The broad themes of the shows are ‘Care During Pregnancy’, ‘Women Nutrition’ which talks about the diet chart to be followed by the pregnant woman. ‘Importance of Breast Feeding’ and the need to feed the baby within an hour of birth for essentials nutrients through colostrum and avoid formula milk till six months , ‘Five Finger Rule’ for complementary feeding. ‘Healthy Diet’ deals with nutritious foods and their benefits, while ‘Responsive Parenting’ deals with minimising the use of mobile phones among children. ‘Malnutrition’ speaks about malnourished children and waste of food as one of the biggest vices of the present day. ‘Anemia’ narrates the story about importance of iron and folic acid tablets especially before and after menstruation, ‘Adolescent Nutrition’ and inter-generational malnutrition as a consequence of child marriage being the last in the series.

Keeping in tune, this year the trust has prepared a promotional video on the importance of World Puppetry Day. It is seen that the relevance of this day is limited within the periphery of the puppet enthusiasts only. The commoners have no idea that even a day exclusively meant for the puppets also exists. So this video can turn out to be a platform for promotion of puppetry as a performing art form. The World Puppetry Day not only comes as a medium of entertainment for kids and youngsters but for people across all age groups. The observance of this day also helps in reviving the age-old tradition and to bring in fresh flavours to it.
For millennia, people around the world have used performing arts to convey their most important social values and cultural ideals. Puppetry being participatory in nature builds community and opens up possibilities for social change and development. The puppeteer is the conveyor and interpreter of the messages. Through his magical world of puppets he can transport the audience to a mythical time that stands still, or bring them down to earth with lively comments on the contemporary scenario. So this video by the ARMT would surely boost the popularity of the art form and also create awareness among its connoisseurs.

Dr. Moushumi Bhattacharjee is an independent researcher and presently work as a guest faculty in the department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Gauhati University.

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