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The origin and expansion of puppetry

All forms of art including folklore and folk dances of whatever nation can be considered didactic in nature.

These art forms try to convey a message having a universal bearing to society and its individual members, either through visual or linguistic means.

Traditional folk dances of Kolam Nadagam and ' Puppetry ' portray the frailties of humanity,conflicts, fate , successes and vicissitudes of life in tune with the pattern of behaviour of the people in society.

Humour and sarcasm are prominently portrayed and ingeniously infused in the folk dances to satisfy audiences, whether the themes are based on religious literature, historical episodes or contemporary social issues.

Traditional puppetry is a form of folk dances using characters made out of wood. The wooden figures can be animated by the artists using strings.

The concept of puppetry is as old as the hills according to anthropologists.

Origin

The history of puppetry is more than 30,000 years old. Similarly, some anthropologists say that the origin of puppetry is contemporaneous with the history of human civilisation.

Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato had also made reference to puppetry in their philosophical treatises.

Irrespective of regional, ethnic, cultural or religious boundaries puppetry as a genre of performing art had been in existence since time immemorial.

During the archaeological excavations carried out in the prehistoric children's graveyards in Egypt and Rome and in the locations of Indus Valley civilisation, puppets similar to dolls having movable heads made out of terracotta and tusks had been found.

Anthropologists say that dolls as a toy had originated from puppets. History of Puppetry in India known as Sutra Mara is an ancient form of performing art that could be traced back to 4,000 years.

Primary stage

At the primary stage puppets fixed on wooden rods had been used in ancient India. There is evidence to prove that rod puppets had been used in the performance of Indian Epics of Ramayana and Mahabarata.

Two of the world-renowned Greek Epic Poems of Odyssey and Iliad had been dramatised using puppets and the drama enthusiasts of ancient Greece found puppet dancing as a unique experience and an effective means of entertainment.

Shadow puppetry

Shadow Puppetry originated in China later spread to Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and Indonesia and established as a popular form of performing art.

By 14th and 15th centuries whole Europe embraced puppetry as a an effective means of entertainment and communication of diversity of issues and exposing even the character traits of Kings and Queens who had abused power.

In the past Christian religious dignitaries made use of puppetry in the dramatization of the stories relevant to Christianity and through puppetry the message of peace was conveyed to Christian devotees.

Anthropologists researching on the origin of drama believe that at the beginning only puppets played the roles of characters instead of humans.

Heinrich von Kaiest a German historian believed unlike humans puppets play their roles realistically on the stage.

Facial expressions

Heinrich argued the moods and character traits and facial expressions relevant to the characters of the plot and emotions such as fear, terror, humour, sorrow and sarcasm were permanently carved in the puppet which never underwent change in comparison to the human characters on the stage.

The Puppetry Panel of the Arts Council of the Department of Cultural Affairs conducted a two day workshop with the participation of leading artists of puppetry of both traditional and innovative forms of puppetry as resource persons at Veyangoda Cultural Centre recently.

Puppetry enthusiasts across the country took part in the practical sessions on every aspect of puppetry from the steps of making a less expensive stage for the performances using the minimum number of wooden poles and other material.

In addition the participants learnt how to turn out makeshift puppets using waste paper and freely available material.

One of the most striking features of the sessions of the workshop comprised practical group activities.

All the participants including both the young and the old were divided into several groups and just after demonstration lessons conducted by the resource persons the group members had to create

a story of their own and play the roles of the characters of the story they had selected using glove puppets, rod puppets or string puppets.

The stories were based on social Issues, politics, environmental issues, fables and Jataka stories.

Exposing the higher skills of creativity of both the young and the old participants created their stories based on issues such as addiction to drugs, alcohol, bribery, corruption, politics, environmental and health issues.

The stories were full of sarcasm and fun and all the participants enjoyed the practical sessions of group activities.

For the majority of the participants, this was their first experience of puppet dancing and how the puppets of all forms 'String Puppets' Rod Puppets ' and 'Glove Puppets' were manipulated on the stage during a performance.

Puppetry Panel

The chairman of the re-established " Puppetry Panel of the Arts Council of the Cultural Department P. Premin of Ambalangoda and a group of traditional puppeteers skilled in string puppetry, innovative puppeteers such as renowned lamplight puppeteers of Maxwell and Yvonne Cruz, Sulochana Dissanayake who is an expert on 'Glove and Rod Puppetry' and Kosala Priyam Kumara well versed on 'Shadow Puppetry' were some of the leading artists who were resource persons of the workshop on puppetry.

Traditional String Puppeteer G. Permin was a grandson of Podi Sirina Gurunnanse considered the founder artist of traditional string puppetry of Ambalangoda and its environs.

Premin is a dedicated puppeteer who hails from Ambalangoda and takes great pains for the revival of puppetry in the country amidst numerous challenges.

He has represented a number of international puppetry festivals held in several Asian and European countries.

Lamplight puppetry

Maxwell Crusz and his wife Yvonne Crusz have introduced innovative form of puppetry known as "Lamplight Puppetry" and they represented Sri Lanka at " Union International de la Marionnette (UNIMA) " 2008 World Congress & Puppet Festival held in Perth, Australia.

For the first time in the history puppetry in Sri Lanka, a ' Lamplight Puppetry Show' directed by Maxwell and Yvonne successfully performed at the prestigious international organisation dedicated to unite people around the world.

Irrespective of race, culture, political or religious ideologies UNIMA promotes puppetry as a vehicle to promote human values such as peace and mutual understanding between people. Maxwell and Yvonne had won several International Awards for their performances at Puppet Festivals held both in Sri Lanka and overseas .

Maxwell Cruz started carving his own puppets for the past 50 years and his wife Yvonne a highly dedicated artist on promoting puppetry makes all the costumes for the puppets. Movability of fingers and toes of puppets made by Maxwell is higher in comparison to the traditional puppets.

The international delegates who attended the fifth 'Non Aligned Conference' held in Colombo were highly satisfied with the performance of Lamplight Puppet Show held in their honour by Maxwell and Yvonne Cruz. Sulochana Dissanayake the founder and Artistic Director of "Power of Play" has introduced "Glove Puppets" and "Rod Puppets" in her performances.

Sulochana Dissanayake has turned to Innovative forms of Puppetry in a big way. She is a Graduate from Bates College(US) in Economics and a Watson Fellow of Wetson Foundation (US).

In South Africa and Indonesia she studied contemporary theatre and puppetry. Referring to the puppetry as a form of performing art she said the puppetry is a magic tool that could attract diversity of audiences from any location.She had successfully used Glove Puppets and Rod Puppets as tools of educating the community members in almost all the provinces on important social and health issues of the country.

Siri Kumarasinghe, a lecturer at Siyana Teacher Training College has introduced Shadow Puppetry as a form of performing arts. His son Kosala Priyum Kumara who inherited Shadow Puppetry takes great pains to expand it throughout the country. In 2009 Kosala Prium Kumara won a prestigious Dharmassiwa scholarship awarded by the Department of Education, Indonesia.

He did a Shadow Puppetry performance known as "Spirit of Nature" in Bandung University in collaboration with the Darmassiwa Program and STSI Bandung and Jaitiwangi Art Factory.

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