Puppetry in Odisha

  • Odisha is perhaps the country’s only State where four forms of puppetry thrive — shadow puppetry; rod puppetry, where wooden puppets are hoisted up on stage with a metal rod attached to their body and covered by their flowing garments; glove puppetry or Sakhi Kandhei Nata, where the puppets are formed by a ‘glove’, with the index finger becoming the head and the middle finger and thumb the arms of the puppet; and lastly, string puppetry, where the puppets are made to dance with the help of strings attached to their limbs.
  • India shares this ancient culture with other old civilisations like the Greek and the Chinese.
  • Puppet shows, especially Ravana Chhaya with its shadow play, are the earliest movies and it is ironic that the coming of television has irreversibly eroded the performers’ audience base.

Hand in glove

  • I had heard interesting legends about the glove puppeteers even before I went to meet them in Odisha. If eccentricity is one of the defining qualities of artists, then these puppeteers are artists through and through.
  • Most glove puppeteers belong to the nomadic Kela community, which has settled down in Odisha in the past few years.
  • The Kelas were once snake-charmers, magicians, quacks and trapeze artists, and have now morphed into pedlars.
  • Glove puppetry is called Sakhi Kandhei Nata because here the chief characters are Krishna and Radha and their sakhis. Radha is also Krishna’s best friend, his alter ego, his soulmate.
  • The philosophy is embodied in the performance, as the Krishna and Radha puppets are the two arms of the puppeteer.
  • They are literally one body.


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