Slideshow | A Tale of Tribal Puppetry: Adivasi Putulkatha, a documentary film – Bengal & Jharkhand

The video Adivasi Putulkatha: A Tale of Tribal Puppetry by Kaushik Sengupta and Sangita Datta is a documentary film on the puppetry of Bengal and Jharkhand Border Area.

Produced at a time when rapid modernization and the mass media accelerated the decline of rural art forms, the documentary evokes the atmosphere of rural India: festival performances in different regions and interviews with puppeteers from different backgrounds. This includes members of the Munda, Santal and Sabar tribal communities.

The documentary is distinguished by its aesthetic quality and lucid narration. It provides lovers of Indian culture with rare glimpses of a world largely unknown to outsiders.

For more background information, please read the text provided by Sangita Datta (see below).

Languages: English narrative and subtitles for interviews with puppet makers in different regions of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Duration: 48 min.

DVD Order details

Rs. 850 including postage or equivalent in other currencies

Contact address
E-mail: sangeeta_dutta2003@yahoo.co.in

Sangita Datta
15/1/24, Jheel Road
Phuleswari Apartment
Bank Plot
Kolkata-700075
India

Tel. +91-9433128832

Background information by documentary filmmaker Sangita Datta

TRIBAL PUPPETRY OF BENGAL AND JHARKHAND BORDER AREA

Hansa Sabar, a man of Sabar tribe, lived in the Belpahari region of Midnapore was a singer puppeteer sang with a ‘Kendri – puppet’. ‘Kendri’ is a wooden musical instrument of Santhals played by a bow, which is known as ‘chhar’. Hansa turned this ‘Kendri’ as ‘Kendri – puppet’ and he learnt it from a Santhali tribesman.

As far I know, there is no tradition of puppet making or playing in Sabar tribes, but Hansa was a different person. He sang ‘jhumur’ songs by playing this ‘Kendri – puppet’. His grandson, whose name is also Hansa Sabar (it is their tradition for naming the same name for their grandson) used to go with his grandpa in ‘Tusu’ fair. ‘Tusu’ is a very big festival in Bankura, Purulia and Medinipur.

‘Hansa’ means ‘white’ wandering into the forest in search of wild potatoes, rats or hares. But Hansa never lost his attraction for pursuing his art, amidst his frantic search of food. This puppet is made from the wood of jackfruit tree. Face, eyes, nose, hands of this puppet are chipped out with a chisel from a single piece of wood. The middle portion near the chest is a hollow and covered with a reptile skin. The lower portion of this puppet is like a rod. A bunch of thread is tied from the neck of the puppet to the lower portion. A bamboo made bow is used for tuning from the strings of the Kendri puppet.

Hansa and his favourite “Kendri – puppet’ are now in grave. This puppet has lost for ever.

‘Chadar Badni’ is another sort of wooden puppet, made by Santhals in the Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand. Experts say that the meaning of ‘Chadar Badni’ is rhythm and colour. Bhulu Murmu, an artisan and puppeteer live in Noasar village near Dumka sculpts six inches puppet from ‘Karam’ wood. There are female and male puppets fixed on a circular wooden plate. The puree, charcoals and red colours are used for colouring these puppets. The female puppets are arranged in a certain manner where they are posed for a kind of traditional Santhali ‘leaf dance’ while the male puppets are made to hold drums, “Dhamsa’ and ‘Temak’ (wooden drums of tribals). Some of the male dolls are mend for clapping hands, known as ‘Thauia’, some of them imitate drunkard  man, known as ‘drunkard puppet’. Dhuma Murmu and Mathu Tudu another two puppeteers live Turopahari, another village near Dumka, they also make ‘Chadar Badni’. I have found only those two villages where ‘Chadar Badnis’ are still remaining.

At the centre of a circular frame two wooden pieces are fixed obliquely to each other. The female puppets are fixed on one wooden piece, and male puppets are on other piece. In the middle portion between the male and female puppets, Thauiya or drunkard puppet or warrior puppet is placed on two more pieces of wood. A hollow piece of the bamboo shaft is fixed to the circular frame of wood. These puppets are strung with ropes that pass through the hollows of the bamboo shaft passing down its entire length. A hole is pierced at the base of the bamboo shaft through which the ropes are pulled out and tied together and fixed to a stick. When the stick is pulled with a thumb of feet, the puppets start to move and dance. The circular frame is fixed upon a rectangular frame. On its four corners, there are four sticks – a paper made umbrella is fixed on those sticks. The puppets dance under this umbrella.

In the mid September (last day of the Bengali month Bhadra) ‘Ind puja’ occurs. In that ceremony there occurs a festival, known as ‘Chhata parab’. At that time corn ripes on the field. To mark that occasion a  fair is held for a day in every single village of that region. Bhulu, Dhuma, Mathu visit the fair accompanying the puppets, drum, tambour and cymbals. The song which they sing at the time of puppet dancing,  is known as ‘Logde’ song. After the dance gets completed, a drinking session of locally made country liquor (Haria) takes place. They worship ‘Singbonga (the Sun God)’ before the puppet – dancing. They collect ripe corns after the dancing – one portion they keep for their own and other portion they sell.

No one knows how the concept of ‘Chadar Badni’ developed here or how did the craft of puppet – making come into this region. But I have seen two puppets in Ranchi museum which are fixed on a Kendri.

‘Chadar Badni’ requires no separate stage for its performance. The circular frame is turned by hand and the puppets are manipulated into the dancing movement. Just as in real Santhali dance, the girls make sideway movements together by taking small steps, so are these puppets made to dance in the similar way and pose.

There are two varieties of Santhali puppet in that area. One is known as  ‘Chakav’, in which when the string is pulled there is a movement of lower lip, and another is known as ‘Thap’, a finger puppet. In one finger the head of the puppet is placed and in two fingers hands of puppet are placed. That puppet is covered with a small piece of cloth. ‘Chakav’ and ‘Thap’ are single puppet, but ‘Chadar Badni’ is a group puppet. Here also ‘Logde songs’ are used for puppet dancing. It is also awaiting for the last blow of destruction  to descend of this artistic form.

‘Karam Putul’, a kind of puppet of Munda tribe is seen in a village, near Bangla and Jharkhand borders (near Jhargram), whose maker was Jagannath Sing. Those are made of wood from the Karam or Jackfruit trees. These are rod puppets. There were similar puppets in the other villages of Bangla and Jharkhand border areas also. But the maker of these puppets are lower caste Hindus. It is a matter of difficult conjecture whether Mundas have picked up this art form from the lower Hindu Section or whether the low caste Hindus have learnt it from the Mundas. It is said that craftsmen from the region of Nadia had started this puppetry. At that time the Mahatos  patronized these art forms.

‘Tusu is a big festival held on the last day of the Bengali month Paush i.e. middle of January, Fairs are held in ‘Tusu’ festival in many villages of Midnapore. Dance of ‘Karam putuls’ is performed in various village fairs of West Midnapore.

The face of the puppet is formed on the top of a wooden shaft and the lower part looks like a narrow stick. The hollow nape of the shoulder where a rope is attached and the hands are attached separately to the puppet. The rope is fastened and makes it possible for the hands to move separately while tugging it.

Costumes of puppets are made from coloured paper. Each and every character have distinct costumes and dresses to wear. There are different kinds of puppets. The one that exhibits sword fighting are called ‘Phari khelar Putul’. There are dancing puppets called ‘Nachni’. There are also other puppets like bear, snake, alligator, tambour player etc.

The ‘Doms’, the lower caste Hindus play drums and flutes at the time of puppet dancing. These puppets are traditional rod puppets.

Once upon a time this puppet tradition was in many villages in that area, but now it is lost. Young generation does not get interest in puppet dancing.

It is astonishing that a Sabar, who made Kendri puppet learnt puppet making from Santhals. Santhals have own traditional puppetry i.e. ‘Chadar Badni’. And there are ‘Karam puppets’ of Mundas and lower caste Hindus, who have similarity with Kendri puppet. How and from where this tradition came nobody knows. There exists oral history which are only proofs of these rich puppetry tradition.

The history of aborigines of Chhotonagpur plateau is all the more unknown to others. Their creations were mainly centered around their cult, practices, religion and belief. Festivals are only medium where there lives mixed with art. Tribes are demolishing and getting cornered day by day and as a result of it  their creations are getting lost. Their puppetry is such a form which is on the verge of extinction.

Credits (images and text) by Sangita Datta (email 12 January 2014)

Learn more

BIOGRAPHY AND FILMOGRAPHY

NAME: SANGITA  DATTA
COMPANY’S NAME: TOUCHPAPER PRODUCTION

PRESENT ADDRESS
15/1/24, Jheel Road, Bank Plot
Kolkata-700075, West Bengal
Phone Nos.9433128832 & 9874864426
E-MAIL ID: sangeeta_dutta2003@yahoo.co.in

DATE OF BIRTH: 02.10.1964
ACADEMIC QUALIFICATION: B.Sc. (Hons. In Physics) M.A. (Theatre-Arts)

FILM DIRECTION

I am an empanelled Director of Information and Cultural Dept. of West Bengal and Roopkala Kendro, an Indo-Italian Film Project Centre under West Bengal Govt. and also Communication Designer and Development Researcher in Roopkala Kendro.

DOCUMENTARY FILMS WHICH ARE DIRECTED BY ME

  • ADIVASI PUTUL KATHA (A tale of tribal puppetry) (a film on tribal puppetry)

FOR NGOs

  • SWAPNER BHOR (A Dawn of Dream) (a film on sex workers’ rights)
  • HEALTHY MICROFINANCE for FREEDOM FROM HUNGER,U.S.A
  • BAL AKHRA (LEARNING FROM NATURE BY THE TRIBAL CHILDREN) for CHILD RIGHTS AND YOU, U.S.A.

FOR UNIVERSITY

  • REJUVENATE PARTICIPATION OR AWAIT DESTRUCTION (43 mins.,a film on Joint forest management of West Bengal). Produced by DFID,UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA, UK
  • RIGHTING THE HISTORICAL WRONG Forest Right Act of West Bengal with University of Manchester, UK and CUTS, India
  • ORGANIC FARMING OF PADDY AND RELATED CULTURES OF A DISTRICT IN
  • WEST BENGAL in collaboration with Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
  • BANCHTE CHAI (Right to Live) (a film on female feticide), for JADAVPUR UNIVERSITY, KOLKATA, WEST BENGAL

OUTSIDE FIM PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR

  • International Society for Ecology and Culture, UK in their project of Food Security and changing cultures.
  • KOLKATA WONDERLAND ( SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECT OF KOLKATA)
  • Produced by two sociologists of the University of Alberta, Canada.

GOVT. PRODUCTIONS

  • THE PAHARIAS, a film on the endangered Paharia Tribe of India funded by Indira Gandhi National Centre For The Arts, Govt. Of India
  • THE MUNDAS for CENTRAL NSTITUTE OF INDIAN LANGUAGES, INDIA
  • FOLK DANCES OF SIKKIM of EASTERN ZONAL CULTURAL CENTRE, INDIA
  • BIKALPER SANDHANE (Searching For Alternate) ( A film on use of alternative energy) for WEBREDA (DEPARTMENT OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY)

EXPERIENCE IN TV PRODUCTION

  • DIRECTION & DUBBING IN TELEFILM & MEGA-SERIAL

ASST. DIRECTOR IN FILMS

  • NIRBACHANA (ELECTION) NATIONAL AWARD WINNER, INDIA
  • ATTAJAA (WITHIN ME) Produced by NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, INDIA
  • Doc-films on 4 TRIBAL WRITERS’ LIVES (in progress) produced by SAHITYA AKADEMI, INDIA

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