West Bengal is a state which hosts the traditional and folk arts of India dating thousands of years back. A well known form of the ancient art form is the puppetry. Prominently known as “Putul Nach” in colloquial language, it displays the diaspora of the skills inherent in the tribes hailing from Bengal.
The word Putul signifies a doll or a puppet whereas Nach symbolizes dance of the puppet. Shadow puppetry is rarely practised in Bengal, but one can find some forms of the art being followed by the Santal communities. They have named it as Chadar Bandni or Chadar Badar. The glove and the rod puppetry had been originated in the State itself. String puppetry is popular in other parts of India which has been skillfully adopted by the artists of West Bengal.
The Essence of Putul Nach
The puppeteers essentially depict the ancient mythological stories and the achievements of legends through Putul Nach. The practise had been heavily influenced by the traditional folk theatre “Jatra” of West Bengal. The puppet show educated the common mass on the social and political aspects of the State. It spread awareness among the people about the historical significance of the ancient past and the lives of the kings and noblemen. The live music accompanied with Putul Nach creates a unique experience.
Dang Putul Nach or The Rod Puppets
It is believed that Dang Putul Nach originated in West Bengal from the 14th century. Its act, costumes, dialogues, themes and music is predominantly driven by Jatra theatre. The theme mainly evolves around a drama rather than a dance form. We need to preserve this dying culture from extinction. There are now a few families in West Bengal who are still trying to uplift the tradition from generations. But they need adequate support and funding to continue with the ancient and unique art form.
The puppets are made out of wood and painted with traditional colours. They are then adorned with bright shimmering costumes accompanied with heavy jewellery and ornaments. Since the puppets mimic many warriors hence their hands are designed to carry a sword or a mace or a bow. The shoulders, elbows and the waist are carved in such a way so that they can move during the act. The rod puppets do not have legs. Their heads are placed on a rod which passes centrally through the body. At the end the rod is tied to the waist.
The puppeteers attach the puppets to his waist during the show. They dance with the music and controls the puppet’s movements with a cord concealed within the dress. They wear bells at their ankles to create a tinkling rhythmic sound while they move around the stage. They either sing themselves or sometimes there is a separate musician band who supports them in the show.
Beni Putul Nach or The Glove Puppetry
Beni Putul Nach is mainly performed by the artists from East Midnapore district of West Bengal. It is a solo act where a single person holds the puppet and enacts the entire tale or story. The puppeteer possesses an extraordinary skill in narrating his own script as well as that of the puppet. They often change their tone to create a difference between his own voice and that of the puppet. He also sings and acts during the show.
Nowadays we mainly come across glove puppetry shows in either a fair or a festival. The tales are essentially filled with humour and comic acts. It is interesting to watch the puppeteer manoeuvring the puppet only with his hands.
Beni Putul is made out of terracotta and wood. The arms and the hands are carved intricately with wood while the head is made and painted with terracotta. Bells are tied at the wrists of the puppets to create a jingling beat while they move their hands. The artists control the puppet’s movement with their fingers concealed within the costumes of the puppet. The forefinger is used to move the head whereas the thumb and the middle finger are used to move the hands. Instead of terracotta, often lighter materials like paper or thermocole are used to carve the head of the puppet.
Taar Putul Nach or the String Puppetry
Taar Putul Nach has been essentially derived from the ancient folk are of Rajasthan “Kathputli”. Years ago, the puppeteers from Rajasthan is said to have visited West Bengal to perform string puppetry shows. Since then the local artists were influenced by the art form and adopted the same to continue it as a form of entertainment in the state.
The string puppets are lighter than the other puppet forms. They are made out of sponge wood and consists of 6 strings which help in controlling the movement of the puppets. The puppets do not have legs similar to the other forms of puppet. The act is accompanied by live music, few dialogues and songs.
Putul Nach is an inherent part of the culture of West Bengal. It illustrates the skill and richness of the folk art form. It is our responsibility to revive the ancient heritage and promote the innovative skills of the artists.