Biennale workshop introduces kids to the charm of making shadow puppets

New-age children in this multi-ethnic city got a rare chance to work on traditional Kerala puppets that are integral to a light-and-shade art tracing its origin to ancient times when Tamil used to be the language across most parts of southern India.

A three-day workshop on the making of the figures for the shadow performance called ‘Pavakooth’ concluded on Friday under the guidance of noted puppeteer K KRamachandraPulavar. The January 30-February 1 event was organised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation as part of its ‘Art By Children’ programme that aims to groomartistic talent,primarily among school students.

At the art room in Fort Kochi’s Cabral Yard venue of the 108-day biennale, Pulavar explained to the trainees the antiquity of the form and its significance in the modern era. “You can be an engineer or a doctor. But do not ignore our arts, which are a prerequisite for tranquility in life,” the 58-year-old told batches of schoolchildren, who enjoyed their drills in making the puppets for Pavakooth that conventionally banks on Hindu mythology for presentation in temples.

The puppetry, which classically portrays episodes from the 13th-century Tamil text of Kamba Ramayana in Koothumadam theatre space allied to shrines in central Kerala, has its characters made of leather. At the art room, however, Pulavar gave his training sessions by giving children thick black papers to make puppets — of any object and even outside of the Puranas.

Young puppeteer Rajeev Pulavar and Rahul Pulavar, sons of Ramachandra, who accompanied the master at the workshop spoke of the need for this art-form to connect more with the youth. Together, the trio gave a puppetry show at the art room on Friday evening.

Earlier, at the outset, Pulavargave an introduction to Pavakooth and a demonstration of the puppets used in the art-form. As the sessions proceeded amid children busily working on the specimens they conceived, the middle-aged masterlooked happy.

“They are extremely smart. They have not only come up with a story, but music and literature apart from mastering the skills on how to make the puppets,” said Pulavar, who lives in Koonathara village near Shoranur in Palakkad district.

The trainees, too, were glad. “We are making puppets based on an album song called ‘KiyaKiyaKuruvi,” said KritikaMS of ChinmayaVidyalaya in nearby Thoppumpady. Added Geoffrin Antony from the same institution: “I was a bit worried in the beginning. But once we learnt certain tricks, it seemed interesting.”

Hasna A N from Our Lady’s Convent GHSS said her team chose to tell the story of the famed ‘Monkey and the Crocodile’ story. “We were not aware of this art-form before we came here. Once we get to know about its basics, we scripted the dialogues and made the puppets with perforations on it.”

On his part, Pulavar noted that shadow puppetry helps children learn about good and evil, thus moral values. The national award-winning master, who is the family’s eight-generation puppeteer, revealed that he has been into non-Ramayana subjects in the art for the past one-and-a-half decades. In 2004, his troupe conceived and staged an hour-long production on Mahatma Gandhi. This was followed by another on Jesus Christ (2009), Mahabali (2009), the Mahabharata (2012), Swami Ayyappa (2015) and the Buddha (2017), besides those on AIDS awareness and against alcoholism.

At his opening session, Pulavar gave a 30-minute demonstration of his innovative ‘Gandhi Kooth’. After showing a sample of that work at the Biennale Pavilion, he introduced the children at art room various puppets that are used in the Eastern and Western countries of the world.

The Pulavars have a major stake in the traditional annual performances in around 85 temples across the districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram for five months of the ‘season’ ending May. The artist, who has authored the 2015 Malayalam book ‘Tholpavakooth’, has extensively performed in India and other countries such as Russia, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Greece and Singapore

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