Giving a different hue to the ancient artform of puppetry, K V Ramesh of Kasargod and his troupe members have adapted a ‘human theatre’ form Yakshagana to puppet show.
The dying art of string puppet play of Karnataka and Kasargod has turned interesting with the combination of the highly difficult form of folk art Yakshagana, which is similar in many ways to terukkoothu of Tamil Nadu, koodiyattam and chakyarkuttu of Kerala and veethinataka of Andhra Pradesh.
According to K V Ramesh, there were around 100 Yakshagana puppet troupes in 1910-1915 period in Kasargod and Dakshin Kannada district but the number diminished to only two now, including K V Ramesh’s troupe Shri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha.
“We usually present episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagawatham. Different characters are represented by the colourful costumes of these puppets,” he said.
K V Ramesh also said that the art has existed for more than two centuries and Parthi Subba of Kumble is known as the father of the artform.
“In Yakshagana, the story is narrated through systematic singing in chorus, accompanied by percussion instruments, and has dance too. Though sound is played in background, wooden puppets-inert and lifeless-are brought to a lifelike serious performance by well-trained men and women, pouring forth in dance, song and dialogue the whole range of human emotions and passions.
Not only this, K V Ramesh also prepares the wooden puppets, which are 18 inches tall, at home.
“I learned the artfrom from my father K Vekitakrishnaiah, our family presents puppet shows from generations,” K V Ramesh said.
Shri Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha was established in 1981. According to Ramesh, there were eight troupes in the region then.
But Uppinakudru in Kundapura is the only other puppet show troupe surviving in the region now.
The troupe has toured all over India and many foriegn places including Lahore, Paris, Dubai and Prague, Czech Republic over the years. They have also won the best traditional puppet performer award in Prague in 2010.
K V Ramesh now plans a puppet museum near his house at Pulikunnu. He owns more than 1,000 puppets. He also provides training in puppetery for school children during vacations.
The troupe also has 30 schools in Karnataka imparting training under a programme sponsored by the Infosys Foundation.