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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Carnatic Music: The Unaltered Cultural Heritage

In the days of pop and EDM music give your ears a change with the pleasing sound of Carnatic music.

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Carnatic Music

The classical music of India is popular for the aesthetic pleasure it offers the listeners. However, in ancient times, music wasn’t limited to just a medium of pleasure but also associated with spirituality. Thus, we should not complain about the scrupulously formed structure of classical music.

One of the subgenres of classical Indian music is Carnatic Music. Its origins are credited to the southern part of the nation. Like other classical music genres of ancient India, the Sama Veda is believed to be the instructing medium for the formulation of Carnatic Music, including the contributions of the hymns of Rig Veda. This genre of music unlike the Hindustani music, remains true to its roots even today and enjoys the same structural aestheticism as it enjoyed in allusions of the early ancient texts. The music remains unsusceptible to the ravages of time.

The History

It was in the 16th century when Carnatic music flourished and diffused vastly its fragrance in the historic city of Ancient India, Vijayanagara. A poet and composer of the same era, Purana Das, contrived a lesson plan for teaching Carnatic music, which survives even in modern times. Purana Das is also referred to be the father of Carnatic music. Talking about the ancient laureates of Carnatic music, we should not risk missing the “Trinity of Carnatic music” who were the finest musicians and composers of the genre, namely Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.

The Four Elements of Carnatic Music

This form of music meticulously focuses on the four founding elements, Sruti (pitch), Swara (note), Raag (melody) and Taal (metre). The singing or the kayak is the prime part of this genre of classic music, which is backed up by the instruments like violin, tambura, mridangam. Sometimes, it also includes veena, flute and other instruments supporting the composition.

We have inherited this beauty of culture as a blessing from our musician ancestors, who laid it and passed on to the progeny. They preserved and carried it to the modern day and it is now for us to let their endeavours survive eternity.

Here are two astounding performances of Carnatic music for you to enjoy.

Credits – YouTube Bharatiya Samagana Sabha
Credits – YouTube Darbarfestival
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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Glove Puppetry: The Simple Art of Puppetry In India

Glove puppetry is an art form that holds significant cultural value to Indian culture. Let’s dive deeper into this art form.

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glove puppetry, puppeteer, puppets, show, art

The art of puppetry is very old and rich. But what’s more fascinating is the regional connotations attached to it. Glove puppetry is probably one of the oldest and simplest forms of puppetry that has existed. Given its simplicity, its prevalence in various states of India is highly out of the ordinary. However, the way each region has its own version of glove puppetry and glove puppets is what makes this form of art all the more interesting. Do you remember waking up at 6-7 in the morning to catch the latest episode of Gali Gali Sim Sim or Sesame Street as a kid? That is a perfect example of the use of glove puppets, as it uses a mix of glove puppetry and rod puppetry in popular media.  Let’s dive deeper into the world of glove puppets and glove puppetry in India.

Sakhi Kundhei Nach: Odisha

The glove puppet form popular in Odisha is called Sakhi Kundhei Nach. Although it is spread out across the art majority of the puppeteers are concentrated in Cuttack. The puppeteers hold the belief that they used to belong to the warrior caste (rajputs) and used to live in Vrindavan (the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna) before they migrated to Odisha almost two centuries ago. The puppetry acts that they execute using the glove puppets highlight this past as most of the act centres around the many adventures of Lord Krishna.

The characters that the glove puppets represent include Krishna, Radha, and the cow herder girls or gopis. Further, the puppet representing Radha is also called Chandra Badani (Face-like-the-moon) with little circlets of bells under her skirt and around her wrist that ring as she moves. All the puppets are lavishly dressed and the puppeteer operates them manually with one hand and plays an instrument such as dhol with the other hand. As the puppets enact the adventures of Krishna, the puppeteer sings Odia songs that are derived from medieval poetry to complement the episode that is being enacted. Today, there are troupes and traditional families who have mastered this form of glove puppetry and are recognised for their talent locally and nationally.

Credits: YouTube (OdishaLIVE)

Benir Putul: West Bengal

The glove puppet form popular in West Bengal is called Benir Putul. The name “Benir Putul” also refers to the “braiding of the hair” in the Bengali language which symbolises the twist and turn of the puppet that is similar to the movement of braiding hair. The puppeteers who practice this form of glove puppetry belong to the lower caste and are often palanquin porters, hand-rickshaw pullers, cycle-rickshaw drivers or landless villagers.

Measuring up to 25 centimetres with baked clay heads and wooden arms the puppets are dressed in long cotton skirts. The glove puppeteers expertly make use of their hand dexterity to convey the conversation between the two puppets. The theme of most of the puppet shows is based on the jatra (popular Bengali legends) and the main characters in the puppet shows are majorly Krishna and Radha (used mostly in Bhakti songs) or Madan and Puti, a husband and wife pair who are constantly fighting with each other. Today, there are troupes and traditional families who have mastered this form of glove puppetry and are recognised for their talent locally and nationally.

Credits: Sahapedia

Gulabo Sitabo: Uttar Pradesh

The glove puppetry form popular in Uttar Pradesh, this form of glove puppetry derives its name from the two main characters of the play; i.e., Sitabo, the over-worked spouse and Gulabo, the bright mistress of the same man. Most of the puppet show is semi-improvised, wherein the puppeteer makes use of acapella narration to accompany the act with salacious jokes, local humour and songs that befit the situation the characters or puppets are facing. During festivals, few puppeteers travel from place to place performing this form of glove puppetry in Lucknow but this form of art has been on the decline.    

Credits: Navbharat Times

Pavakathakali: Kerala

The glove puppetry form popular in Kerala, Pavakathakali is a glove puppet form that came into existence after the birth of the dance form Kathakali. Majorly popularised by the Andipandaram community, which lives in Paruthippuly village in the Palghat region of Kerala, this form of puppetry involves the puppets being dressed in lavish kathakali costumes. The size of the puppet is around 40-60 centimetres in height and they are manipulated by the puppeteer by his/her/their fingers. The index finger manipulated the head and the thumb and middle finger manipulated the arms, this form of puppetry requires the puppeteer to be highly dextrous. The puppets are adorned with various accessories like small metallic golden ornaments, cowrie shells, etc. 

The minimum number of people required to put up this form of glove puppet show is around six as it involves musical instruments used in kathakali such as chenda (drum), chengila (gong), illetalam (cymbals) and shankh (mother of pearl conch shell), and one or two singers to bring the show to live. In the past, no special stage or podium was constructed for the puppet show and the puppeteers would enact it in the courtyard of the house and get paid for their performance. The major themes it covered are from the extracts of Mahabharata. Since the 1940s the art form was in decline but was revived by the director of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in 1981 and today has received global recognition.

Credits: muse man you

Chinni Patti: Karnataka

The form of glove puppetry popular in Karnataka is known as Chinni Patti. This art form derives its name from the dolls that are used for the puppet show which are called Chinni Patti or “little doll” made out of wood and rice straw. Mostly practised by beggars who put these small puppet shows on the streets accompanied by small cymbals, this art form can be traced back to the aborigines of the Karnataka social system which used similar dolls for tribal rituals. The major theme of this art form includes the daily adventures of tradesmen who have been fooled, of worthies taken for a ride, and of cuckolded husbands.

Credits: World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts

Pava Koothu: Tamil Nadu

Popular in Tamil Nadu, Pava Koothu is majorly performed during festivals, and the major theme of the puppet show is demonstrating the victory dance of goddess Lakshmi after her victory over the demons. The puppets are small in size and made out of rice straw and paper, and they require simple manipulation and musical instruments to go with them. This art form was in decline until recently when it was brought to life by Tamil intellectuals.  

Credits: World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts

Conclusion

Glove puppetry is an art form that holds significant cultural value in Indian culture. And hence, efforts must be made to preserve the same.  From ancient times to today’s contemporary, puppet shows and the art of puppetry highlight the evolution of storytelling that is deeply ingrained in our culture. The few ways in which we can ensure the preservation of this art form include educating ourselves and others about the same and its significance.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Rod Puppetry: A Dying Art

Let’s dive deep into the world of rod puppetry to find out what makes it so unique and why is it slowly dying out.

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Rod Puppetry, rod puppets, puppetry, puppeteer, Indian art form, dying art

Different kinds of puppetry have taken over different parts of India. In fact, many of these kinds of puppetry such as glove and shadow puppetry are still very much famous among the masses as puppeteers find it easy to recreate. But one such puppetry exists which despite having a rich history and being pretty distinct, is showing a decline. And that is rod puppetry. Practised mainly in West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar this form of puppetry is slowly getting erased from the mind of the people. Let’s dive deep into rod puppetry and rod puppets to discover what makes it so unique and why it is slowly dying out.

How Does Rod Puppetry Work?

Rod puppetry is considered an extension of glove puppetry but the key difference is the usage of rods over gloves. Normally three rods are used to manipulate these rod puppets. The main rod which balances the head is attached at the neck and the two other rods that manipulate the hands are attached to the main rod at the shoulder joints. The legs or the lower body of the puppets are hidden with the clothes of the puppet. Depending on the region in India they are based on they can be huge in size or small. The three states of India in which this form of puppetry is famous include; West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar.

West Bengal

Known as Putul Nach which literally translates to “Dancing Dolls”, rod puppetry takes the form of a huge human-like structure going as tall as 3-4 feet in certain regions. These huge rod puppets are dressed like the actors in Jatra. What’s interesting about the rod puppetry form in West Bengal is how the puppeteers manipulate them. Unlike traditional puppets where the puppeteers stay in one place and manipulate the puppets, here the puppeteers are hidden behind a head-high curtain and dance or move along the huge rod puppets to impart the same moves to the puppet. The entire process that the puppeteers follow is pretty theatrical. Normally it’s the puppeteers who voice out the dialogue and sing for the puppet but sometimes they are accompanied by a group of musicians who sit on the side of the stage.

Odisha

The rod puppetry form in Odisha is a bit different from its Bengali counterpart just like its Rasgullas. The rod puppets in Odisha are not as big as the ones found in West Bengal they range from 12-18 inches. The shoulders of these rod puppets are connected to the main body with the help of strings, not rods. Thus, this form of rod puppetry uses a mix of strings and rods, giving a different dimension to their rod puppets. The puppeteers in this case squat on the ground and behind a scene to manipulate the rod puppets. Most of the dialogues are sung to tunes of classical Odissi music. Rod puppetry is also known as Kathi Kandhe in Odisha.

Bihar

Known as Yampuri, the rod puppetry form in Bihar has its own uniqueness. For starters unlike its Odia and Bengali counterparts, these rod puppets are made out of wood and don’t have joints. Hence, it requires the puppeteer to be very flexible in their approach and be highly dexterous when handling these rod puppets.

How Can We Conserve Rod Puppetry?

Living in the era of the 5G internet it’s not surprising that why these traditional art forms such as puppetry are dying out. Rod puppetry being a tough speciality in the world puppetry makes it even more susceptible to cultural extinction. Plus the added burden of creating these huge rod puppets and having barely any audience to cheer them on due to the rise of electronic media also contributes to its low popularity. One way to conserve this beautiful art form is by incorporating it in electronic media such as broadcasting it on YouTube to help increase its reach and ensure that it continues to entertain and teach the future generation.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Travellers’ Tales: Rediscovering Medieval Indian History Through Persian Literary Lenses

The foreign travelers who documented Indian history also delved into the analysis of Indian cultures and traditions in their works, providing valuable insights into the intricacies of this ancient land.

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Al Beruni, India, Abdur Razzak, Persia, history

India has long been a center of exploration for various foreign travellers, leading to the creation of a vast body of travel literature that we are familiar with today. These literary works, often considered factual accounts of Indian history and culture, have been written in numerous European and Asian languages, reflecting diverse perspectives on India’s rich heritage. The foreign travellers who documented Indian history also delved into the analysis of Indian cultures and traditions in their works, providing valuable insights into the intricacies of this ancient land.

Persian travellers made significant contributions to the understanding of Medieval Indian history and offered unique socio-cultural perspectives during their extended stays in the country. The medieval period in India witnessed remarkable developments in cultures, languages, religion and art. A large number of Persian records of the medieval period also contain varieties of information on economic development, agricultural production, trade and commerce, etc. Two renowned Persian travellers played a pivotal role in contributing to the understanding of the flourishing of Indian history during this era.

Al Beruni (1024-1030 A.D.)

Al Beruni was born in 973 AD in the Khwarezm region, which is located in Kath, the capital of the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarezm in Central Asia (present-day Uzbekistan). He dedicated twenty-five years to studying and excelling in astronomy, mathematics, chronology, physics, medicine, mineralogy and history. Additionally, he was proficient in several languages including Turkish, Persian, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic. In AD 1017 Mahmud of Ghazni traveled to India with a group of scholars. This group included Al Beruni when he was forty-four years old. During his thirteen-year stay in India, during this time, Al Beruni devoted himself to observing, questioning and conducting detailed studies about Indian culture and science.

During his time in India, he produced the monumental commentary on Indian philosophy and culture known as Kitab fi tahqiq ma li’l-hind. He read the major Indian religious and astronomical texts, highlighting parts of the Gita, the Upanishads, Patanjali, Puranas and the Vedas, as well as scientific texts by Nagarjuna and Aryabhata. Additionally, he documented some of Mahmud of Ghazni’s most egregious plundering incidents at Mathura and Somnath. While he couldn’t explicitly denounce these actions in his text, a definite sense of lament is evident. He wrote that Mahmud “utterly ruined the prosperity of the country…”. 

Beruni’s Kitab al –Hind

Beruni’s Kitab al-Hind is a respectable and valuable source of Indian culture even today. Although the data provided is generally accurate, the compilation data of his work from around 1030 A.D. is still subject to doubt. This is because Beruni rarely makes mention of where his visits took place or when they did and secondly his book, Kitab al-Hind is lacking in positive evidence. Moreover, due to the insurmountable texts written on this figure and his life, difficulty arises in distinguishing the historical events from the legendary ones.

In his book, Al-Beruni mentioned several obstacles that he incurred while understanding India. The language was the one of the most important of these. He found Sanskrit highly different from Arabic and Persian so much so that the ideas and cultural aspects of each could not be inter-translated. He also found religious beliefs and practices to be different from what he was familiar with. The third challenge he faced was the local community’s self-centeredness, which resulted in isolation. Knowing these challenges, Al Beruni derived his knowledge from the Brahmanical works such as Vedas, Puranas, Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali, Manusmriti, etc. to understand Indian society as a whole.

Al Beruni’s Views on Hindu Lifestyle 

Beruni’s book is an in-depth exploration of Hindu religion, science, literature, philosophy, social organization, geography, astronomy, life, customs, festivals, etc. He touched on almost all the aspects of Hinduism. Based on his studies and observations in India between 1017 and 1030, his book provides a comprehensive survey of Indian life. It can also be said that his work was perhaps the first major exposition of Hindu thought and life by an Islamic scholar. 

It also sheds ample light on the Hindu society which was otherwise facing an existential challenge from Muslim invaders. Al Beruni was also aware of the deep differences between Hindu and Islamic lifestyles. These differences were all over the languages, manners and customs. In his work, he also defended the natural aversion Hindus had against Muslims due to the atrocious activities of Mahmud.

However, Beruni also wrote about how Hindus were narcissistic in many ways. They believed that “there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.” He also stated that Hindus were so arrogant that they simply considered foreign scientists and scholars liars if they were to excel better than Hindus in any way. Although he critiqued the arrogance of Hindus, he also mentioned that this could be improved if Hindus started intermingling with people from foreign lands. He believed that this would change their perspective.

Issues In Indian Society

During his time in India, Al Biruni extensively studied the caste system or varnas. He concluded that the Brahmana were the highest caste, followed by the Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Al-Biruni sought to explain the caste system by identifying parallels in other societies. However, he also observed that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety. Despite accepting the Brahmanical description of the caste system, Al-Biruni disapproved of the concept of pollution. Moreover, only the Brahmans had the right to attain salvation. Al Biruni found the Brahmanical system highly misleading. He believed that Indians possessed rich knowledge but succumbed to superstitions within this system, thus diluting their wisdom. 

He also criticized various harmful practices in Hindu society. These were child marriage, prohibition of widow marriage, ‘Sati’ and ‘Jauhar’. Additionally, although he did not mention the dowry system specifically, he wrote about Stree Dhan. Stree Dhan was similar to dowry which was presented by the relatives of the girls to her in-laws. Furthermore, Al Biruni observed how the entire country was divided into small states that frequently quarrelled among themselves with jealousy and constant fighting. Prominent states like Malwa, Sindh, Kannauj and Kashmir engaged in regular conflicts. Overall, there was a notable absence of nationalism among Indians at that time

Abdur Razzak (1443-1444 A.D.)

Abdur Razzak, born on November 7, 1412 in Herat (Afghanistan) to Jalaj-ud-Din Ishaq was another important Persian traveler in medieval India. His father, Jalal-ud-din Ishaq was the qazi and imam of Shah Rukh’s court who was the ruler of Persia. After his father’s death, Abdur was appointed as the new qazi of the court. During his tenure as the Qazi, he prospered as a legal courtier, trustee and ambassador. His ambassadorial missions brought him to various places across Asia, including his most important mission in India.

Abdur Razzak’s Observations of India

Upon arriving in the Indian subcontinent, Razzak’s first stop was the court of the Zamorin of Calicut in southwest India. His initial encounters with the natives of Calicut left him unimpressed, as he found them to be scantily clad and practising polyandry, which differed from his own customs. Later on, he received an invitation from the Vijayanagar King to visit his kingdom. To reach Vijayanagara, Razzak passed through Mangalore and Belur before finally reaching his destination.

During his time in the court of King Deva Raya II, Abdur Razzak’s accounts provide a grand and opulent depiction of India. He describes the vast reach of Deva Raya II’s dominion, stretching from the shores of Ceylon to Gulbarga and from Orissa to Malabar. Additionally, he mentions the monarch’s majestic attire and lavish aesthetics. Razzak himself was also graciously accommodated with lavishly provided amenities by the king’s court, highlighting the grandeur of India. Furthermore, he notes that Vijayanagara was a prosperous land with significant military strength. This was evident through bustling markets, fortified walls and a formidable force comprising thousands of warriors.

Hampi Through The Lenses of Abdur Razzak 

Razzak was truly impressed by the Royal Center of Hampi. He especially found the network of rivulets and streams flowing through channels of cut stone remarkable. He considered it a true testament to the engineering skills and architectural genius of that time. Despite all this grandeur, Razzak’s journey was also quite risky and challenging. After a whole year of adventure, going from Mangalore to Kalahat in India and facing a tough seventy-five-day journey by sea, Razzak had to leave India. However, his trip was full of amazing experiences and difficulties he had to overcome. It was a fitting conclusion to an adventurous year.

Issues Faced By Abdur Razzak During His Travel

Razzak’s journey was filled with wonderful sights, but it also had its share of perilous moments. After a year-long travel from Mangalore to Kalahat in India, he embarked on a challenging 75-day sea voyage across the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, personal tragedy and political upheaval cut short his exploration aspirations. His brother passed away at sea due to an illness, and he narrowly avoided getting entangled in political turmoil sparked by local unrest. These events led him to make a solemn vow never to embark on another trip again. This highlighted the risks associated with venturing into new territories.

Cultural Outlook of Medieval Indian Society

The presence of Turkish rulers and Sufi saints in India brought about significant cultural and socio-economic changes. New establishments like madrasas, karkhanas, dar al shifas and thānās played a crucial role in shaping medieval Indian society. This information is extensively recorded in Persian sources from the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire.

Along with political accounts, there are non-political literary works such as poetry, mystic records, geographical accounts and autobiographies that provide insight into this period. The Persian archives contain a wide range of documents including royal orders (farmans), imperial decrees (parwanas), deeds related to personal property, hortation, wakf properties/live stocks/produce, gift etc., commands nishans that are well-maintained across various archives in the country.

Economic Condition of Medieval Bengal

A wealth of historical texts written in Persian is a lasting legacy of Muslim rule in India. Over three centuries, Muslim power extended across Bengal. The port towns of Satgāon, Sunārgāon and Chittagong were pivotal in connecting Bengal to distant parts of the world through sea trade. During this time, these ports were bustling centers for maritime trade with several parts of the world. These included China, Sumatra, Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and East Africa. They traded primarily in pearls, silk, muslin, rice, bullion and horses. 

Bengal was self-sufficient in agricultural produce and also rich in non-agricultural products manufactured to meet local needs. Some surplus items were exported. Contemporary literature, both Persian and Bengali, as well as accounts of foreign travellers, shed light on the quality and demand for non-agricultural products within India and abroad. Bengal had a long tradition of textile manufacturing, with Persian chroniclers and foreign travellers praising the quality and quantity of cloth produced there. During the Sultanate period, Bengal was one of the three major textile-producing regions along with Coromandel and Gujarat.

Other prominent occupations in the region were centered around metal works, including blacksmiths and goldsmiths. These occupations had a long-standing tradition and high regard. Abul Fazl noted that iron-miners were located in the sarkār of Bazuhā. The goldsmiths of Bengal were renowned for crafting various utensils, jewelry and ornaments from gold and silver. These were highly sought after in both local and foreign markets. Pre-Mughal times saw Bengali ships playing a crucial role as a mode of communication and transportation. They carried out trade activities with distant lands as well as within Bengal itself.

This prosperous province maintained strong economic and cultural ties with other parts of the world through its flourishing maritime trade. Agriculture was not only essential for livelihood but also supported industries rooted in agricultural practices during this period.

Summing Up

Exploring Medieval Indian history through the Persian lenses offers a multifaceted perspective on the rich Indian history and culture. Their accounts provide insights into various aspects of Indian society. These include religion, philosophy, socio-political structures and architecture and enrich our history. Despite facing linguistic and cultural challenges, these travellers meticulously documented their observations. These allow us to gain a deeper understanding of India as a whole. Their writings enhance our appreciation for India’s diverse heritage. Additionally, they highlight the lasting impact of cross-cultural encounters in shaping historical narratives.

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Puppetry Art : Strings of Expression

Puppetry art is a canvas of culture for Indian artists. Dive deep into the origin and intricacies of the art.

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puppetry, puppet, artist, art, Indian, Indian culture

From narrating folktales and dancing on Nimbuda Nimbuda to grooving to Shakira’s Waka Waka, puppets in India have done it all. Puppetry, a unique art form, is an inherent part of Indian culture. Its presence dates back thousands of years. As an art form, puppetry holds a certain level of philosophical essence as well. Legend has it that God has been depicted as a puppeteer in the Bhagavad Gita. He is shown controlling the entire universe with three strings namely Satta, Raja and Tama. Today, as we celebrate World Puppetry Day, it’s time for us to dive back into the history and significance of Indian puppetry.

Origin of Puppetry

Puppets are dolls or figures that are controlled by a person and they appear to move on their own. Puppetry is believed to have developed more than 3,000 years ago. Egypt is considered to be the cradle of the earliest puppets. Archaeologists have discovered puppets made of ivory and clay in tombs. Ancient Greek scholars like Aristotle and Plato also mentioned them as early as 422 BC. 

In the excavation sites of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, puppets with sockets have been unearthed which indicates that puppetry was a popular art form at that time. One can also find mentions of puppetry in the great Indian epic The Mahabharata and the Tamil classic Silappadikaram written in the first and second centuries BC. ‘Sutradhar’ which means ‘string bearer’ is referred to as the storyteller in Indian theatre. 

Types of Puppets used in India

Glove Puppets

Also known as hand puppets, sleeve puppets and palm puppets, they are popular in Indian states like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. Sakhi Kundhei Neta is the glove puppetry popular in Odisha. Stories of Radha Krishna formed the basis of the stories. It is mostly popular in the districts of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Beni Putul, popular in East Midnapur, Murshidabad and 24 Parganas districts refers to the dolls used for commercial purposes. It was used as a tool against the oppression of the British. Pavakoothu, another type of glove puppet that is popular in Kerala depicts the themes based on The Mahabharata and The Ramayana.   

Shadow Puppets

They are generally popular in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha and Tamil Nadu and have six types. They are flat and transparent leather or paper cut-outs that are fastened to a supporting stick and moved by at least two other thin sticks or rods. Ravan Chhaya from Odisha and Tholpavai Koothu from Kerala are the two most prominent shadow puppet theatre traditions in India. 

String Puppets

Also called marionettes, string puppets have spread throughout the continent of Asia. This is generally popular in the states of Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. These puppets are made out of wood and the long flowing decorative skirts hide the legs. Strings attached to a triangular wooden control manipulate the puppets. In Odisha, the ends of the strings are tied to a triangular wooden frame to a horizontal bar while in Rajasthan, puppets are simply looped around the puppeteer’s fingers. String puppets are believed to dominate the Indian classical theatre and they find their first mentions in the Mahabharata of the 4th century BC.

Rod Puppets

They are an extension of the glove puppets but are larger than them and are supported and manipulated by rods or sticks of different sizes. They are generally famous in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha and they are generally made of three joints. This technique is also used for the round or doll-type puppets. The trunk is formed by a stick, the lower extension of which is the handle for its manipulation. Daanger Putul Nach is the traditional rod puppet performance of Bengal. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas and the Jatras form the themes of this performance.

Here are some flawless puppetry performances that are a visual treat to your life :

Bengal’s Glove Puppetry Performance

Reciting the story of a wedding without dowry, the artist in his performance uses gloves to move the puppets. He simultaneously sings a song to which the puppets dance creating a theatre-like experience.

Credits: YouTube (Daricha Foundation)

A Rajasthani String Puppet Performance

This puppetry performance by a Rajasthani artist shows string puppets grooving to the desi Bollywood music of today’s time. The art has now evolved beyond folk songs and ballads. It has reached the horizons of trending songs and pop tadka.

Credits: YouTube (Strong and Beyond)

Kerala’s Shadow Puppetry Performance

Narrating the traditional folktales and legends of Kerala, this style of puppetry dwells deep in the culture of the state. This performance also presents a story by way of shadow puppets which is indeed a wholesome and enchanting experience.

Credits: YouTube (Kerala Tourism)

Rod Puppet Performance by Bengali artists

Beginning with a mandatory concert to invite people from afar, these performances include announcements being made in the traditional ‘jatra’ style. This show by Bengali artists depicts an episode from the Indian epic Ramayana being enacted by rod puppets.

Credits: YouTube (Daricha Foundation)

The prominence of puppetry art is diminishing gradually due to a lack of patronage in the modern era and the confinement of the art to mythological stories. Puppetry art remains one of the most pleasant and worthy experiences of one’s life. The artists are immensely skilled and carry a knack in their field. The World Puppetry Day is a beautiful reminder to delve back into the art, the artists and the magical aura it carries. 

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Exploring The Golden Age of Tamil Literature: The Sangam Period

Sangam Literature is the oldest form extant Indian Literature. It shapes the rich Indian cultures and society present today.

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Sangam Literature, Tamil literature, Indian literature, three sangams, indigenous, endemic, literature, Indian History

The vast Indian literature marks Indian history. When we think about literature, what inherently comes to our attention is English and its various literary eras. In this bias, what we’ve left behind is the richness of Indian literature and its historical descent. This literature is the leading force of the evolved Indian society today. 

Tamil, one of the oldest languages to exist today, has vast literature dating back to the 3rd century BC. The Sangam period spanned 600 years from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Historians and scholars regard it as the golden period of Tamil literature. 

Sangam Literature

Literally, “Sangam” means confluence. In Tamil literature, the term “Sangam” refers to a school of arts and letters. It was founded and patronized by Pandya, Chola and Chera, the three crowned monarchs of the Tamil land. The Pandyan monarchs, who had a deep appreciation for literature and the arts, specifically fostered this. Both history and Tamil traditions recognize The Pandyan capitals as the academy’s permanent home.

The Sangam academy was pivotal in defining the Tamil people’s literary environment throughout the Sangam period. The academy had a unique role as an educated community of literary critics. The critics mandated that any new literary work, regardless of the author’s social rank—prince or peasant— be subject to clearance before publication. The academy enforced stringent rules and guidelines, requiring every book to obtain approval before publication and ensuring that only highly regarded works received acknowledgment as authoritative. Due to this meticulous procedure, the academy was able to reject subpar works and instead provide the public with literary masterpieces of the greatest kind. 

These writings which were considered the first examples of Dravidian literature, not only reflected the rich cultural diversity of the era but also laid the groundwork for the long history of Tamil literature. According to Tamil legends, the Sangam initially acquired members through co-option. However, thereafter, Lord Siva accomplished membership through a miraculous scheme.

The Three Sangams

Tamil tradition states that three Sangams, known as Muchchangam, joined together in ancient South India to mark the beginning of the Sangam period. According to the ancient stories presented in Iraiyanar Ahapporul, there were three Sangams that existed for an amazing 9990 years at different times, with participation from 8598 academics. The sage Agastyar is considered the literary tradition’s founder.

The Pandya capital hosted all three Sangams, with Old Madurai functioning as the first Sangam’s centre. A gathering of ancient sages and gods is said to have taken place in Old Madurai during the First Sangam. However, no works of literature from this Sangam survived.

Kapatapuram hosted the second Sangam. The only surviving work from this era that deals with Tamil grammar is Tolkappiyam. Unfortunately, both the first and second Sangams were drowned by seawater during repeated deluges.

There is a more material legacy of the third Sangam, which is located in present-day Madurai. Several Tamil literary works from this era have survived and are important resources for piecing together the Sangam era’s history. The Sangam poetry, the oldest collection of Tamil poetry to exist, is said to have started during the third Sangam.

Given the circumstances, it is more probable to determine the date of the third Sangam. According to scholars, it happened somewhere in the first two centuries of the Christian era—possibly even the century before. This period corresponds to both the trade with the Indo-Roman world and the modern Imperial Rome. Greek writers at the time offered proof of offshore commercial activity between the Mediterranean area and the Tamil peninsula. This is also documented in Sangam literature. Consequently, the third Sangam era saw the prolific production of a great number of works that are still in existence. This exhibited a literary and cultural shine amid a time that witnessed significant political and commercial exchanges.

Tolkappiyam: The Second Sangam

Tolkappiyar’s Tolkappiyam is the first known literary classic and a seminal work in Tamil literature. Tolkappiyam is mostly a work on Tamil grammar, but it also provides insightful information on the social and political climate of the period. The Royal Academy’s careful study of this highly regarded work serves to highlight its relevance. Adangodu Brahman was sent by King Nilandaru Tiruvira Pandya to evaluate the work, according to the introduction of Tolkappiyam. However, Tolkappiyar showed his expertise by emphasizing the significance and relevance of the works contained in the Tamil Sangam.

Literature In Verses: The Third Sangam

As we go into the present day, academics refer to the poetry included in the Ettutogai (eight collections), Pattupattu (ten songs), and Patinenkilkanakku (the eighteen minor works) as Sangam Literature. According to historians, these pieces date back to a time between 150 and 250 A.D. The poem’s duration served as a critical foundation for its categorization into three major categories. The lengths of the poems in the “Eight Collections” vary from three to thirty-one lines, and the poems in the “Ten Songs” range from 103 to 782 lines. The ‘Eighteen Minor Works’ comprise didactic and ethical literature, such as the well-known Tirukkural, which is mostly arranged in stanzas with two to five lines each.

The ‘Five Epics’—Jivakachintamani, Silappadikaram, Manimekalai, Valayapathi, and Kundalakesi—have an established place in Sangam literature. Sathanar and Ilango Adigal’s Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, are notably referred to as the “twin epics”. This is because they narrate the continuous story of Kovalan, Kannagi, and Madhavi. With an emphasis on Madurai, Puhar, Vanji, and Kanchi, Silappadikaram, a poem written by Ilango Adigal, and other poetry works depict the social, religious, political, and economic circumstances of Tamilakam. These literary works capture the spirit of the Sangam age and present Tamil history and culture.

Sangam Literature Vs. Sanskrit Literature Vs. Tamil Literature

Academics find the Sangam period controversial due to its historical significance, primarily because the dating of the Sangam works’ writing remains unclear. Establishing a consensus on the age of these works is a challenge since they are essential to understanding the Sangam era. Various scholars have presented opposing viewpoints. 

While some suggest the influence of Sanskrit grammarians on Tolkappiyar, others contend that Tolkappiyam was influenced by Katantra, a Sanskrit grammar work written by Sharvavarman under the Satavahana dynasty. Due to the lack of conclusive proof, many scholars also suggest that the similarities between Katantra and Tolkappiyam may indicate mutual influences between Sangam and Sanskrit writers.

The term “Sangam” originates from the Tamil translation of the Sanskrit word “Sangha.” The term “Sangha” refers to any kind of organization or group that adheres to a shared interest, but the Tamil Sangam has a particular purpose. The religious connotation connected to Buddhism and Jaina Sanghas is completely different from Sanghata, a kind of poetical production by a single author on a certain selected theme. 

The aim of the Tamil. Sangattamil, a unique compositional style distinguishes Sangam Literature from Tamil Literature. This style has its derivation, interpretation, and distinctive syntax, meter, and grammar. As a result, it is regarded as a classic.

Contemporary Relevance of Sangam Literature

There are 2279 poems in the present Sangam collections, ranging in length from 3 lines to over 800 lines. Some poets have contributed to certain works, like the Naladiyar, while a single author has written other works. 473 poets—about half of them women—wrote more than 30,000 lines of Sangam poetry, along with 102 anonymous authors. As an example of the Sangam period’s historical impact and cultural significance, the Sangams are comparable to contemporary European establishments. This includes the French Academy as they both share a dedication to upholding language purity and literary standards.

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