/

Indian puppetry pulls strings

by Chiho Iuchi

This month, for the first time ever, audiences in Japan will be able to enjoy puppet plays performed in the ancient Yakshagana tradition of the South Indian state of Karnataka.

Decked out in splendid costumes, and sporting vivid masklike face-paintings, the inanimate actors of the Sri Ganesha Yakshagana Gombeyata Mandali troupe will come to vibrant life in Kawasaki City on Nov. 17 and 25, and then in Tokyo on Nov. 23.

Portraying gods and goddesses, devils and demons from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, these South Indian puppeteers adhere strictly with their 50-cm-high wooden puppets to the standards of Yakshagana as it is also performed by humans — including dynamic dances, rhythmic steps and musical narrations accompanied by traditional instruments with a strong emphasis on percussion.

After a golden age in the middle of the 19th century, the number of performers of Yakshagana puppetry declined sharply. Faced with this, the grandfather of Bhaskar Kamath, current leader of the troupe, dedicated himself to the revival of the artform and was in time rewarded with a national award in India. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Kamath has participated in international puppet festivals and organized tours in countries including France and Belgium.

This Japan tour features “Narakasra Vadhe (Vadhe to be Killed)” from the Mahabharata and “Lank Dahana (Lank in Flames)” from the Ramayana.

The performances are on Nov. 17 at Kawasaki International Center, a 10-minute walk from Motosumiyoshi Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line; Nov. 23 at Asahi Art Square, a 4-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Ginza and Toei-Asakusa lines; and Nov. 25 at Kawasaki Art Center, a 3-minute walk from Shin-Yurigaoka Station on the Odakyu Line. Tickets are between ¥3,000-¥4,000 in advance.

A lecture and demonstration on how to use the puppets and an introduction to traditional Indian music will be held at Nakano-Sakaue Sunbright Twin on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m., priced ¥2,000.

For information, call (044) 777-2228, or visit www.puppet.or.jp.