Q & A session with Ravan Chaya (Shadow Puppetry From Orissa) Perfrormers
Pluralism and Performance : The Many Voices in Ramayana.
Supported by Ford Foundation
Rustom Bharucha, was the interlocutor for this programme.
Sampadananda Mishra, an expert on Chandra Shastra acted as the translator for the artists.
Rustom commented on the refinement that went into the making and movements of the puppets. There was an unseen layer in the movement of like the flow of water. The way the presentation held together and editing of the scenes were beautiful. They were like miniatures in scale. The screen used had been the same in the history of Ravan Chaya. Previously the screen was big. There was no hard and fast rule. For transportation purposes the screen was made small. The puppets were also made to suit the size of the screen. The Sangeet Natak Academy people wanted the performance to be reduced to 15 – 20 minutes or half an hour maximum. So the time given intervened with the scale and they designed the puppets in the size according to the time available. Time constraint affected the nature of Ravan Chaya.
Ravan Chaya was traditionally shown at the time of Hanuman Puja. It was three hours long; spiritual vision was stated and manual performance was stopped accordingly. Hanuman Upasana linked it with that of physical problems. Personal problems were linked to it; it was believed that there would be a solution to personal problems if Hanuman puja was conducted. Hanuman Puja Sampradaya (method) gives importance to Bhakta (devotee). Instead of worshipping Rama, the God, worshipping his devotee was considered a better way to link with him. So, the team jointly felt better in worshipping him.
| From the beginning, the name was Ravan Chaya. There was a concept behind the name Ravan Chaya. Chaya(shadow) was considered inauspicious and so there could probably have been hesitation to link the word ‘chaya” to that of the God, Rama. Chaya was considered inauspicious because it was linked with the colour black. |
Sampadanda had a different take on the subject of the name. He gave three reasons as to why it was called Ravan Chaya.
It can be considered as the chaya (shadow) of Ravan. Rama being a God, did not have a chaya.
Ravan was given the title “Ravan Chaya” (used as a single Word) because it was a title given to anyone proficient in music and singing. Ravana was well versed in singing and he played Rudra Veena. So this title refers to Ravan’s title “Ravan Chaya”.
It could also mean the story of Ravana and Chaya. Chaya here refers to the Maya Sita who was created just before her abduction by Ravana. Real Sita was not given to him. Ravana was carrying only the chaya when he abducted her.
Chaya always signified darkness and not auspiciousness (Subha). Rama is described as Purushotham . When after the Rama Ravana battle and return to Ayodhya, Sita was asked to describe Ravana, she was able to describe only his chaya. Ravana lived in Lanka and was frequently visiting her. But, she never lifter her head or looked at him directly. No description could be given as she had only seen Ravana’s shadow in water when she looked down. Reflection of Ravana (shadow) is seen and that became Ravana.
Rama’s shadow on the contrary was non-existent. God cannot have a shadow. Rhythm used in puppetry is that of the boat moving in the river when boatman Guhan carried Rama across. It is a primal rhythm. Enactment comes out of every single form as a spectacle. Minimalism at its best. Stillness not pursued in acting alone. Perspective of minimalism , simple movement, singing complementing the movement of puppets.
Ancient puppet design is different. Anantasayanam of Lord Jagannath. Bhakti parampara of Krishna, Ganesh and Saraswathi.
Supreme Lord (Abstract concept)
Edit portions of narration/more dialogue/manipulation done differently.
Basis of the text is Vichitra Ramayana of Viswanath Kunthia of eighteenth century. Songs are sung in different ragas – depending on episodes or emotions. Mostly folk tunes.
State institutions relatively ignorant . Laws imposed on folk forms such as Yaksha Gana. Yaksha Gana Vachika is removed. Looses something. Energy shifts between dialogue and song. In general a compression takes place.
Each episode is sung in a particular raga (Palu Ghanda). Emotional content also brings a change in raga. Tribals were Ravana upasakas. Worshipped Ravana. Ravana can never be killed. Rama kills the chaya and not the real Ravana. There are three curses on Rama. 1. Brahma Hatya (killing of a Brahmin) 2. Bhakta Hatya (Sambuka, Ravana) 3. Chaya Hatya (Killing of a Singer – Ravana). Tribal tradition believed in Ravana and not Rama. Ravana puppet do not see manipulation. A single puppet. Ravana is complex/beautiful. His satwa is created in puppetry not like other puppets. Beautiful, Mahakavyam (Soul of Ravana is built into a puppet). Must look like a hero, as beautiful as possible.
Refinement in proportions of puppets. Revolves/Refined/Evolved as puppets. Hanuman puppet large, but no ornamentation even though Hanuman is given much importance in the narration. Stark contrast. Story goes that as a child Hanuman did not remember his divine power. So shown in a stark way. But, there are different Hanuman puppets used for different occasions, such as Samudra Langhanam, Asoka Vanika demolition, Lanka Dahanam etc. Mareech is shown as a two-headed deer Why? Mareecha is a Mayamriga. Mayamukha of the dear illusory, deer looks at who is following him. One head is just what it is.
Practice of Puppetry:
What is the puppet made of ? The skin of the big buck deer. They got the skin from people who were in the profession of hunting. The makers do not kill. They buy it off from hunters and smugglers. Deer skin lasts a long time and therefore it is used. There are knifes and special needles to make holes.
Who makes these puppets? Puppeteers themselves. Drawing figures from some original source design or available photograph. Any change in the format. Projection of their seeking Gods is dedicated. They leave everything to God. Not the act that they depended on. Reality of today, how they cope with it.
Mostly from academic institutions or private patrons. The have farming as an alternate profession. Farming communal activity. Kings and Chieftains also supported them.
Puppets of trees inricate pattern. Observation of the people who had done the drawing.
Traditional patronage came from academic organizations or festivals such Ramanavami, widely celebrated. (90 days Ramaya Parayana). InApril all villages perform Ravan Chaya. How many groups are there? They are the only group
What do they need? Exposure, alternate means of earning money such as making puppets and marketing them.
They have begun to do other themes such as Panchatantra, Gandhi, Karna Vadham, Shakuntala for the last three years.
|20 March 2009|
Adishakti Ramayana Festival