Jesus Christ’s Story in Tholpavakuthu- Opera fusion

Oct 01, 2012 | Vol. 4, Issue 4
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Ramachandra Pulavar, a maestro in traditional Tholppava kuthu, the shadow puppetry is developing a story on Jesus Christ with the assistance from Central Sangeet Natak Academy, NewDelhi. In association with Dr. Eva Sol Rothlauf, an opera artist from Europe who was visiting Kerala, Ramachandra Pulavar evolving new ideas in Puppet play combining opera.

Tholppavakuthu, the shadow puppetry form of Kerala is a ritual tradition mainly performed by the communities known as Pulavar.  This ritual is mainly confined to the region linked to the River Bharathapuzha, the border areas of Malappuram, Palakkad and Thrissur district. Annual performances are part of temple festivals of Bhadrakali temples. The main groups of puppeteers are settled in Kunathara, near Ottappalam in Palakkad district, headed by Ramachandra Pulavar and his brothers, under the umbrella organization Krishnankutty Pulavar Tholppavakuthu & Puppet Centre.

Ramachandra Pulavar is a maestro in traditional Tholppava kuthu, he has also innovated new stories like Gandhikuthu, about Mahathma Gandhi and Mahabali kuthu, about the legendary king of Kerala, Mahabali. He has also performed in various stages in India and abroad.

The story about Jesus Christ is also his brain child. The reason is according to him, Kerala has a deep routed tradition of Christianity and there are numerous churches with annual festivals. Many a foreign tourist who come to his puppet centre also motivated him to create a puppetry performance about Jesus Christ.

He said that the main challenge was to get a proper script. After two years he could find out a person, Prof. V A Varghese, a retired Professor and an art historian, who provided the master script. By the time the Puppet centre also got some funding from Central Sangeet Natak Academy, NewDelhi and he started crafting shadow puppets for the play. Recently he met Dr. Eva Sol Rothlauf, a lady from Europe, who was visiting Kerala. She is an opera artist and this partnership helped in evolving new ideas in Puppet play. While the main story of Jesus Christ is played as shadow puppetry, Vidushaka character, a social criticizer is presented as an opera and interferes in the story line as and when required. Almost all the manipulation techniques and the variety of characters including birds and animals which are used in traditional puppetry are also used in this play. Unlike traditional puppetry, the dialogues are simple and straight and in the local language Malayalam. Another innovation is that he introduced backdrop of female voice into the play for the female characters. But for smoothness and clarity pre recorded dialogues and songs are used in the play. About sixty five plus new puppets have been made for this purpose. The opera artists intercede in between the puppetry as part of the play, prominently  in between songs and as the character of Vidushaka.

Dr Eva Sol is a professional Opera artist and director, who incidentally came to know about Ramachandra Pulavar and his new project. According to her it is Puppetry Opera, is a fusion of contemporary story, contemporary music coupled with traditional shadow puppetry from Kerala and opera from western culture. So this project connects two cultures India and the western world. She also has good contacts in Mumbai, Pune, Goa and she is confidant of getting more stages in these parts as well as internationally.

Following the tradition as a ritual, this performance also begins with offering prayers to Lord Ganesha for a smooth and successful puppetry presentation.  Instead of four Brahmin characters in the traditional puppetry, in this theme -Jesus Christ, four apostles- Abraham, David, Mosa and Ishak appear in the beginning along with Jesus Christ and pray to the lord; paying reverence to all other saints and apostles.

Here at this juncture comes the opera artist as Vidushaka, and has a chat with two Brahmin shadow puppets. The Brahmins explain to him the purpose of the visit as they are puppeteers and are used to play the story of Lord Rama, Lord Mahabali and Mahathma Gandhi and now they are going to present the story of Jesus Christ.

Many historical and cultural features are craft fully woven into the story of Jesus Christ, like arrival of St.Thomas, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, to India, Margam kali, a performing art practiced by the Christians of Kerala. The one hour play includes scenes and characters like Santa Claus, visit of the three Indian Kings to Jerusalem during the birth of Jesus Christ, Roman king Herodes cruelty to the children, the baptism of Jesus Christ, marriage of Kana, the Good Samaritan, about Mary Magdaline, Salomes dance, Jesus and the disciples, Last supper, Pilathus washing his hands etc and finally the rise of Jesus Christ. The war between the Kings David and Ammoner is also included to create a dramatic effect.  The premiere show of the work is expected to be hosted in the last week of December.

For info: Ramachandra Pulavar
Mob- 09846534998
www.puppetry.org.in

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