Shadow Plays in Karnataka

Basavaraj Naikar


Shadow Play of Leather-Puppet Play is believed to have originated in India
and migrated to other countries of the world. “Hindu kings conquered Java in the first
century A.D. and ruled for 1,500 years. During this long period of time Javanese life
became Hinduized. Malay-Polynesian deities, which had counterparts in the Hindu
pantheon, took on the corresponding Hindu names, and the shadow plays figures
henceforth showed them dressed in the Indian dhoti. When there were no such Hindu
counterparts for the Malay-Polynesian deities, these deities retained their Malay-
Polynesian character and their shadow play figures continued showing them dressed
in the Malay-Polynesian sarong. In the course of time the number of shadow play
figures was increased by the addition of characters taken from Hindu mythology.”1
This kind of folk theatre is said to have been prevalent in India even before the beginning
of the Christian era. There are said to be references to the Shadow Plays in Sanskrit as
well as regional literatures. For example, there are said to be references to the Shadow
Play in Kautilya’s the Artha Sastra, Vyasa’s the Mahabharata (1500 sloka),
Harshavardhana’s Naisadha Charitre (XVIII, 13) mentions that King Nala invited the
Puppet-Players and arranged a puppet-show in the Hall of Entertainment (Pramoda
Bhavana). Rajasekhara, a Kannada poet of 11th century mentions in the fifth Act of his
play Bala Ramayana that there was a puppet-player, who was playing the puppet s of
Sita and her maidservant Sindhurika and that Ravana mistook the puppet-Sita to be
the real one and touched it only to be disappointed.



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