Getting woodwork to act

He is the pioneer and the last surviving artiste of a dying art form - rod puppetry. He is septuagenarian Akademi awardee Maguni Charan Kuanr of Keonjhar in Orissa. Rod-puppetry existed in a crude form before Maguni’s magical touch transformed it into its present stylised and sophisticated status. It was the part time avocation of a particular Dalit community of the erstwhile princely state of Keonjhar that used it for earning its daily bread. The community members were moving from door to door in villages with a set of wooden puppets designed by a local carpenter. They used to enact various episodes from the mythology through these puppets and thereby earning a few coins for their survival.

Maguni, who was barely 10 years then, was fond of dance and drama. He keenly watched the puppet-dance shows and secretly wished to handle them himself. Despite stiff resistance from his family and community he went ahead in learning the art of handling a puppet fixed to a rod (hence called rod-puppetry) from Makaradhwaja Jhara, a Dalit and an expert in rod-puppetry, whom he regards as his guru.

When Jhara died, none of his family or community members took interest in the art but the young disciple decided to devote his entire life to preserve and promote the dying art form.

Barely a couple of years later, Kuanr’s creativity and vision found expression in the prevailing crude form of rod-puppetry.

An established folk theatre actor by then, at 20 he was able to establish his own production company ‘Utkal Biswakarma Kalakunja’ that was ready to perform as a touring theatre company in many parts of the state and neighbouring states.

So far, Maguni has staged about 20 productions; most of them in the form of dance drama and stories drawn from mythology with over 300 characters.

The crisis for his company began with the advent of TV, videos and movies.


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