Stringed wonders


Pinguli resonates with an art form that dates back to the Marathas

Somewhere in the heart of the Konkan region, near Kudal in Sindhudurg, is an idyllic village called Pinguli. Our story is set inside a small settlement of this village, Pinguli Gudipur, which, probably, has no claim to fame except for a visit by a Maharaja several centuries ago.

However, the hero of our story is not the Maharaja, but a 55-year-old former Railway employee called Parashuram Gangavane, one of the few living exponents of an art form that dates back to the Marathas.

“We are puppeteers, painters and storytellers. In the Maratha period, my great grandfathers used to go from village to village with our puppets and the kings used them as spies to find out what was happening,” explains Gangavane, as he opens the door to his art gallery. “This is my own museum,” he beams. The doors open out to a veritable collection of paintings and puppets. “My grandfather, and his grandfather, used some of these puppets,” he adds.

We see scenes straight out of the Ramayana, as a colourful 10-headed Ravana stands with Rama, Seetha and Hanuman in tow. Vegetable-dye paintings called Chitragatti adorn the walls.

But, shadow puppetry is Gangavane's forte, and the storyteller in him comes alive during an impromptu performance. There is music and drama as the Rakshashas enter the frame; in the next scene, the Gods descend to punish them.

“We found these paintings and puppets covered by rags,” explains George, an architect who helped Gangavane build this museum. “He was so keen to preserve them that he managed to get the resources from family and friends.” Apparently, this place used to be a cowshed.

We look around and find coconut trees painted with people, while scenes of rustic life greet us in thatched huts. However, Gangavane barely manages to eke out a livelihood from puppetry. An accident affected his knee, but he still tours cities. “Nowadays, people ask me to make puppets. Earlier, the Maharaja had given us a temple and we used to perform there; now, the Government gives us Rs. five for the same performanceThe Sun is almost setting, and I ask Gangavane about the the Maharaja's visit. Once upon a time, Khem Sawant of Sawantwadi was camping in our colony during the occasion of and it was Gudi Padwa. So, she celebrated the festival here and changed the name of our village to Pinguli Gudipure.”

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