Dancing to the tune, nay twine

The music reached a crescendo. Beats picked pace and cymbals meet rhythmically for that crashing effect. War cries rent the air. Demons hopped around and clashed for a pitched battle. And, at Ravindra Bharathi, the scene was truly set for an evening with puppets from the remote lands of southern Sri Lanka.

A string of presentations were pieced together by the Saranga Puppet Group for the event, which was organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. The group, led by G. Premin and Suryarani Perera, held strings deftly and had the puppets dance to their tune.

Dancing to the tune, nay twine

Smartly and colourfully attired, the puppets, measuring about three-and-a-half feet and carved from local timber, began the evening with an invocation of the God of Art. The dance performance just set the mood and the momentum was well maintained with a series of items.

If `Konangi', the comical dance, had enjoyment in store for the audience, `Borupa', a dance performed walking on two stilts, made them watch in rapt attention and admiration. For this, two puppets on stilts were made to dance, swirl and hop around without missing a single step.

Dancing to the tune, nay twine

Even as an admiring audience sat back, came the masked puppets and presented a traditional dance -- `Girijala Raksha'. "It's a demon dance and is very popular in the rural belts of southern Sri Lanka,'' said a troupe member. Puppets playing with fire?

A risky proposition, isn't it? Sure, but the string pullers appear quite adept at the game, as they had the puppets dancing all over, holding blazing torches.

Interestingly, all five members of the Saranga Puppet Group belong to one family. "This is an ancient art form and for generations this family has been carrying on with the tradition of puppetry,'' says R.S. Senanayake, manager of the group.

By Lalith Singh T.

Photos: Mohd Yousuf

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