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Chhai - An interactive shadow puppet workshop with Dr. Gouranga Charan Dash.

December 15-18, 2016 | Utsha Foundation For Contemporary Art, VR-39, Bhubaneswar, Odisha

Artists: Dr. Gouranga Charan DashDipti NayakJayaprada SwainArpita BhanjaRupal SatpathyGurudeb PalaiKedarnath Majhi, Soumya Ranjan LenkaBasen TuduSanjulata SahooPartha Sarathi BeheraNirod Nalini BeheraPriyadarshini Mohanty and Ranveer Singh

The shadow (chhaya) theatre (nataka) of Odisha is intriguingly known as “Ravana Chhaya ''. Its origins are shrouded in myth but scholars speculate that this performing art has its beginnings in the 5th century B.C in India, China or Greece. There are numerous references to this art form in Indian texts including the Mahabharata of Vyasa (5th century B.C), Mahabhasya of Patanjali, Kamasutra of Vatsayana (7th century A.D) and many other sources. The fact that for several centuries Sanskrit plays were written exclusively for staging as shadow theatre is proof enough of the popularity of this form.


The puppets of Ravana Chhaya are made of a single piece of untanned animal hide and are linearly cut. The background music is a curious blending of folk, classical and modern style with songs that are played along to the tune of traditional musical instruments like tambourine, cymbals, daskathi and mridangam. The puppets are manipulated through a single prop attached to the lower parts of their bodies.


This great ancient art form of Odisha has been preserved so far by the dedicated efforts of a few artists and luminaries including Ms. Kapila Vatsyayan , Khageswar Pradhan (Guru of Ravana Chhaya) and Dr. Gouranga Charan Dash among others. Utsha Foundation For Contemporary Art hopes to breathe in new life into this effort with this workshop in partnership with Dr. Dash’s Srirama Institute of Shadow Theatre.


The Shadow Puppet Workshop started with participants viewing illustrations and getting a briefing of Ravana Chhaya and its preserved elements from past decades. The history and the making of shadow puppets was elaborated by Dr. Gouranga Charan Dash in a very interesting manner by picking out the main elements of the art form which encouraged all participants to understand the subject . The participants were taught Ravana Chhaya’s music grammar and the changes that have happened to it over the years. There were a few intense discussions on current issues from varied sections like education system, urbanisation, women empowerment.  These formed the basis of the script development for the play scheduled to be shown on Day 4. The participants were also trained in the art of Saura tribal cuts by veteran artist Ramahari Jena in the evening. 


The next day was about the techniques and style of making puppets on chosen characters related to selected subject and script. Over 200 puppets were cut by artists using cardboard as script characters came to life under the watchful eye of Dr Dash. A part of the team focused on developing the songs that would accompany the shadow puppets on stage.


Day 3 saw the participants take the first tentative steps towards putting all of it together with puppets slowly dancing to the tunes of the amateur puppeteers. The participants were soon joined by Dr Dash’s troupe from Angul who were there to show the public a visual demonstration of the traditional storytelling of Ramayana using Ravana Chhaya.  The participants benefited immensely from the practical experience of these master shadow puppeteers. The evening was a glorious demonstration of selected tales of the Ramayana by Dr Dash’s troupe led by the man himself under a starlit winter sky in Utsha grounds.


The last day was all about frantic practice and synchronising the new-found puppet skills with music and script and adapting to the small stage set up for the participants on the Utsha grounds. Tensions ran high and the stress was apparent on many faces as the enormity of learning a centuries old art in a few days and putting together a show struck home! Dr Dash led the team superbly and the participants provided a superlative performance to an enthralled audience in the evening. The evening ended with a prize distribution ceremony for the participants. The ground covered in 4 days was enormous and a centuries old art form came to life again in Utsha in the loving hands of young artists.

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