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Books > Performing Arts > Ravana Chhaya (Shadow Theatre of Orissa)
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Ravana Chhaya (Shadow Theatre of Orissa)
Ravana Chhaya (Shadow Theatre of Orissa)
Description
About the Book

Shadows present objects in an unknown dimensions. Berthold Brecht believed that every so called ordinary object should appear strange to us in the theatre. Play with light and shadow creates that kind of alienation

Shadow-play, which is also known as shadow show or shadow theatre is different from all others forms of theatre, including puppet plays. On the human and puppet stages a real world of space is created in which actors or figures have direct contact with the audience. The effect of the shadow-play is always indirect figures, usually made of leather, are lightly pressed on a translucent screen with a strong source of light behind. The audience sits on the others side of screen and sees the shadows moving when the figures are manipulated. Thus, spectators and actors separated by the light screen are placed as if in different rooms. The spectator is by himself and his feeling of isolation is heightened by the darkness all around. He does not direct experience the figures and the play; he only sees the image, the projection. The light screen is here most important as it filters and modifies the action. One the Inner side of the screen, the action (I mean the manipulator) too is isolated presents a projection of his thoughts and expects and spectator to interpret and to reassemble them into a new image. It is not the object in his hand but its image on the screen that decides his action. In his fantasy there are moving pictures. In the mind of the audience these pictures are retranslated into happenings. This makes shadow-theatre an exciting experience.

Ravana-Chhaya is a rare form of shadow theatre surviving in Orissa. It is, however, in the last phase of graying out. Unless some urgent steps are taken it may soon fade into oblivion. To indicate the present condition of this art-form it is worth relating the experience of the documentation Unit of the academy when it went to cover the form. I recount it here at the very outset.

“You are late, at least by ten years. Ravana chhaya is dead and gone. It is now a thing of the past,” the District Public Relations Officer of Dhenkanal told us. Our hearts sank, because before meeting the D.P.R.O. we had a already asked about Ravana-Chhaya from about half-a-dozen persons. All looked at us puzzled. A few asked us in return, “What do you mean by Ravana Chhaya?” We explained and they looked more puzzled. At least, the D.P.R.O. was acquainted with the name.

Hoping against hope we went to a tea-shop. We asked the shop-keeper to give us names of persons who were about 70 years of age, and known to have a keen interest in theatre. He obliged us with a dozen names. We knocked at their doors one after another drawing a blank every time, until we reached the eighth door. This gentleman was fortunately acquainted with the art of Ravana-Chhaya but he, too, did not know where to locate a performer. He, however, a directed us to the stenographer of the sub divisional Magistrate since he happened to come from that region of the district where once Ravana-Chhaya was prevalent. We followed his direction and is was not the steno to the S.D. M. but his wife from behind the curtain who informed us that the name of the performer was Kathi Guni and that he lived in a village named Odasa. With great difficulty and after many adventures, such a loading the jeep on a float to cross an intervening river, at last we reached the village and were greatly relieved to find the person we were searching for so long.

Actually, his name is Kathinanda Das, commonly known as Kathi guni. Guni is a sort of colloquial epithet meaning ‘ A magigician’. This may suggest that people used to regard Ravana-chhaya as ‘magic’!

Kathinanda Das, The only surviving Ravana-Chhaya puppeteer, is near-about 70. He has lost his only son. He subscribes to the Alekha Dharma a type of religious denomination under Brahmanism but with plenty of Buddhist elements. It is the Dharma that, perhaps, persuades him to live the ‘life’ as he is engulfed in poverty.

Three or four decades ago Kathinanda Das was not so poor as from performances of Ravana-Chhaya he could earn the minimum necessities of life. The villagers then used to believe that performance of Ravana-chhaya in the village could avert some natural calamities life flood, drought and epidemic. Therefore, inhabitants of different villages used to contribute either in shape of their agricultural produces or money for holding a Ravana-chhaya show in the village at least once year. Kathinanda Das along with advancement of education villagers have started calling such belief as superstition. As a result Kathinanda does not receive invitation from the villages to perform Ravana Chhaya and thus the main source of his income has now dried up.

He was quite puzzled to find us calling on him. In the depth of his withdrawn and silent eyes there was a soft stir of happiness and excitement when he learnt that we had come from Delhi for the sole purpose of seeing the unique art of Ravana-Chhaya. His hands trembling with excitement and age he drew out a tin-chest containing all the Ravana-chhaya figures. He told us that he was opening the chest after 3 years. Rust had settled on its hinges. When opened it creaked. From the tin-chest out came dozens of innocent looking leather-puppets. They were covered with a fungus growth. Kathinanda lovingly wiped the fungus with an oil-soaked rag. He called a few associates and improvised the puppet stage. And soon, after darkness set in, the Ravana-chhaya show began.

We held our breath. The show was fantastic. We could not imagine that the simple looking leather-made figures were capable of carrying drama to such dizzy heights. Not could we foresee that their shadows would acquire such a rare lyricist. There were many prize moments for us, as Hanuman uprooting the shadow-trees of the shadowy madhuva, or the magnificent Ravana arrows flashing across the screen like dark lightning, or Indrajit dispatching his deadly dark nag pasha across the sky, and so on.

We were struck by the dramatic vigor of the show though the shadows wee extremely lyrical. Ravana-chhaya appears to be the most ancient of the four styles of shodow-theatre surviving in India since the shadows have an unmistakable primitive quality and the performance is the least sophisticated. Besides it is the only form of shadow-play in which the figures have no jointed limbs. The Kerala style of shadow-puppets have one jointed hand and that of Andhra and Karnataka have many joints.

Ravana Chhaya (Shadow Theatre of Orissa)

Item Code:
NAE635
Cover:
Paperback
Language:
English
Size:
9.0 inch x 7.5 inch
Pages:
36 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 120 gms
Price:
$15.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

Shadows present objects in an unknown dimensions. Berthold Brecht believed that every so called ordinary object should appear strange to us in the theatre. Play with light and shadow creates that kind of alienation

Shadow-play, which is also known as shadow show or shadow theatre is different from all others forms of theatre, including puppet plays. On the human and puppet stages a real world of space is created in which actors or figures have direct contact with the audience. The effect of the shadow-play is always indirect figures, usually made of leather, are lightly pressed on a translucent screen with a strong source of light behind. The audience sits on the others side of screen and sees the shadows moving when the figures are manipulated. Thus, spectators and actors separated by the light screen are placed as if in different rooms. The spectator is by himself and his feeling of isolation is heightened by the darkness all around. He does not direct experience the figures and the play; he only sees the image, the projection. The light screen is here most important as it filters and modifies the action. One the Inner side of the screen, the action (I mean the manipulator) too is isolated presents a projection of his thoughts and expects and spectator to interpret and to reassemble them into a new image. It is not the object in his hand but its image on the screen that decides his action. In his fantasy there are moving pictures. In the mind of the audience these pictures are retranslated into happenings. This makes shadow-theatre an exciting experience.

Ravana-Chhaya is a rare form of shadow theatre surviving in Orissa. It is, however, in the last phase of graying out. Unless some urgent steps are taken it may soon fade into oblivion. To indicate the present condition of this art-form it is worth relating the experience of the documentation Unit of the academy when it went to cover the form. I recount it here at the very outset.

“You are late, at least by ten years. Ravana chhaya is dead and gone. It is now a thing of the past,” the District Public Relations Officer of Dhenkanal told us. Our hearts sank, because before meeting the D.P.R.O. we had a already asked about Ravana-Chhaya from about half-a-dozen persons. All looked at us puzzled. A few asked us in return, “What do you mean by Ravana Chhaya?” We explained and they looked more puzzled. At least, the D.P.R.O. was acquainted with the name.

Hoping against hope we went to a tea-shop. We asked the shop-keeper to give us names of persons who were about 70 years of age, and known to have a keen interest in theatre. He obliged us with a dozen names. We knocked at their doors one after another drawing a blank every time, until we reached the eighth door. This gentleman was fortunately acquainted with the art of Ravana-Chhaya but he, too, did not know where to locate a performer. He, however, a directed us to the stenographer of the sub divisional Magistrate since he happened to come from that region of the district where once Ravana-Chhaya was prevalent. We followed his direction and is was not the steno to the S.D. M. but his wife from behind the curtain who informed us that the name of the performer was Kathi Guni and that he lived in a village named Odasa. With great difficulty and after many adventures, such a loading the jeep on a float to cross an intervening river, at last we reached the village and were greatly relieved to find the person we were searching for so long.

Actually, his name is Kathinanda Das, commonly known as Kathi guni. Guni is a sort of colloquial epithet meaning ‘ A magigician’. This may suggest that people used to regard Ravana-chhaya as ‘magic’!

Kathinanda Das, The only surviving Ravana-Chhaya puppeteer, is near-about 70. He has lost his only son. He subscribes to the Alekha Dharma a type of religious denomination under Brahmanism but with plenty of Buddhist elements. It is the Dharma that, perhaps, persuades him to live the ‘life’ as he is engulfed in poverty.

Three or four decades ago Kathinanda Das was not so poor as from performances of Ravana-Chhaya he could earn the minimum necessities of life. The villagers then used to believe that performance of Ravana-chhaya in the village could avert some natural calamities life flood, drought and epidemic. Therefore, inhabitants of different villages used to contribute either in shape of their agricultural produces or money for holding a Ravana-chhaya show in the village at least once year. Kathinanda Das along with advancement of education villagers have started calling such belief as superstition. As a result Kathinanda does not receive invitation from the villages to perform Ravana Chhaya and thus the main source of his income has now dried up.

He was quite puzzled to find us calling on him. In the depth of his withdrawn and silent eyes there was a soft stir of happiness and excitement when he learnt that we had come from Delhi for the sole purpose of seeing the unique art of Ravana-Chhaya. His hands trembling with excitement and age he drew out a tin-chest containing all the Ravana-chhaya figures. He told us that he was opening the chest after 3 years. Rust had settled on its hinges. When opened it creaked. From the tin-chest out came dozens of innocent looking leather-puppets. They were covered with a fungus growth. Kathinanda lovingly wiped the fungus with an oil-soaked rag. He called a few associates and improvised the puppet stage. And soon, after darkness set in, the Ravana-chhaya show began.

We held our breath. The show was fantastic. We could not imagine that the simple looking leather-made figures were capable of carrying drama to such dizzy heights. Not could we foresee that their shadows would acquire such a rare lyricist. There were many prize moments for us, as Hanuman uprooting the shadow-trees of the shadowy madhuva, or the magnificent Ravana arrows flashing across the screen like dark lightning, or Indrajit dispatching his deadly dark nag pasha across the sky, and so on.

We were struck by the dramatic vigor of the show though the shadows wee extremely lyrical. Ravana-chhaya appears to be the most ancient of the four styles of shodow-theatre surviving in India since the shadows have an unmistakable primitive quality and the performance is the least sophisticated. Besides it is the only form of shadow-play in which the figures have no jointed limbs. The Kerala style of shadow-puppets have one jointed hand and that of Andhra and Karnataka have many joints.

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