Orissa has a history of puppetry, which goes back a few hundred years. As is the story with many of the artforms I have encountered in India, there are few groups still practicing.
I went to visit one of these troupes in central Orissa. The group are led by local academic and puppet connoisseur Gouranga Dash. Gouranga tells me that he has adapted the traditional puppetry, and claims to practice contemporary style. For me the performance seemed very traditional (I couldn’t decipher what the “contemporary adaptation” part was), but all the same it was very beautiful. It is a more subtle form than that played in Kerala. It does not have the connection with the festival, and it’s folk routes manifest in more of a musical-storytelling vibe.
Gouranga lives and works in a lovely rural community, where the family run a school, grow veg, and rehearse with their puppets. They have plans to build a puppetry museum in the space, which would house Gouranga’s extensive collection of puppets, and a small theatre. We spent (a very pleasant and sunny) Sunday making puppets, rehearsing and performing.