Reviving Ravana Chhaya, A 6000-Year-Old Traditional Artform Of Odisha

The days in our country, India, the land of composite culture and traditions, are colored by various art forms and festivals. This piece pertains to the oldest form of puppetry in the world⁠—shadow puppetry. Odisha is the only Indian state to witness all four forms of puppetry⁠—shadow, rod, glove, and string.

Ravana Chhaya, literally ‘the shadow of Ravana’, is a 6000-year-old shadow puppet show of Odisha, which starts at night with the auspicious tradition of breaking the coconut and singing hymns to Lord Ganesha and Rama. The show follows the Odia poetry collection, Vichitra Ramayana written by Vishwanath Khuntia, a seventeenth-century poet.

The puppets used are a single-piece structure with no joints and no colors. They throw opaque shadows on the screen, and their manipulation requires great dexterity. They are made up of deerskin and are conceived in bold, dramatic poses. Apart from human and animal characters, many props such as trees, mountains, chariots, etc., are also used.

Although the Ravana Chhaya puppets are smaller in size, ranging from six inches to two feet and have no jointed limbs, the use of poetic language, music, and narration of religious themes creates a spectacular and sensitive show. However, the advent of television and smartphones has led to the decline of this art and efforts are being made under Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, to revive and promote the rare art.

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