Kathi Kundhei Nacha
Also known as ramalila kandhei nata and kandhei nach, kathi kundhei nacha is a rod puppetry tradition practised by the Jhara community of Odisha. The name of the form literally translates to “dancing dolls attached to rods.” Other forms of puppetry found in the state include gopalila kundhei), sakhi kundhei and ravana chhaya.
While the origins of kathi kundhei nacha have not been established, kathi kundhei nacha was historically performed by members of the Jhara community in the district of Keonjhar (now Kendujhar) in northern Odisha, which remains a centre of the form. Kathi kundhei nacha is also found in the southern districts of Nayagarh and Ganjam.
Made of wood, the puppets used in kathi kundhei nacha measure between 12 and 18 inches in height. There are joints at the neck and shoulders of each puppet and the upper body is moved using a rod, while the arms of the puppet are manipulated with strings hidden in the torso. The costumes and jewellery used are influenced by those of jatra theatre.
Unlike string puppets, the puppets of kathi kundhei nacha are manipulated from below, with the puppeteer crouching behind a curtain. The repertory comprises episodes from epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as religious texts such as the Puranas. A performance begins with a musical invocation known as stuti. The dialogues are all sung and the music draws heavily from folk and classical tunes.
Once a popular form of puppetry, kathi kundhei nacha is at risk of disappearing, with the number of puppeteers having dwindled significantly. The most renowned exponent of the form is Maguni Charan Kuanr of Kendujhar. Born into a family of landowners, Kuanr learnt the kathi kundhei nacha from master puppeteer Makaradwaja Jhara and went on to establish a troupe called Utkal Biswakarma Kalakunja. In addition to conducting workshops, he has also experimented with different sizes of puppets, the use of painted backdrops, and the introduction of social themes into the traditional performance material. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2004.
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