A form of string puppetry practised in the north-east Indian state of Manipur, laithibi jagoi literally translates to “doll dance.” Historians believe string puppetry was introduced in Manipur during the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh in the late 19th century.
A laithibi jagoi performance traditionally serves as an interlude during Manipuri dance dramas such as the Raas Leela and Ghoshta Leela. The repertory is predominantly religious and strongly influenced by the denomination of Vaishnavism, which is prominent in the state. A performance usually comprises episodes from the life of Krishna and can include string puppets representing human and divine figures, as well as masks representing animals and demons. While the puppets are manipulated by puppeteers, the masks are worn by performers who appear in the foreground.
The stage for a laithibi jagoi performance comprises a platform seven to ten feet in height, which the puppeteers sit on. A black curtain is suspended from the floor of the platform till the ground, and serves as the backdrop for the puppet show. The puppets are suspended by strings that are also black in colour. Another curtain is placed in front of the puppeteers which, while keeping them unseen, also obscures their view of the stage, necessitating a high degree of skill and intuition.
Puppeteers Uddhab Singh and Brajamohan Sharma are among those who have earned acclaim for their laithibi jagoi skills. Singh used puppets made with bamboo and natural colours, and his repertory included mythological dramas such as Yamrajar Danda and Savitri Satyaban. Sharma is considered an exponent of the traditional method of laithibi jagoi, and has also trained other members of his family in the puppetry form.
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