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The Art of Puppetry in Sri Lanka


We cannot determine in which country or when puppetry originated. But we can think that it may have started with the beginning of civilization. Puppet art is known in different languages. Such as, it is called in the American language “muppet”, in the Latin language “pupa”, in the French language “pupee”, in the dutch language “poppen”, and in the English language “puppet”. But its simple meaning is a “doll”. In the past, people used these puppets to hunt animals. These were used to scare away larger animals that approached them.

It is clear that this art had a religious aspect at the beginning. The reason for that because before understanding the scientific world, the man held various myths. They perceived these as forces stronger than themselves. It is mentioned in the book “Rukada Rupana Kalawa” by Mr. Siri Kumarasinghe that notes about puppets have been found in the inscriptions found in the tombs of the Chinese emperors thousands of years ago.

About puppetry in Sri Lanka

Puppetry has been practiced in Sri Lanka since the 1830s, making it one of the country’s oldest arts in the history of Sri Lanka. UNESCO has officially recognized the puppetry art of Sri Lanka as an intangible heritage object. Sufficient evidence to confirm that puppetry existed in Sri Lanka in the past is rare. In Sri Lanka, a puppet is a figure made of wood. In the early days, “nadagam” stories were used as puppet stories. This art was born in association with the Ambalangoda region of Sri Lanka.

There are different opinions about the first puppeteers of Ambalangoda. According to Dr. Jayadeva Thilakasiri’s research, the three “Surathan, Baalaya, and Podineris Gurunanse” have been identified as the first puppeteers. The tradition of puppetry is in several varieties. Such as, “string puppets”, “rod puppets”, “glove puppets”, “shadow puppets”, “mask puppets”, “finger puppets”, “black theatre puppets”, “micro puppets”, “two dimension puppets”, “mammoth puppets” and “electronic puppets”. Among these, string puppetry is popular in Sri Lanka.

How to make puppets?

Kaduru and Ruk Aththana wood are used to make puppets. Traditional wood carving practices are still followed today and standard measurements are used to create images. When coloring the images made of wood, colors suitable for each character are used. Sri Lankans are using human hair, natural colors, and Kaduru wood to create the structure of the puppets. The puppets’ outfits are a unique feature of Sri Lankan puppetry because they are entirely handmade. A raised stage is used to perform the puppet show and it has three parts so that the parts on both sides take an angular shape.

Did you know?

Generally, a Sri Lankan puppet has the height of a 10-year-old child yet weighs less than a newborn.

Are you passionate about Sri Lankan puppetry art?

If you love to see these beautiful Sri Lankan puppets, you can visit the “Puppet Art Museum” in Dehiwala City or the “Puppeteers of Lanka” in Balangoda City. It is our Sri Lankan duty and responsibility to preserve and maintain the art of puppetry as a cultural heritage as well as for future generations.

Photos & video sponsored by Puppeteers of Lanka

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