Friday, February 05, 2010

[Puppoetics] NYT: Ramayana Casts Its Ancient Spell

The New York Times has an interesting article on the Ramayana exhibit “Ramayana Revisited: A Tale of Love & Adventure,” an exhibition at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore until Aug. 22,and the cross-cultural power of the epic.

They make mention of the Thai and Cambodian version, although not the Lao approach. In the Lao tradition, one of the most notable variations from the original epic is we also often consider it a Jataka.

The curators noted that it's hard to find very old artifacts. Many of the original pieces were made of leather and papier-mâché which don’t last long in the conditions in Southeast Asia.

Of particular note are the nang yai, large shadow puppets from Thailand for Ramakien performances. These puppets are constructed from buffalo hide, and it's part of a dying art tradition. Contemporary examples are traced from original 19th-century puppets stored in Wat Kanon in Thailand's Ratchaburi province. They're large 2 meter panels or 6.5 feet tall by 1.5 meets or 5 feet in width. They're then propped up on large poles.

There's been a resurgence of the papier-mâché mask making techniques of Cambodia now that the Pol Pot regime ended in the 1980s. They also call attention to differences in the Wayang Kulit Siam puppets of Malaysia, which employ very fine features and tall crowns, with bodies decorated with distinctive geometric patterns. These puppets traditionally move only one arm, compared to the similar puppets in Indonesia.

Large Tholu Bomalatta puppets from India are also on display. The Tholu Bomalatta puppets are made from translucent leather that's painted with strong colors so they can be projected onto a small screen. Puppets are made in profile and with frontal views and embellished with floral and geometric ornamentation in this tradition.

They note that in other nations, adaptations of the Ramayana tend to present the demons and dieties and demigods in a more human light so that regular audiences could relate to them. The monkey Hanuman in India is celibate but elsewhere, he's quite a womanizer. Which is preferable? I think that depends on who you ask. But if you're in Singapore, check it out.

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