Sail through time: Puppet festival hopes to revive dying art

Performances on first day incorporate nursery rhymes and colourful puppets

Photo Ayesha Mir/Amel Ghani November 27, 2015
Puppets depicting regional folk stories at Rafi Peer Fold Puppet Festival. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

LAHORE: The Rafi Peer Folk Puppet Festival opened on Friday introducing children as well as some adults to sub-continental puppetry, an art associated with the region’s folk stories.

“It was a dying art until Faizaan Peerzada decided to set up a museum to promote it,” Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Tasneem Peerzada said. “He mobilised the resources to locate those who had been associated with puppetry in Vehari, Multan and in other places. Most of them had left the profession after other forms of entertainment became more prevalent,” she said. The museum is the only one of its kind in South East Asia, she said. The festival hosts folk puppeteers from Tharparkar, Multan and Bhawalpur among other places.

“I am a man of faith. We tell spiritual stories through our performance,” said Krishan Lal Bheel from Rahim Yar Khan. His troupe performed to folk songs.

Bheel said he had learnt the art from his father and older brother. He said he wanted to pass it on to the future generations. “My wife also performs in the troupe although women from out tribe our not generally allowed to do so,” he said.

Jamna, one of Bheel’s seven wives, played the tanpura during the performance. The troupe is accompanied by Ustad Sattar Jogi who plays the flute. He said his family was amongst the first to have played it in Tharparkar. “We have been playing the flute since Lord Krishna’s era,” he said. The family has been associated with the art for hundreds of years, he said.

The family of Muhammad Jamil Akhtar is also performing in the festival.

“Four people participate in our performance; the remaining help in the praparatioins,” Akhtar said. “We have been associated with puppetry for 300 years performing all over the country in several languages,” he said.

Children, too, are part of the group.

Performances on the first day were a medley of folk puppet themes and traditional stories. A performance by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts and the Alhamra Puppetry School was a modern take on puppets.

The performances tailored specifically for children incorporated various nursery rhymes and colourful puppets. Children took keen interest in a performance in which puppets danced to the beats of dhol. “I loved the performance in which two people handled a puppet camel,” said Afiya Siddiq who had come to the festival with her parents.

Three grade four students from the Government High School had also shown up. “We will come again on each of the next three days,” said Muhammad Sufiyan, one of the three students. The festival is open to all and will continue until November 29.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2015.


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