Sri Ranganatha Rao-Bheeshmapithamaha of Karnataka Puppet world
Sri Ranganatha Rao -86 years young, winner of Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1981), Karnatka State Rajyostava Award (2016), Craft Council of India Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Award (2017) and many more. His journey in puppetry is similar to Eklavya’s training in archery in the absence of the Guru or the teacher. He a government teacher by profession switched over to puppetry after his first meeting with Smt Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. That was the power of this iron lady.
Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (3 April 1903 – 29 October 1988) was an Indian Social Reformer and Freedom Fighter. It is Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay who has been the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, hand looms, and Indian theater. In India, today several cultural institutions exist because of her vision, tireless efforts and upliftment of indigenous art forms.
Though the art of Puppetry existed in the family, Sri. Rao had a teaching as a profession. He taught History in government secondary schools. Backed by an academic background in drama and theatre and a career as a schoolteacher, it was natural for Ranganatha Rao to use puppets as a medium of expression to teach children in school.
Sri. Rao vividly recalls the day when he attended a talk by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay when she mentioned the mastery of his grandfather’s art form and enquired about his whereabouts. Sri. Rao was forty years old then. After the talk, he introduced himself to Chattopadhyay and provided an update about the treasured puppets carved by his grandfather. He also spoke to her about the traditional art of ‘Salaki Gombeyatta’- ‘Rod Puppets’ of Karnataka.
Mr. Ranganatha Rao hails from Magadi Taluk, Ramnagar district, Karnataka. He is multi-talented; he crafts these beautiful wooden puppets and is an adept puppeteer, lyricist, music composer and storyteller. He is the Founder and the Director of ‘Sri Rangaputli Kalaranga’- a Puppet theatre and training institute. He has travelled extensively far and wide all over the world. He has participated and performed at various International festivals.
At the national level he has participated in the puppet festivals at New Delhi, Hyderabad and various States of India. He was appointed the director for the children’s puppet festival during the SAARC festival at Bangalore. He was also the director for the ‘National Puppet Festival-Puthali’-1991 in Bangalore. He has worked for Janapada Loka, Karnataka and has set up a multipurpose puppet theatre.
Sri. Rao’s grandfather’s puppets weighed 15 kilos, and to make the craft more effective, however Sri Ranganatha Rao has conceived new puppets with a combination of indigenous raw materials. He uses different kinds of wood to carve the entire puppet. A lighter wood for the body, with the traditional wood used for the puppet’s faces and arms.
In order to strengthen the roots firm, he took to the road performing not only in his village Magadi, but all over Karnataka and in different states of India. Storytellers and musicians were part of the troupe, and they along with their puppets performed stories from legends and mythology in villages delighting their devout audience.
Thus, this effort of his paved a way towards reinvention of the Puppetry as a “Temple Art” form and has trained many troupes in across Karnataka State in order to conserve and preserve this noble art form.
Today, traditional puppetry seems to be in a state of transition in Karnataka State. The ancient art form is taking new directions and visibility. He has been an instrument as serious revivalists in reviving the Puppetry art into sprouting movements by teaching and supporting students, art lovers from all walks of life. I He has crafted miniature doll theater called Rasalok, at the Bimba Art Hut in Basavangudi, Bangalore, the theater is run by a very accomplished dancer and another student of Shri Ranganath Rao
Sri Dattatreya Aralikatte a National Award winner and founder head of "Putthali Kalaranga" (Puppet Theater), Bangalore, Smt. Anupama Hoskere-Founder Director of Dhaatu Puppet organization are his disciples.
Apart from that he has trained and is training youth and women especially in villages in this art form. Both Print and electronic media has made a vast coverage of his unique style and journey in the field of Puppetry. Sri Rao is an encyclopedia of Puppetry and stands tall as a pillar of strength to all the art lovers around the world.
Very glad to share that I am privileged to get trained under him. Undergoing training in Ranga Putthali Style of Puppetry of Karnataka.