CONSERVATION: Mixing education with entertainment, the Arunachal Pradesh government has decided to take the help of shadow puppetry to supplement its efforts in creating awareness about the importance of conserving medicinal plants in the state. Using a dying art to spread word about at risk plants is an innovative idea that can now help both the medium and the plants from vanishing.

Arunachal Pradesh, India’s North eastern state encompasses within its boundaries a bustling variety of plants and animals. The state has tropical forests, sub tropical forests, pine forests, temperate forests and alpine forests with 500 species of medicinal plants.

In order to preserve these precious plants, the Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation (CCRD) has taken the initiative to hold shadow puppetry shows in places where the medicinal plants are found commonly so that locals can know their importance.

The maiden shadow puppetry show was performed at a village in Ziro valley in Lower Subansiri district in July. It was attended by the State Chief Minister Nabam Tuki.

The show was presented by a team of puppeteers from the CCRD in association with the Arunachal Pradesh State Medicinal Plant Board under the aegis of United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“I have never seen so many people turn up for an awareness campaign before. It was very entertaining as well as informative. I hope the duration of the show will be increased in length whenever this is performed again….it will add to its impact,” said Hibu Tatu, chairman of local NGO “NGUNU”.

Talking in Shadows

As per, shadow puppetry is an ancient art form in India that began as a visual art of storytelling. The Chitra Katha (scroll paintings) of south India, the Jadano Pat (rolled painting) of Bengal, Chitrakathi (single paintings) of Maharashtra, Yampat (scroll paintings) of Bihar and the Phad (panel painting) of Rajasthan have all been ancient versions of the modern comic strips that have enabled stories to be narrated in a better way with illustrations.

Shadow puppets, as a form of theatre, evolved from the visual dramatisation given to cut-out figures. The art uses flat articulated figures (shadow puppets) to create the impression of moving humans, plants and animals. Held between a source of light and a translucent screen the stories come alive with accompanied music and narration.

For the show performed in Arunachal Pradesh, the theme was in accordance with the UNDP project ‘Mainstream conservation and sustainable management of medicinal plants’ as per CCRD executive director Moji Riba.

Puppeteers at the village in Ziro valley, Arunachal Pradesh

The puppeteers incorporated many local elements into the story to make it more interesting for the audience, along with giving important information about the medicinal plants of their region.

Kaling Bui, who led the crew, said hours of practicing and rehearsing the movements were difficult but it paid off in the end. Scripted by Champa Devi, the play was produced and directed by the CCRD team.

During the event schoolchildren, elders and youth from the village, who viewed the program, were given brochures, diaries and calendars that displayed varieties of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Fun and Learning

Shadow puppetry is a cultural heritage of India which is fast losing its sheen thanks to the electronic medium. But using such a medium to promote learning related to nature, conservation and protection of wildlife,  is not only helping introduce the art to a new generation and preserve it, it is also making the process of learning much easier and fun.

Learning about plants through puppets.

With the Arunachal Pradesh government taking the initiative, most other states of India that already have a similar tradition of storytelling can use the same medium to generate public awareness.

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Reference Reference

About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

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