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Performing Arts


Shadow of Ravana


(from left)
- Hanuman leaps to Lanka, seen from the front of screen
- Operational technique behind the screen
- The leader-cum-narrator playing khanjani gives a brief story and announces the opening of the show.
(c) Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.

Ravanachhaya literally means the shadow of Ravana in the form of puppetry. There is no written play and it continued as an oral tradition.

Reasons for selection

Ravanachhaya is a rare form of shadow theatre surviving in Orissa. Ravanachhaya depicts only Rama legend.

Area where performed

In the state of Orissa on the eastern coast of India.

Essential elements of the performing art

Puppet Theatre

Detailed explanation

Ravanachhaya in Orissa literally means the shadow of Ravana, but the theme is exclusively based on Rama legend. The puppet representing Ravana is much larger than that of Rama and also more boldly and dramatically conceived.

Ravanachhaya shadow puppets are made only of deer skin. These puppets have no joints. The cut-outs are perforated very simply and imaginatively to give a character its stylistic essence of the character it represents. The figures are held erect by the grip of a split bamboo stick which runs through the middle line. The puppets are of different sizes. The largest is about 18 inches and the smallest is about 6 inches. A number of puppet figures are required for completing Ravanachhaya show, which is to be performed for seven nights, each night presenting only one kanda of the Ramayana. When a puppet figure dies of aging or it is torn and no longer remains worthy of being used in a performance the puppet figure is taken to a river at the time of sunset while chanting mantra and is immersed in the flowing water of the river.

The puppets are kept behind the opaque screen. The light source is a bowl-shaped earthen lamp filled with oil and 3 thick wicks made of cotton rags which are lit. The musical instruments used with songs of Ravanachhaya are khanjani, das kathi and a pair of cymbals. The text is from Vichitra Ramayana by Viswanath, a medieval Oriya poet.

Publication and textual documentation

PANI, Jiwan
1974 Ravana Chhaya Shadow of Ravana .
New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi. In English.

Audio documentation

Audio recordings on tape are available. Made over the years: 1972, 1979.

Visual documentation

Chayanatak, a 16 mm documentary film has been produced by Akademi which includes Ravanachhaya as one of the forms: 1973.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.

Data provider

Mr. Sharbari Mukherjee
Sangeet Natak Akademi
Address: Rabindra Bhawan, Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi - 110001, India