Antique Puppet of Hanuman on a Stand
Item No. T163B
Early 20th Century, Hindu, Burma
23.25" x 8" x 5"
( 59.055 x 20.32 x 12.7 cm)
(H x W x D)
The beginning of puppetry in Burma is attributed to the “Age of Triumph” (1752-1819) when Burmese arts flourished in part to the victory over Thailand in 1767 and the bringing of the entire Thai court back to the Burmese capital in Ava. King Bodapawa (1782-1819) is credited with the introduction of puppetry and even appointed a Minister to encourage and supervise the theater. This minister encouraged the formation of marionette troupes and puppet-theater (yok-thei pwe) by finding the best professional actors and promoting the troupes as evidence of an important and new national drama. Although there are no records of puppetry before the 18th century, some traditions hold the puppet theater predated live drama (zat pwe), that it was more admired and refined and that puppet’s motions set the standards for Burmese dancers. The best wood carvers were enlisted to fashion and craft yok-thei (marionettes) for theatrical performances, which featured full length dramas for adult audiences with themes taken from the Five Hundred and Fifty Jataka stories, stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, and Burmese history, fables and legends. Although the Ramayana was known in Burma, the Buddhist version in which Rama is portrayed as a future Buddha was unknown until the arrival and performances of the Thai court. As it appealed greatly to the Burmese, it was adapted as another Jataka play.
Marionettes were carved in separate body parts which were connected by soft padding. An edict passed in the mid 19th century decreed that human torsos were to be anatomically correct down to the last detail, since marionettes were viewed as credible substitutes for human players. Puppets were treated by the troupe with the respect accorded to the characters they represented. When not in use, they were stored in two separate chests, with marionettes of “higher” status being placed in a chest to the right of the stage, while animals and humans of lower status were kept on the left. Manipulators were known to become very attached to their marionettes and some spent much time primping them and talking to them prior to a performance. This enabled both puppet and puppeteer to become possessed of the lamaing spirit, a hypnotic state of mind necessary for an “inspired performance”.
This puppet represents Hanuman, son of Vayu, the Hindu god of wind and follower of Rama and an avatar (incarnation) of Lord Shiva. He is often referred to as the monkey god, as he was the leader of the monkey warriors in the Indian Ramayana epic. Hanuman, originally a minister in the Ramayana, became a leader in battle and helped restore the kingdom of Sri Sitadevi back to its rightful leader Sri Rama. He made such an impression with his unceasing devotion and loyalty that he has been revered as a god ever since and worshipped for his strength, valor, agility, devotion and dedication. Hanuman is regarded as the ultimate hero, representing the figure of the ideal being: humble, yet brave, fast and agile and displaying mental discipline, physical prowess and spiritual purity.
Hanuman is represented with a green face surrounded by white, a red painted open mouth that shows his teeth, flaring, wide-open and round nostrils, high ears, an intense, alert and concentrated stare and a cranial protuberance on the top of his head that seems similar to the Buddha’s ushnisha, which symbolizes an enlightened being. As always with Hanuman, the facial lines are highlighted and reinforced with color, we wears a few human garments over his soft body like the long sleeved shirt and pants here and he is also usually dressed in a wide prominent collar. The spine string on a Hanuman is almost always short so the he is able to swing his upper body and bend forward like a real monkey.
----, “Asian Puppets: Wall of the World,” Los Angeles, UCLA Museum of Cultural History, 1979.
Noel F. Singer, “Burmese Puppets,” Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1992.
Ma Thanegi, The Illusion of Life: Burmese Marionettes,” Bangkok, White Orchid Books, 1995.