The puppetry tradition in Iran and India - two nations which share
historical ties - have several similarities. Both assimilate from
ancient folk cultures and use manually-crafted dolls as the core
visual element of their theatres that date back nearly 5,000
"I have researched the traditions of Indian puppetry. I think
Iranian and Indian puppetry are similar in the sense that the
traditions are several thousand years old dating to early history
with folk-inspired stories. The materials used are similar and
puppeteers in both countries use hand-crafted dolls and stage
equipment. The tradition developed in Iran and India around the
same time," Hossein Cheraghi, the director of a popular Iranian
paper puppet theatre, told IANS.
Hossein is in India with his puppet repertory, The Puppet Theatre
Group, to stage "A Musician Who Played the Moon", a 50-minute
family puppet theatre at the Ishara International Puppet Theatre
Festival during April 8-15. "The history of puppetry in Iran is
ancient - nearly 5,000 years old," he added.
"The early inhabitants of the land made a lot of small puppets
with paintings. Stones with paintings were used as puppets," the
puppeteer said. History says the earliest puppets were found in
Iran and India.
A 5,000-year-old earthern relic, "Shahr-i-Sokhta", found in Iran
had five images of goats painted along its sides. Historians
described it as the earliest recorded puppet that could be used as
animation by spinning the object so that the goats appeared to be
The relic could be compared to the similar wooden human-shaped
toys found in the Indus Valley settlements. Excavations have
thrown up 3,000-year-old terracotta dolls with heads that could be
detached or operated with a string and animals manipulated with
The two traditions found meeting ground in Indian trade with West
Asia, cultural exchanges and the arrival of the Persian people in
India, the puppeteer said.
Ancient puppets still live in modern Iran in Mubarak, a
traditional doll made of wood.
"Mubarak is hand painted to resemble a man. It is usually attired
in red and has a black face. The doll is similar to the
marionettes found across the world...," the Iranian puppeteer
"Mubarak plays to visitors on the streets. On the street, people
often gather to hear Mubarak perform. A person sits behind Mubarak,
speaks through him and even sings. He puts an object under his
tongue so that it can speak in the doll language and translate
it," Cheraghi, who took up puppet theatre 10 years ago, said.
It is a difficult craft, but is worth the labour, the puppeteer
said. "The traditional puppet theatre in Iran tries to bring peace
in society with comedy. The stories narrated are rich in humour,"
The traditional puppets in Iran have a popular rating. While "Mubarak"
tops the list in popularity, the red-and-black doll is followed
closely in ratings by characters like "Pahlvan Kachal", "Aghed"
and "Salimeh Khanoon". However, contemporary puppeteers are
widening their repertoire and styles to combine traditional and
western puppetry practises, Cheraghi said.
"We make paper puppets, paper sets, and use plastic paint to
decorate the dolls. We adapt from foreign folklore and improvise
on them in our traditions," he said. "A Musician Who Played the
Moon" is an adaptation of the Russian folktale, "The Sea King's
Daughter" about a young musician Sadko, who is invited by the King
of Sea to play in an underwater dream sequence.
"Like Indian puppetry, we try to experience a lot of things
through puppets. Stone and wood have character. All our troupe
members paint - we are artists," the director said.
Women are carving a large niche for themselves in Iran, says
Maryam Teimouri, who translates the plays into English. A
puppeteer by profession, Teimouri said "women are slowly
outnumbering men in puppet theatre because their families don't
"The general idea is that puppetry is meant for children, but we
are not allowed to sing on stage," she said.
The five-member troupe is keen to work with Indian puppeteers.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)