Ravana Chhaya

Definition

Theater

  • (Oriyan: Ravana shadow) An almost extinct form of shadow-puppettheater from the Indian state of Orissa. Performances last for sevennights and can involve up to 700 different puppets. In Hindu mythologyRavana is the ten-headed Hindu demon-king who rules the kingdomof Lanka. He is the villain of the epic Ramayana, which tellsof his battles with, and defeat by, the hero-god Rama. The storiestold in Ravana Chhaya are all to do with this conflict, andcome from the Vichitra Ramayana, the Oriyan version of theRamayana, which was written around 1700.

    It seems strange that the genre should be named after itschief villain; some suggest that this is owing to the influence ofthe Jains, who are more sympathetic to Ravana than most Hindus, orpossibly to that of the Tamils, who take Ravana to be a symbol ofresistance to invaders from the north, assuming Lanka represents SriLanka. A more likely explanation is that the name Rama Chhayawas rejected because it was considered unlucky to speak of the godRama as a shadow.

    Performances are always preceded by sacrifices to Rama andother gods, although they can be held at any time and place and arenot related to any particular festivals. The puppets themselves areconsidered to be ceremonial objects. When a new puppet is made itis blessed before it is used, and worn out puppets are cremated andtheir ashes scattered into a river or stream.

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