Why not put some of that airtime to a more beneficial use by showcasing a traditional form of art such as puppetry?” questions the Gurunnanse. “Puppetry is now in the ICU, and many of those in the ICU come out in boxes. Let’s hope that puppetry does not rest in peace
An Exhibition was held at Victoria Park in Colombo, now Viharamahadevi Park, in honour of the Prince of Wales, when he visited the island in 1922.Gamvari Podisirina Gurunnanse was granted the opportunity to showcase his puppetry prowess on this occasion. The Prince was so captivated by the performance that he offered the veteran puppeteer a gold medal and a sum of Rs.500 in recognition of his talents.
Such is the legacy left behind by Podisirina Gurunnanse, founder of traditional string puppetry in Sri Lanka, still in existence in a few villages in Ambalangoda. G Daniel and G Jamis Gurunnanse carried on the tradition after their father’s demise in 1936. G Premin, from Viharagoda, is a grandson of Podisirina Gurunnanse.
“The accolades bestowed on my grandfather by the Prince of Wales is the oldest such recognition on record,” says Premin Gurunnanse. According to him, this recognition revolutionized puppetry in old Ceylon while the ‘Podisirina’ name became synonymous with puppetry.
Premin Gurunnanse was a pioneer in his own right when he introduced the concept of celebrating World Puppetry Day on March 21 to Sri Lanka through his work at the Puppet Museum in Hirewatta, Ambalangoda. But the Tsunami razed it to the ground. “And I received no aid for it whatsoever,” says Premin Gurunnanse. He had requested for a location to rebuild his museum, but has received no response from the state to this day, he informs.
Premin Gurunnanse was the first to organize the World Puppetry Day local celebrations at Tower Hall and regrets that he had only been sent a casual invitation to the 2017 World Puppetry Day celebrations sponsored by the Cultural Department.
He noted that puppetry receives literally no state funding at the moment. “It’s a pity, because a little funding can go a long way.” He spoke with regret about the missed opportunities to showcase his puppetry legacy just because he did not have the money for transportation. “Recently a cultural show was organized in Polonnaruwa, but sadly I had to pass, because I could not afford the transport cost.”
He explains that stage plays such as Maname and Sinhabahu by Prof Sarachchandra were inspired by puppetry and whereas Maname and Sinhabahu have entered the world arena puppetry still lags far behind.
Premin Gurunnanse had many ideas as to how to popularize puppetry. “There is no place for puppetry in any of the literary festivals.” Puppetry can be an ideal tourist attraction and can be showcased in the many embassy functions. Moreover, puppetry could easily be incorporated into the school curriculum. He pointed out that puppetry is essentially a Buddhist form of art that could easily be used to disseminate Buddhism.
“All we have on TV these days are cookery shows and bridal dressing,” rebukes Premin Gurunnanse. “Why not put some of that airtime to a more beneficial use by showcasing a traditional form of art such as puppetry?” questions the Gurunnanse. “Puppetry is now in the ICU, and many of those in the ICU come out in boxes. Let’s hope that puppetry does not rest in peace.”
Pics by Chamila Karunarathne