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Puppet Performance

Myanmar Puppetry/Marionette

Myanmar puppetry or Marionettes are small figures made by the skilled craftsmen of Myanmar with movable limbs, heads, arms and so on. It is one of the oldest forms of craft in Myanmar which is being revived today by the marionette enthusiasts. It is interesting to note how strings are attached to the movable parts of the puppets to make movements possible. These strings are controlled by men showing puppet shows so as to make them move in whichever way they want. The actions of these puppets emulate those of human beings and this provides them a distinct characteristic. In earlier times the makers of the puppets used to arrange shows themselves. The puppets were given male and female shapes as is in the humans and were made to dress beautifully as human males and females do.


The styling of the puppets followed the trends of the contemporary times. They were decorated following the fashion trends of the times so that they appeared real and people watching the show could easily identify them. The puppets were usually made of wood and the type of wood would depend on the kind of character carved out of the wood. Human figures, Nats and animals like horses were carved out of clog wood (Ya Ma Nay), hermit, kings and ministers were made out of Millingtonia Hortensis wood (Aye Ka Yit) and Anthocephalus Cadamba (Ma U) or Albiziz Stipulata (Pan Mair Sar) for other figures. During early 19th century Bombax Malabaricum wood was used in place of Millingtonia Hortensis for making the Nat.


There used to be 18 primary characters comprising a band. The following are those characters:

  • Human
  1. Hermit or Rathay
  2. Brahmin astrologer / Villain (Ponna)
  3. Spirit Medium (Nat Ka Daw)
  4. King (Bu Rin)
  5. Minister (Wun)
  6. Prince (Min Thar)
  7. Princess (Min Tha Mee)
  • Mythological
  1. Dragon (Naga)
  2. Demon/Ogre (Belu)
  3. Brama (Byarmar)
  4. Garuda (Galon)
  5. Alchemist (ZawGyi)
  • Animal
  1. Parrot (Kyet To Yway)
  2. Horse (Myin)
  3. White elephant (Sin Phyu)
  4. Tiger (Kyar)
  5. Monkey (Myauk)
  6. Black elephant (Sin Net)


Later the basic number of characters increased to 28 including the Spirit (Nat), Demon (Ogre), Comedian (Lu shwin taw), Old Lady (An May), Senior Prince (Min that Gyi), Female Dancer (Ah pyo taw) and Minister (Wun). The characters increased to 42 later on including the artists who were playing other characters. The puppets generally had 17 strings attached to various sections of their body. One end of the strings were lopped or attached to wooden handles with the help of which the puppets were moved by men. There are strings to the right and left side of head, nape, elbow, shoulder, waist, knee, heel and foot.


Some of the puppets were just used for decorating homes and other places. These puppets were shorter in height than the ones used for shows. The later ones ranged between 55 and 82cm while the former between 25 and 82cm. Sometimes even bigger puppets are available for shows.



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