Revival Of The Dying Artby Naing
of Myanmar Puppetry and related information about Mandalay Marionette
Theatre in Myanmar.
in the IIAS newsletter for the Asian Studies at the Leiden University,
The Netherlands (1997) and the Bulletin of the Burma Studies Group
at the Northern Illinois University (September 1998)
By Naing Yee Mar, co-founder of the Mandalay Marionette Theatre,
Mandalay, Myanmar since 1986
marionette theatre (Yoke Thay) - once a highly esteemed royal pastime
- is a show not merely of stringed wooden dolls, but of life-like
human substitutes. It is in fact, wooden marionettes manipulated
by means of strings. They could dance like subtle choreographers.
The Myanmar puppet still holds its own national characteristics
and the original Myanmar tradition as it includes all the artistic
works such as Myanmar dancing and music, sculpture, sequin embroidery
puppetry dates back several centuries. It was well established in
Myanmar during the Pagan Era, 11th century and records of the arts
were made in the fifteen century. Since then it has trod a dogged
time again, into popularity. This process of revival and decline
had recurred repeatedly. Puppetry was in great demand at the courts
of the Myanmar royalty, especially during the Kone Bong Era (1820-1885).
those times of Myanmar Kings, the royalty did not at first allowed
human dancers on the stage. That was a great opportunity for lifeless
marionette dancers to be on a high level stage above the Royal audience.
It was known as Ah-Myint-Tha-Bin which literally means performance
on the high level. Female artists were not allowed at that time
to present themselves on stage. Accordingly, male artists who performed
as women impersonators were later known as Yoke-Thay-Min-Tha-Mi.
The muman mani pulators and singer were hidden and obliged to perform
behind the hand rail and the back curtain attached to it.
The 28 puppets were formed to depict the 28 ru-pas (physical forms)
which consists of four bu-ta-nu-pas (elements) and 24 u-pa-da-ya-ru-pas
(attachments) and mentioned in the Ah-bi-damma; the Buddha's teachings
embodied in the third basket of Ti-pi-ta-ka.
puppet sculptors are required to observed the strict rules regarding
the choice of the prescribed types of wood for carving particular
figures, the prescribed proportion of the figures befitting the
roles and human anatomy including sex organs.
themes of puppet plays were drawn from the ten great lives and the
550 Birth Stories of Lord Buddha and for historic legends. The accent
Myanmar kings patronized this important branch of Myanmar art with
great emphasis. With the demise of Myanmar royalty the art commenced
a sharp decline and during pre-war days efforts for its revival
were undertaken with meager results.
the old traditional marionette generation has almost faded away.
This is simply due to the lack of patronage required during the
last few decades. Therefore, it has come to pass that the art of
marionette is referred to as a dying art. The same story is applicable
to the artists.
that reason, there is an arrangement of a special Marionette Theatre
in Mandalay, the old capital of Burma and the centre of Myanmar
art and culture. A private team of professional artists has tried
to restore this folk art, which was rapidly disappearing with the
advanced of modern entertainment.
that this show would be of great interest to the audience and also
a good help to give them an idea of ancient Myanmar and Myanmar
culture. It is being organized by two Myanmar women, who were sincerely
interested and focused on the discovery of puppetry since 1986.
The first one is Mrs. Ma Ma Naing, who is a daughter of U Thein
Naing, the writer of Burmese Puppet Theatre published in Rangoon
in 1966. The other one is Mrs. Naing Yee Mar, who was a student
of researcher Dr.Tin Maung Kyi. The aims of his research are to
rediscover and preserve Myanmar anatomical science relating to puppets
and to help future scholars who opt to preserve and further promote
the course of private studies of the two founders of Mandalay marionettes
Theatre, they gradually discovered two puppet players U Pan Aye,
70 years old and U Mya Thwin, 82 years old. They are the former
pupils of the Marionette artist Shwe Bo U Tin Maung, one of the
remaining descendents of the ancients professionals. The two female
founders of the theatre discovered not only these two old puppet
masters but also found out the way the old masters carved, joined,
ornamented and strung puppets was and art in itself. The anatomical
proportion of puppet of a prince and prince figure, as measured
and recordered by U Mya Thwin, are:
- diameter of head around
one span (between thumb and tip
of middle finger) plus four fingers
- length of face from centre of skull to chin tip
- seven and a half times unit of measure
- half of height
length of hands
- double lengths of hands
one cubit (18 inches) plus one span of fingers.
ratios of anatomical formations of a prince and princess of the
royal troup are so important they can be memorized by learning the
My desire is to give you a memorable glimse into a dying art which
we hope will once again find its legitimate place in the entertainment