A New Light on the Shadows of Heavenly Bodies

Indian Shadow Puppets: From Still Paintings to Motion Pictures

In: Religion and the Arts

The distinct tradition of Indian shadow puppetry has been the subject of much interest among scholars, focusing mainly on its origin, the mutual exchange between different regions across Asia, and the relationship between theater performance and popular culture. This study discusses the similarities of shadow puppets with temple mural painting and loose-leaf paintings, and shows how puppets may have shifted technically from narrative paintings on loose-leaf folios toward motion pictures, in order to create a more interactive link between the audience and the storyteller.

The first part of this paper explores the archetypal and psychological meanings of shadow in Indian culture and religion, as well as its relationship with the origins of painting. The main issues include archetypal references to the shadow of Hindu gods described in Vedic, epic, and Purāņic sources, the use of prototypes to transmit knowledge to humankind, and the analysis of shadow puppets as moving pictures. Secondly, the paper analyzes the materiality of puppets and their consistency with Indian aesthetics and art criticism in the form of theoretical principles found in classical texts and art treatises such as the Nāțyaśāstra, the Viṣṇudhārmottāra, and the Śilpaśāstra.

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    DonigerSplitting the Difference 12–13. The text also refers to the false Sita as “māyā Sita” or the Sita who was an illusion. The word māyā means “illusion” or “delusion.”

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