Once a significant means to propagate patriotic ideologies, Chador Badoni puppetry struggles to find an audience today

India is repeatedly labelled as a union of heritage and modernity, craft and skill, art and culture. While some art forms like the traditional Lakhnavi Chikankari hand embroidery and Madhubani painting have made a mark internationally, there are some lesser-known but equally worthy tribal art forms that are on the verge of dying and are in dire need of their people’s attention. One such art form is the Chador Badoni, a form of puppetry practised in the Dumka district of Jharkhand State. Jharkhand, that was declared as a separate state in 2000, is an amalgamation of varied cultures predominantly tribes including, Lohra, Mai Pahariya, Munda, Oraon, Kol or Kawar, Asurs, Santhals, Banjara, Khond merged with that of the non-tribal communities. It is a land of exquisite art forms that are yet to be witnessed by the world. While Sohrai and Kohvar paintings of Hazaribagh are better established of these art forms, there are only a dozen of artists practising Chador Badoni.

Chador Badoni literally translates to ‘small wooden idol’. It consists of both male and female figurines and the storyline of the puppet show is based on day to day life events of the tribal communities. Living in proximity to nature these communities still believe in the power of the mother Earth and this admiration transcends in these puppet shows as well.

Chador Badoni, in the times of freedom struggle, was also used to propagate patriotic ideologies. During that time there were no other media except Chador Badoni to spread the stories of freedom fighters and inspire the youth. However, with the influx of modern means of communication, the art form neither finds a stage nor enthusiastic audience who would appreciate the old form of story-telling.

Babudhan Murmu of Badi Tola, Jharkhand who is a 50-year-old Chador Badoni artist says, “The problems faced by the Chador Badoni artist community are many. Once employed by freedom fighters, Chador Badoni is now a dying art form practised only by a handful of artists. The investment in buying the frame for the puppet show is Rs25,000, and in comparison, we only earn a meagre Rs50-Rs150 a day. Besides, we have to carry the setup, from one place to another or door to door in search of an audience.”

Comparing himself to a beggar, Babudhan complained that the only time they present the show is from August and continue through the end of October or mid-November. Since Jharkhand shares its border with West Bengal, Kali Puja is celebrated with rigour in the entire state. It is during this festive season only that this art form gets some limelight.

While the state government has initiated various programmes to empower the tribal community, it is imperative that they devise strategies for restoration of Chador Badoni as a commendable art form.