Yampuri is a famous puppetry art form of Bihar. This art form has its roots in Uttar Pradesh and then over a period of time, found its way to the state of Bihar from where it is vividly practiced at present. The artists who practice this indigenous art form, often travel to the states of Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal to perform at various local fairs.
The puppets employed in this art form are made of wood and manipulated by strings. Unlike other traditional rod puppets of West Bengal and Orissa, these puppets are in one piece and have no joints. Rod puppetry is similar to glove puppetry but the puppets are larger in size than that of the latter and are manipulated by rods.
A wheeled platform that has a height of about three feet from the ground is set up for the show. The puppeteers and the musicians position themselves near the stage. The classical and folk music of the region serve as the background score during the performance. Curtains act as a backdrop for the enactment of various scenes.
The main characters are Lord Yama (Hindu God of Death), his messenger and Chitragupta (the record-keeper of a person’s deeds). As a matter of fact, the word ‘Yampuri’ is an amalgamation of two words ‘Yama‘ and ‘Puri‘ (abode) which translates into the abode of God of Death. Secondary characters include Vidushak (the clown), Sage Narada, the narrator and the dead who are awaiting judgments of their lifetime deeds from the God of Death. The entire play is enacted and narrated in Hindi.
Depending on the actions, the rightful people are granted heaven and the guilty are confined to the perils of hell. The people ascending the heaven are shown crossing the divine river Vaitarani, holding the tail of a cow. The songs that are composed are dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswathi. The play is meant to instill fear in people’s mind regarding the evil deeds, which will ultimately lead one’s soul to hell.
Yampuri puppetry is on the verge of cultural decline as it is restricted to a particular demographic area and lack of promotion. The state government and the central government should join hands to revive the folk art forms.