String Connections


Rahat Bano gives a peak into the world of traditional Iranian puppets which spawn academic interest as well



Dramatic arts enthralled Poupak Azimpour Tabrizi when she was a child. She wished to study theatre or cinema in college. When applying for the university admissions test, she chose puppetry out of options which included directing, playwriting, acting and scene design. “It was more interesting than other fields,” said Tabrizi, a scholar of Iranian puppetry and rituals during a recent visit for talk on the teke ceremony and puppets from Azerbaijan, in Delhi.


As she completed her Bachelor’s in directing puppetry and Master’s degrees in art research and stage directing, inadequate references and books on Iranian puppetry art set her on a path that culminated in a dictionary. Tabrizi worked for 15 years to compile a dictionary on Iranian traditional and ritual puppets and puppet shows. Its main chapter is about ritual puppets, for example, rainmakers’ puppets asking for rains when it is dry or rituals seeking sunlight when it pours too much. Other forms of puppetry are khaimeh shab bazi (string puppetry performed in a tent at night) and hand puppets (pehlawan kachal), which are majors at the University of Tehran (UT). The dictionary also introduces masters (puppeteers), symbolic figures and local, handmade dolls.


“We have a variety of ritual and traditional puppetry. I visited one village after another to interview people and gather information,” said Tabrizi, faculty member at the School of Performing Arts, College of Fine Arts, UT, who has contributed new articles about Iranian ritual and traditional puppet theatre to help puppetry organisation Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA) put together WEPA or Worldwide Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts. Tabrizi is also a board member of the Iranian branch of the body and a member of its research commission and heritage conservation committee (2012-16).


The teke (a billy goat in Azeri) is a ceremonial and ritual puppet of the Azeri region of Iran. It is a wooden puppet in the form of a billy with a rod attached to it passing through a hole at the centre of a square or circular sheet of wood. The puppeteer, or the tekechi, makes the teke whirl by moving the rod. In Azerbaijan in the country, the tekechi goes around villages to announce the arrival of spring, saying his goat “heard” it – it knows the earth’s signs “because it is a clever animal, which leads the flock,” said Tabrizi, whose lec-dem was a part of ‘The Everlasting Flame International Programme’ on Parsi-Zoroastrians in the Capital.


“In ancient times, people waited for spring because the winter was long and harsh. The tekechi would go door to door, praise the owners and wish them as well as their sheep and cows good health since most residents were shepherds. People would give him food and money.”


Variations of the puppet are seen in Central Asia but not as a ritual announcing spring. In Iran, teke became national intangible heritage in 2011. Tabrizi would like Unesco to recognise it as an intangible cultural heritage with other countries’ participation.
Published in The Education Times .