Today’s A Journey through Aesthetic Realms will be presented in Burmese and English, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Burmese, Chinese, English, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Gifted viewers, welcome to A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television.

Myanmar (Burma) is a country with a glorious history and rich culture. Among her fine and time-honored traditions, the ancient art of puppetry is a jewel of the nation’s heritage. Today, we invite you to join us for a special experience at the Mandalay Marionettes Theater.

My name is Daw Ma Ma Naing. I’m the founder and the managing director and also a puppeteer of this Mandalay Marionettes Theater. We started this Mandalay Marionettes Theater 20 years ago.

The co-founder of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater is Ms. Naing Yee Mar, who is a student of Dr. Tin Maung Kyi, an expert in Myanmar anatomical science relating to puppets. Ms. Ma Ma Naing told us about her unique and very interesting background.

My father is a famous writer in the whole of Myanmar. He used to write many books about Myanmar literature, and also Myanmar theater performances including Myanmar string puppetry. When he wrote that book, he won the first prize, the national prize of the government. So when he was writing that book in 1968, my father had to go to many villages to interview the master puppeteers, and I always went with my father. And sometimes, I followed my father to the puppet show also. So when I was young like that, those kinds of things inspired me.

After my graduation, firstly, I used to be a primary teacher, and then junior assistant teacher. Then I stopped working in government service, and I started doing this theater because the tourists in Mandalay are very interested in Myanmar culture but it is very difficult to see, and it’s not easy to find out even. So, that’s why my young life, with my father’s book, inspired me to found this culture theater. So for this reason we started this theater in 1990.

The two young ladies embarked on a quest for old-time puppet players with historical knowledge and a recognized lineage of devotion to the craft. After a period of tireless search, they found two such treasured individuals, the 70-year-old Mr. U Pan Aye and the 82-year-old Mr. U Mya Thwin. They were both former students of the famous Burmese marionette artist Shwe bo U Thin Maung, one of the few known descendants of ancient professional puppeteers.

By learning from esteemed members of the older generation who have witnessed the evolution of this unique art form, Ms. Ma Ma Naing and Ms. Naing Yee Mar gradually built a high-quality troupe of puppet handlers, musicians, and dancers. The team is currently advised by Dr. Tin Maung Kyi, Mr. U Pan Aye, and Mr. U Shwe Nan Tin, who is another former pupil of puppet master Shwe Bo U Thin Maung. Myanmar puppetry belongs to a special group of puppet arts that has a distinct doll design and method of maneuvering.

Among the varieties of puppets, namely glove puppet, rod puppet, shadow puppet, and string puppet, our Myanmar puppet falls into the last category of string puppet. Myanmar string puppetry is entirely different from the puppets of neighboring countries in style, form of dance, connection of parts, dress, and handling. The puppets are specially designed to enable them to perform dancing movements rather than characteristic stage movements.

The string puppet is the most capable of presenting human movements. String puppets are also called marionettes. A typical Myanmar marionette is around 55 centimeters in height. It is guided by 17 strings attached to its head, neck, back, elbows, knees, hands, heels, and a few other moving pieces. The performer directs the puppet by pulling one or several strings with their “loose” end tied to a wooden handle.

The flexible joints of the dolls and the sophisticated handling system allow an experienced presenter to create dance-like motions that mimic a human’s movements. From the puppet masters, Mrs. Ma Ma Naing’s team learned how the marionettes are artistically crafted to their perfection.

First, a suitable piece of wood is used for each character. For example, Millingtonia Hortensis wood is used for king, ministers, and hermits, while clog wood is used for horses and other human characters. Second, all representations are made in proportion to human anatomy. The relative length of each part of the body is faithfully observed. Even the ratio between a male and a female character must be carefully followed.

Finally, each assembled figurette is painted with vivid colors and donned with beautiful clothing. By tradition, a minimum of 28 characters are needed for a show. They represent the 4 basic elements (namely, earth, wind, fire, and water) and 24 worldly attachments described in Buddhist scriptures. These include mythological figures such as Brahma (the Hindu God of Creation), dragons, and spirits; animals such as the horse, elephant, and monkey; and humans such as a king, prince, and princess. These representative puppets are each suitably fitted into the story to create an enthralling show.

These characters, this is a green one. This couple is Prince and Princess from “Love Duet,” in the last scene, duet dance. And this (is the) bamboo clapper in the U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe folk dance with four musicians: bamboo clapper and oboist, and drum player and cymbal, so this is that character. And monkey, that is from “Himalayan Scene.”

The leading roles in a Myanmar puppet show are often the Prince and the Princess, who are dressed in splendid attire adorned with real jewelry. During the show, each puppeteer focuses on her or his own character, on her or his own character, leaving the singing and talking to a dedicated voice performer. The origin of Myanmar marionette art can be traced back to the Pagan Era in the 11th century.

During the Kone Bong Period in the 19th century, it received enthusiastic patronage from the royal court and became an art which was highly valued. Outside the palace, marionettes were a key means of communication through which news and knowledge were conveyed to the general public. One important theme of Myanmar puppet theatre was based on the spiritual story of the 550 lives of Lord Buddha.

Traditionally, we all are performing the Jataka tales of Buddha’s story. From 550 Jataka stories we traditionally perform, so Myanmar marionette show is a night-long affair. It starts in the evening and continues until the next morning. So, it is a real, real, real art, quite different from other countries.

According to ancient traditions, no one could provide direct advice to the king. Puppetry emerged as an effective means of communicating with the king and, at the same time, still obeying the rule. Life stories including urgent cases were composed into puppet plays and presented to the king as entertainment. With tacit understanding, the king would watch the show, gain knowledge of the situation, and make necessary decisions.

At the same time, they functioned as the mouthpieces for the people. So these small dolls, they enjoyed greater freedom of speech, dress and handling, and movement, rather than live performers. And that freedom allowed the puppets to speak to the king of court what others dare not say.

Because of this close relationship with the royalty, as well as the fact it is presented on stage, in the ancient time Myanmar puppetry was considered the High Theatre. In rural areas, puppetry also received popular attention as it was the main means of finding out news from larger cities and learning of Myanmar history and literature.

Our Myanmar string puppetry is not only for entertainment, but also a highly esteemed art by all classes. It is like a media, in the olden days. It is a means of making people aware of current events, a media for educating the audience in literature, history, and religion. So, the characteristic of Myanmar string puppetry is not only for entertainment, but also like a public forum.

For example, in the countryside, they were the media when there were no newspapers. The puppets used to travel from town to town and the puppeteers gathered information from many places, also from the capital city, and they relayed the news through the speeches of the comedian puppets, so that the country people in remote villages also heard about the city life. And so the comedian puppet handlers were the most important members in the puppet show.

To preserve this unique tradition, the Mandalay Marionettes Theater is making dedicated efforts to pass the knowledge to the next generation.

We are doing our best to get this skill from our master, because our master is getting old now, and then also our new generation, my children, my daughters, my sons, and my nephews, my nieces also, we teach them also. Our government, they arrange a performing arts competition every year, in this way many puppet troupes at that time appear and they participate in the competition. And in this way the new generations are learning these skills.

Representing many aspects of ancient Myanmar culture, the vibrant traditional puppet shows are among the major attractions to visitors who come to Mandalay.

I am very glad, and also I am very grateful to the audiences everywhere all over the world because they love our art. Everywhere in Asian countries, Japan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand and European countries, also in America, France;

they really love our Myanmar string puppet. I promise I will do my best to revive this ancient, very precious art form until my last second in my life.

Respected Ms. Ma Ma Naing, we are deeply touched by your wholehearted devotion to the preservation of such a unique and beautiful cultural heritage of Myanmar (Burma) and the world at large. We pray that your unwavering pursuit of conserving Myanmar folklores be blessed with great success as more and more people in the world appreciate the value of this exquisite art form. May Buddha bless Myanmar (Burma) and her pure-hearted people.

For more information about the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, please visit

Thank you for your hearty company today on A Journey through Aesthetic Realms. Up next on Supreme Master Television is Vegetarianism: The Noble Way of Living, right after Noteworthy News. May splendid art traditions inspire our inborn creativity endowed by Heaven.