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Puppets of India!

string kathputli

string kathputli

Shadow puppet show

Shadow puppet show

Glove puppet of Kerala

Glove puppet of Kerala

Rod puppets of Orissa

Rod puppets of Orissa

They signify a story, a play, a creative temperament, the history and tradition of ancient India; they are the Kathputli shows of India. They may be the oldest form of entertainment still prevalent in the country. A visit to some of the villages of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will reveal the performances of this dying art. Lack of patronage and devotional audiences has forced many puppeteers to abandon this art form. The puppets however are still preserved and made as souvenirs.


The puppets are believed to be around since the time of Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilisation dating back to 2300 BC. The Mahabharata refers to popular entertainment in India including art of puppetry and shadow theatre. There is reference in Gita where the three qualities found in men (Satta,Rajah and Tamah) are said to be the three strings pulled by the Divine to lead man in life.

Types of Puppetry form in India

String Puppets or Kathputli: The string puppets are called Kathputli and are made by the Bhatt community which performs in Jaipur and Jodhpur. The community makes and performs them from village to village during the dry season when cultivation is not possible.These forms of puppets are more prevalent in Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Kerala

Shadow Puppets: Shadow puppetry as a form of theatre evolved from the visual dramatisation given to cut-out figures. Different styles of leather shadow puppets are found in India in different regions, from translucent to opaque in nature.

Glove puppets: It is the simplest of all traditional Indian puppets. It is made of wood, paper, terracotta or cloth. They have no legs and the lower part remains covered under long costumes. The faces and dresses are all fashioned after the local customs. It is found in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Rod puppets: It is performed with three dimensional wooden figures that are manipulated with rods. Rod puppets are however seen in India only in the states of West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand.

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making the puppet head

making the puppet head

assembled puppet

assembled puppet

strings attached to head, hands and back

strings attached to head, hands and back

Making string puppets/ Kathputli

1.Kathputli is made of 8/9 inch wooden stick. With the help of chisel the wood is given a specific shape. The wood is painted with oil paint into skin colour and the finer details of the face are given. A minute brush is used to create the eyes, lips, nose on the face.

2.Small pipes are attached to create the hands, to the sides of the rod. The hand is wrapped with traditional cloth and stitched.

3.The trunk and the body is stitched to cover and give shape to the overall figure of the kathputli.

4.Final touches are given by adding jewellery and other accessories.

5.Strings are attached to hands, head and back of the body.

The puppet is ready to move and dance now!

A slight jerk of the string causes the puppets to produce movements of the hands, neck and shoulder. Many puppets hang on one rope: one string tied to the head and other to the waist. The puppeteer makes a loop around his fingers and manipulates the puppet.

Shadow puppetry(Tholu Bommalatta) of Tamil Nadu

Shadow puppetry(Tholu Bommalatta) of Tamil Nadu

Shadow puppetry of Orissa

Shadow puppetry of Orissa

Making shadow puppets

1.The outline of the character is drawn on the leather and then cut out.

2.To give effect the outline of the figure is cut out so that when light passes through it the exact impression is made on the screen.

3.The figures are painted on both sides identical.

4.Strings are attached to hands, back and head to make them mobile.

5.The puppets are displayed on a white screen where light is provided from behind. The shadow of the puppet then appears on the screen.

Some interesting facts

1. Kathputli is coined from two terms, “kath”, which means a story and “putli”, which means puppets or dolls.

2. The stage for the show is made by placing two cots together vertically and tying bamboo around them horizontally. A curtain, generally dark in colour, is at the back-stage and a colourful curtain with three arches hangs at the front, called Tiwara or Tajmahal. Most of the puppets are hung on the bamboo at the back-stage

3. Narration and music make an intricate part of the puppet show. They are both usually hidden from the audience. The puppets "illustrate" the text by their action. Through variations in pitch and coloration, the actor gives the puppet its own voice. Every puppet has its own style of language, delivering dialogue, tempo and mannerism. The Kathputli emits whistling voice, which is interpreted by the commentators

4. The script is generally stories from the epic or traditional plays.

5. Organisations are now making use of puppets as a medium to spread effective information on health, education and Human rights.

Traditional puppeteers are now is constant competition against new technologies and media. Many are trying to imitate modern TV and cinema with their limited resources to attract the urban strata. Hope this dying art form which amazed me as a child, continue to be entertain future generations as well

Rajasthani puppet show

Rajasthani puppet show

Museum and other collection of puppets

Bharatia Lok Kala Mandal

Located near the City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, has an interesting collection of folk arts, costumes, dolls, masks, musical instruments and paintings. Includes collection of traditional puppets of India and some foreign puppets, presented by different countries. It has also an auditorium where traditional Rajasthani puppet shows are regularly held.

Chitrakala Parishad

Located in Bangalore and is working since 1967. It has a collection of 2000 traditional puppets.

Crafts Museum

Located at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, the museum has an exhibition of unique craft objects, including puppets from all over India.

Folklore Museum, Manasa Gangotri

This museum is located in Mysore, Karnataka. It has a very large collection of shadow and string puppets.

Jagmohan Palace

Located in Mysore, Karnataka, it has collection of crafts object including puppets.

Karnataka Janapada Trust

The Trust was set up in Bangalore in 1979. The Trust has a folk museum, comprising video recordings of shadow, rod and string puppetry of Karnataka. The museum has also a collection of all puppets available in Karnataka, including miniature puppets.

Malliah Theare Crafts Museum

It is situated in Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, New Delhi. The museum contains a rare collection of puppets, masks and ornaments.

National Children Museum

This museum is in Bal Bhavan, New Delhi. It has a rich collection of toys and dolls from India and abroad.

Nehru Children's Museum

This museum is near Birla Planetarium in Kolkata. It has a good collection of dolls from India and abroad with some puppets.

Orissa State Meseum

Located at Bhuvaneswar, it has a collection of traditional string puppets of Orissa.

Sangeet Natak Akademi

Located at Rabindra Bhawan, Ferozshah Road, New Delhi. The museum has large collection of traditional puppets of India. The Akademi also has a large archive of audio and videotapes, photographs and films on puppetry.

Comments on September 04, 2014:

Interesting, and very well put together.

geetika iyer (author) from India on April 04, 2012:

Thanks Rosika! I am delighted that you found it interesting! Thanks for stopping by!

rosika on April 02, 2012:

Wow some new facts to find out about puppets...wonderful pictures as well..voted up and voted interesting!

geetika iyer (author) from India on March 11, 2012:

Thanks Abhinav!

ABHINAV on January 21, 2012:

Loved your article..its very well written and very informative too.....!!!

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