Puppetry in India: Exploring Kathputli and More
The Indian subcontinent has always been a hot bed of color, vibrancy and all things rooted deep in culture. Puppetry is one such niche that we Indians have had linked with our heritage over the ages. Across the country, puppetry has risen high — only to lurk in the shadows where even the practitioners doubt their survival span. Of these, Kathputli theatre, by far, has the most popular appeal and generally comes to hog attention, thanks to the varied events around it.
Kathputli Theatre Over The Ages
The romance of Kathputli theatre dates back to about 1500 years — an inseparable and integral part of the folk culture of Rajasthan — in the Bhat community. About five centuries back, the theatre form received an impetus due to the sincere patronage that practitioners received from the royalty.
The romance of Kathputli theatre dates back to about 1500 years — an inseparable and integral part of the folk culture of Rajasthan — in the Bhat community. About five centuries back, the theatre form received an impetus due to the sincere patronage that practitioners received from the royalty.In 2015, perhaps Rajasthan is as well known for its Kathputli theatre as it is for Ghoomar. There are myriad organisations engaged in propagating and supporting the art form in the state and elsewhere in India. Some of the noted ones campaigning for the art ever since the early 1950s and 1960s are Rupayan Sansthan (based in Jodhpur) and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal (based in Udaipur).
There are myriad forms of puppetry theatre that can be found along the length and breadth of India:
A very lively and oft-featured form of puppetry in magazines and documentaries, the Kathputli format originated 1500 years back in tribal Rajasthan. Made from wood and dressed in colorful and intricate native attires, these puppets are controlled using string marionettes to the rhythmic narration of engaging folklores.
Synonymously known as hand puppetry, this type involves small puppets with arms, a head and a long attire. The puppeteer generally wears the puppets like gloves, skilfully maneuvering their movements.
Slightly larger than the glove puppets, this form of the art involves puppets controlled by rods that are never visible to the audience. The art demands precision and mystery for the practitioners to pull it off.
Delhi is also famous for housing an entire colony of kathputli artists in Shadipur Depot — Kathputli Colony. A hub of immense talent, a fading art, spirited people, and dire poverty.
As is evident from the name, shadow puppetry involves the use of puppets that are flat but can be projected onto a clear screen made from cloth.
The Puppetry Hubs in India
The Eastern states never lag behind in any form of art. It might barely surprise one that rod puppetry — known as putul nach in Bengal — is still popular in quaint towns and theatres across the city areas of these neighbouring states. There are even puppet plays based on Satee Behula and the Ramayana in West Bengal.
Down South — the land of Sangam literature — Tamil Nadu is a popular hub for the Bommalatam, i.e. string puppetry and the Thol Bommalattam, i.e. shadow puppetry. Shows are based on Pauranic tales and local literature.
The land of Jagannath is famed for its folk-inspired and literature-based puppetry shows of Kundhei-nach (glove), Ravanachaya (shadow), Kathi Kundhei (rod), and Gopalila kandhei (string) formats.
The main puppetry types you get to see in Maharashtra are the Kalasutri Bahulya — or string puppetry, and the Chamadyache Bahulya — or shadow puppetry.
Experience vibrant puppetry traditions and plays in Kerala with the Pavakuthu — or glove puppetry, and the Tholpavakoothu — or shadow puppetry.
Well known for Yakshagana — a live puppet theatre form, Karnataka has numerous puppetry shows based on the string and leather forms of this art.
Kathputli Colony, Delhi
Besides the Puppet Museum that makes Delhi doubly famous, interesting collections of kathputlis or other puppet forms can be found at Jawaharlal Nehru Museum For Children in Kolkata. Delhi is also famous for housing an entire colony of kathputli artists in Shadipur Depot — Kathputli Colony. A hub of immense talent, a fading art, spirited people, and dire poverty. Older than 50 years, the area recently came into the limelight because of the local government’s efforts to wipe the same away to allow real estate development. Organisations — small and big, regional and global — have unified in a bid to prevent this from happening. Most notably, thanks to foreign aid and local efforts, the fate of this Colony seems to have been brought back from what seemed like an inevitable death!
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