Man requires expressing himself. He had thrived for this freedom. This is when he created art. Art is nothing but another mode of expression. The mode adopted for expression differs. From a painted canvas to a sculpted statue, from a hand written poem to a vocally sung song, from aiming arrows to handling animals, from dance to stunts everything is an art, everything is a human attempt at expression. India is an adobe of such expressive art. Indian villages were home to many traditional practices. One among such expressive practices was puppetry. Puppetry is animating inanimate objects. Beautifully molded and painted dolls were brought to life through strings. They danced about gracefully through a pair of hands, the puppeteer’s. In India puppets are locally known as kathputli, where kath means wood and puthli means doll. Puppet shows were mainly for entertainment while they were also performed during festivals, ceremonies and celebrations.

This ancient practice is believed to have originated about 3000 years ago. The tradition of puppets is based on folk stories and folk believes.  Puppet shows are the oldest form of entertainment.  These string and wire controlled articulated puppets were mainly used for communicating ideas and needs of the villages. Puppet shows during festivals recreated epics, local mythical heroes and allegory of their deities. Extracts from legendary epics were reanimated as a moral message to young children. Puppet shows were also used as a medium to educate the illiterate locals about how to face day to day hurdles. The shows were aimed at creating awareness about dowry, woman empowerment, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and cleanliness. They provided the people with solutions to their problems. For instance, a local recollects a puppet show on how to respond during snake encounter. Another example was the demonstration of first aid during various situations of emergencies and dos and don’ts during natural calamities. Puppet shows had attracted people of all ages.

Seeing a puppet dance about flawlessly in a theatre, one tends to forget that it is being handled by the puppeteer. Puppet shows were enhanced by adding music and giving voices to the puppet characters. Visual aids included curtains and weapons for the puppet warriors. Characteristic to this art form are the shrill voices of the lead puppeteer spoken through a bamboo reed. In India, puppetry is more prevalent in Rajasthan. No religious festival, no social gathering, no village fair and no celebration in Rajasthan can be complete without the kathputlis. Today, kathputli is one of the major performing arts in Rajasthan. The tribes and locals of Rajasthan have been preforming this art since ancient times and it has become an eternal part of Rajasthan culture and tradition.

Art, like beauty, is a matter of perception. It goes beyond mere appreciation because appreciation depends on interpretation which in turn depends on the observer. There are varieties in the form of the puppet show. Shadow puppetry is an example. Puppet shows are a visual treat to the audience. Colorful dolls weave about more colorful stories as they move about the screen. This traditional art has to be protected.

Sahana Shankar

Content intern at The Fishbowl Network
Hey, This is Sahana.. I am now doing my B.tech in civil engineering at NIT Trichy.. I enjoy books and music.. I also like creative writing and do a lot of playing with words! I would encourage reviews and comments..

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  1. [...] shows were a medium of communication. To know more about traditional puppetry and its importance click here! Shadow puppeteers of India still follow Indian tradition and customs in their acts. Being one among [...]