Art was born out of human need to communicate. Various art forms like painting, dance, music and puppetry were prevalent and powerful media of expression. Puppetry being a significant one among them has been pre-dominant for long and overtime it has evolved into many forms. One such form is shadow puppetry. As the name reveals, in shadow puppetry, the messengers are shadows. Unlike the usual form of puppetry, which was prevalent in Rajasthan, shadow puppetry was prevalent in many states of south India. Also shadow puppets are not as whole and colorful as the usual ones; instead they are paper-cut with their joints such that they can be freely operated by threads.
A shadow puppet theatre consists of a white screen on which the shadows of the puppets are projected using lamps. Wonderful effects can be generated by moving the light source and the puppets. The color of the light source was used to enhance the act. For instance, red color was flashed for war scenes. The interesting part is yet to come. One must remember that all this happened centuries ago. So, they couldn’t have switched on and off multi-colored laser lights for such effects. Where else did they bring color from? How could they have colored their light? This is where beauty surfaces. They had actually flashed white light through colored cloth for obtaining colored light. Not just light but this art form faced many other challenges. In shadow puppetry only the profile of the puppet is visible. To overcome this limitation shadow puppetry was excessively dramatized. They are elegantly sculpted and take as many as 3000 cuts. Beauty of this art form lies in the method adopted for differentiating characters. In shadow puppetry this is achieved using their character wise features. For instance, a peacock feather stuck to the hair implies Lord Krishna, a ten headed image meant Ravana and a woman seated on a lotus flower meant Goddess Lakshmi.
Even though shadow puppetry is different from the usual puppet shows, its use and importance in the society is same as that of the traditional one. Puppet 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 the dying arts, shadow puppetry is prevalent in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu .