Indian Puppetry

Indian Puppetry

Indian Puppetry

Origin of Indian Puppetry

The origins of Indian puppetry trace back to antiquity, with references dating as far back as 500 BC. Archaeological excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have unearthed puppets with sockets, providing evidence of puppetry’s popularity in ancient India. Notable literary works such as Silappadikaram and the Mahabharata, composed in the first and second century BC, also mention puppetry. 

Classification of Indian Puppetry

Indian puppetry can be categorized into four distinct forms, each characterized by unique puppet-making techniques and performance styles.

1. String Puppetry

  • Kundhei: Hailing from Odisha, Kundhei string puppets are crafted from light wood and boast greater mobility due to additional joints. The puppeteer manipulates the strings, often accompanied by Odissi dance.
  • Kathputli: Renowned in Rajasthan, Kathputli puppets are known for their colorful traditional Rajasthani attire. These puppets are manipulated with the puppeteer’s fingers attached to the strings and are devoid of legs.
  • Bommalattam: Originating in Tamil Nadu, Bommalattam combines elements of rod and string puppetry. The puppeteer wears an iron ring on their head, connected to the strings, while some puppets can reach up to 4.5 feet in height.
  • Gombeyatta: A traditional puppetry style from Karnataka, Gombeyatta puppets are inspired by characters from Yakshagana Theatres. Multiple puppeteers collaborate to control these puppets.

2. Shadow Puppetry

  • Togalu Gombeyaata: Karnataka’s celebrated shadow puppetry is distinguished by variations in puppet size based on social rank. Monarchs and leaders are portrayed by larger puppets, while smaller ones represent the underprivileged.
  • Ravana Chhaya: Odisha’s dramatic shadow puppetry style features puppets made from deerskin, posed dramatically. These puppets lack joints, making them challenging to manipulate but capable of conveying poetic narratives.
  • Tholu Bommalata: Andhra Pradesh’s shadow theatre focuses on legendary and holy stories from the Epics and Puranas, featuring larger, double-sided puppets.

3. Rod Puppetry

  • Yampuri: Rod puppets from Bihar are typically made of wood and lack joints. These puppets are controlled by rods and are relatively simple in structure.
  • Putul Nach: Hailing from the Bengal-Odisha-Assam region, this rod puppet dance features Jatra characters and involves a musical ensemble of three to four musicians.

4. Glove Puppetry

Pavakoothu: Kerala’s traditional glove puppetry, Pavakoothu, was influenced by Kathakali. These puppets are adorned with wooden arms, a head, and intricate decorations, creating visually captivating performances.

Indian puppetry, once a vibrant and integral part of cultural expression, has faced challenges in recent years due to dwindling audiences and financial constraints. However, it remains a testament to India’s rich cultural tapestry, blending elements from literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theatre to offer a unique and creative form of storytelling.

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