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Puppets (Putuls) of India

By : Puppets (Putuls) of India

March 17, 2022

Puppets are an age-old part of India’s folk heritage. Believed to have originated in India, the art of puppetry finds mention in the Tamil classic Silappadikaaram composed around the 1st – 2nd Century. The plots of puppet shows are mainly inspired by religious texts such as Mahabharata, Ramayana, and the Puranic texts. Through narration, music, and dance, puppets are a unique form of storytelling. Over the years, the art form has evolved and taken many forms varying from region to region.

String Puppets

String puppets or marionettes are forms of puppets whose movements are controlled by strings. Their shows are interactive and entertaining with expressions through movements of hands and the body of the puppet dolls. Few forms of string puppets that are widely popular are:

  • Kathputli, Rajasthan:
Kathputli, Rajasthan

Visually colorful and adorned with costumes and headgears, Kathputlis of Rajasthan entertain their audience with folk music and dance of the region. These are carved out of wood and their costumes represent the traditional outfits of Rajasthan.

  • Kundhei, Odisha:
Kundhei Puppet, Odisha

Made out of light wood, Kundheis wear long flowy skirts and attires resembling costumes worn by performers of the traditional Jatra theatres. These puppets have more joints as compared to Kathputlis and are controlled by a triangular instrument held by the puppeteer to control the puppets.

  • Gombeyatta, Karnataka:
Gombeyatta Puppet, Karnataka

The Gombeyatta puppets of Karnataka are ideated to resemble the characters from Yakshagana, the regional theater. Unlike the Kathputlis and Kundheis, these puppets have legs. These are controlled with five to seven strings and might take two to three puppeteers at a time to maneuver the movements.

  • Bommalattam, Tamil Nadu:
Bommalattam Puppet, Tamil

The Bommalattam puppets are the heaviest, largest, and most eloquent of all the puppets in India and include the techniques of both string and rod puppets. What is unique about them is that the strings that are used to control the movements are tied to an iron ring which is then worn by the puppeteer on his head.

Shadow Puppets

Shadow puppets are flat and translucent cut out from treated leather. They are pressed against the screen with the light source reflecting light from the back to create mesmerizing artistic silhouettes for the viewers who witness the play of colorful shadows. Few forms of string puppets that are widely popular are:

  • Togalu Gombeyatta, Karnataka:
Togalu Gombeyatta, Karnataka

The puppets of Togalu Gombeyatta theater vary in size depending upon the figure they are depicting. For instance, someone with higher social status is depicted through bigger puppets and the common folk through smaller ones.

  • Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh:
Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh

One of the richest traditions in puppetry, the puppets of this theater are colored on both sides reflecting colorful shadows on the screen. The themes are mainly inspired by regional music and puranic texts.

  • Ravanacchaya, Orissa:
Ravanacchaya, Orissa

Perhaps one of the most engaging and interactive forms of puppetry, Ravanacchaya puppets are different from other shadow puppets. These puppets are made from deerskin and are not colored. Hence, the shadows are opaque. The movements of these are difficult to maneuver and require great expertise and precision.

Glove Puppets

Glove Puppet

As the name suggests, the puppets are worn on the hand like a glove. The head is usually crafted from papier mache or wood and for the body, there is a flowy dress. The hands emerge just below the neck of the puppet.

The narratives vary from region to region – in Uttar Pradesh, the themes are more society centric whereas, in Odisha, the story of Radha and Krishna is narrated.

Rod Puppets

This form of puppetry is like glove puppets with the major distinction in the use of rods to control the movements of the puppet and these are larger in size.

  • Putul Nautch, West Bengal:
Putul Nautch, West Bengal

Putul Nautch puppets are one of the most theatric ones. Carved out of wood, the dolls vary in size and stylization from region to region. What makes them interesting is the technique through which the movement is controlled by the puppeteer. A bamboo hub is tied to the rod attached to the waist of the puppet and the puppeteer dances and moves behind the curtains in coordination with the dancing puppets.