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Puppet Forms of India
                                                                                                    February 4, 2018


The puppets are believed to be around since the time of Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilisation dating back to 2300 BC. Several dolls with strings are found in some of the harappan cities.

The Mahabharata refers to popular entertainment in India including art of puppetry and shadow theatre. There is reference in Gita where the three qualities found in men (Satta, Rajah and Tamah) are said to be the three strings pulled by the Divine to lead man in life.

Silappadikaaram – earliest reference to the art of puppetry is found in Sangam literature.

Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in traditional entertainment. Puppetry has been successfully used to motivate emotionally and physically handicapped students to develop their mental and physical faculties. Awareness programmes about the conservation of the natural and cultural environment have also proved to be useful. These programmes aim at sensitising the students to the beauty in word, sound, form, colour and movement. The aesthetic satisfaction derived from making of puppets and communicating through them helps in the all round development of the personality of the child.

Stories adapted from puranic literature, local myths and legends usually form the content of traditional puppet theatre in India which, in turn, imbibes elements of all creative expressions like painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, etc. The presentation of puppet programmes involves the creative efforts of many people working together.

Several types of Puppet forms are available in our diverse culture of India:

String Puppets

a) It has jointed body and limbs that allow movement.
b) Puppets are made of wood, or wire, or cloth stuffed with cotton, rags or saw dust. T
c) The puppet is suspended from a hand held control strings that are attached to different parts of the puppet’s body.
d) The puppet is manipulated by operating the control as well as by loosening or pulling the relevant string(s).
e) For the convenience of manipulation and support, two rods are attached to the hands of the puppets.
i. Kathputli (Rajasthan)
ii. Kundhei (Orissa)
iii. Gombeyatta (Karnataka)
iv. Bommalattam (TN)

Shadow Puppets

a) Shadow puppets are flat puppets that are operated against the rear of a tightly stretched white cloth screen.
b) They are cut out of leather, which has been treated to make it translucent.
c) Shadow puppets are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it.
d) The manipulation between the light and the screen make silhouettes or colourful shadows for the viewers who sit in front of the screen.
e) The puppet shapes or cutouts are perforated and split bamboo or cane sticks are attached vertically to the puppet for handling and manipulation.
i. Togalu Gombeyatta (Karnataka)
ii. Tholu Bommalata (AP)
iii. Ravanachhaya (Orissa)
iv. Tolpavakoothu (Kerala)
v. Chamadyache Bahulya (Maharashtra)

Rod Puppets

a) These puppets have mostly three joints. The heads, supported by the main rod, is joined at the neck and both hands attached to rods are joined at the shoulders.
b) The main holding rod that supports the puppet may be hidden by a robe or costume of the puppet.
c) The action rods are usually connected to the hands of the puppet and manipulated by the puppeteer to show action.
d) The body and hands have a bamboo base covered and plastered with hay and rice husk mixed and moulded into required shape.
e) Due to the absence of legs the puppets are draped in a sari or dhoti as per the character.
f) The puppet movements are highly dramatic.
i. Putul Nautch (WB)
ii. Yampuri (Bihar)
iii. Kathi Kandhe (Orissa)

Glove Puppets


a) The glove puppets are worn on hands just like a glove.
b) The middle finger and thumb act as hands of the puppet and the index finger acts as the head.
c) Head is made of either papier mache, cloth or wood, with two hands emerging from just below the neck.
1. Pava-kathakali (Kerala)
2. Kundhei nach (Orissa)

In the past, traditional puppet shows were used to convey religious messages in villages. Today, due to the influence of modern communication methods, the traditional puppetry is at the cross roads in many states of India with most puppeteers taking to alternate source of livelihood. However, contemporary puppetry has a tremendous scope in the field of education, entertainment and awareness generation.

Pavai (Centre for Puppetry) explores and uses the art of puppetry for communication at various levels and works towards its promotion and preservation with the help of children, youth and the teaching community.