Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Puppet Theatre of India

 Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in traditional entertainment. Like traditional theatre, themes for puppet theatre are mostly based on epics and legends. Puppets from different parts of the country have their own identity. Regional styles of painting and sculpture are reflected in them.

Almost all types of puppets are found in India: String puppets; Shadow puppets; Rod puppets; Glove puppets.

India has a rich and ancient tradition of string puppets or marionettes. Marionettes having jointed limbs controlled by strings allow far greater flexibility and are, therefore, the most articulate of the puppets. Rajasthan, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are some of the regions where this form of puppetry has flourished.

Kathputli, Rajsathan

  • Carved from a single piece of wood, 
  • Oval faces, large eyes, arched eyebrows and large lips are some of the distinct facial features of these string puppets. 
  • these puppets are like large dolls which are colourfully dressed. Their costumes and headgears are designed in the medieval Rajasthani style of dress. 
  • These puppets wear long trailing skirts and do not have legs. 
  • The Kathputli is accompanied by a highly dramatised version of the regional music. 
  • Puppeteers manipulate them with two to five strings which are normally tied to their fingers and not to a prop or a support.

Kundhei, Orissa
  • Made of light wood, 
  • Orissa puppets have no legs but wear long flowing skirts. 
  • They have more joints and are more versatile, articulate and easy to manipulate. 
  • The puppeteers often hold a wooden prop, triangular in shape, to which strings are attached for manipulation. 
  • The costumes of Kundhei resemble those worn by actors of the Jatra traditional theatre
  • For music, regional popular tunes are used and sometimes is influenced by the music of Odissi dance.

Gombeyaata, Karnataka
  • They are styled and designed like the characters of Yakshagana (the traditional theatre form of the region). 
  • The Gombeyatta puppet figures are highly stylized and have joints at the legs, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. 
  • These puppets are manipulated by five to seven strings tied to a prop. Some of the more complicated movements of the puppet are manipulated by two to three puppeteers at a time. 
  • Episodes enacted are usually based on Prasangas of the Yakshagana plays. 
  • The accompanying music blends folk and classical elements.

Bommalaatam, Tamil Nadu
  • Bommalattam combine the techniques of both rod and string puppets. 
  • Made of wood and 
  • Strings for manipulation are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears like a crown on his head.
  • The Bommalattam puppets are the largest, heaviest and the most articulate of all traditional Indian marionettes. A puppet may be as big as 4.5 feet in height weighing about ten kilograms. 
  • Bommalattam theatre has elaborate preliminaries which are divided into four parts - Vinayak Puja, Komali, Amanattam and Pusenkanattam.  

India has the richest variety of types and styles of shadow puppets. Shadow puppets are flat figures. They are cut out of leather, which has been treated to make it translucent. Shadow puppets are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it. The manipulation between the light and the screen make silhouettes or colourful shadows, as the case may be, for the viewers who sit in front of the screen. This tradition of shadow puppets survives in Orissa. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Togalu Gombeyata, Karnataka
  • Puppets are mostly small in size. 
  • Puppets however differ in size according to their social status, for instance, large size for kings and religious characters and smaller size for common people or servants.


Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh

  • Tholu Bommalata has the richest and strongest tradition. 
  • The puppets are large in size and have jointed waist, shoulders, elbows and knees. 
  • They are coloured on both sides. Hence, these puppets throw coloured shadows on the screen. 
  • Music is heavily  influenced by the classical music of the region and 
  • Themes are drawn from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.

Ravanacchaya, Orissa
  • It is titled thus because, the Chhaya or shadow is considered inauspicious and is therefore related to  the character of Ravan who is equated with evil.
  • Mainly tells Rama's story as told by Viswanath Khuntia, a medieval Oriya poet, in his Vichitra Ramayana.
  • The puppets are in one piece and have no joints, thus manipulation requires great dexterity.
  • They are not coloured, hence throw opaque shadows on the screen. 
  • The puppets are made of deer skin and are conceived in bold dramatic poses. 
  • Apart from human and animal characters, many props such as trees, mountains, chariots, etc. are also used. Ravanachhaya puppets are small in size, not more than two feet.
  • Among all the styles of India it is the simplest with no colour, and almost no dance or fight sequences.


Glove puppets, are also known as sleeve, hand or palm puppets. The head is made of either papier mache, cloth or wood, with two hands emerging from just below the neck. The rest of the figure consists of a long flowing skirt.  The manipulation technique is simple the movements are controlled by the human hand the first finger inserted in the head and the middle finger and the thumb are the two arms of the puppet. With the help of these three fingers, the glove puppet comes alive. The tradition of glove puppets in India is popular in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Kerala.

Pavakoothu, Kerala
  • It came into existence during the 18th century due to the influence of Kathakali. 
  • In Pavakoothu, the height of a puppet varies from one foot to two feet. 
  • The head and the arms are carved of wood and joined together with thick cloth.
  • The face of the puppets are decorated with paints, pieces of gilded tin, peacock feathers etc. 
  • The theme for Glove puppet plays in Kerala is based on the episodes from either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.

Rod puppets are an extension of glove-puppets, but often much larger and supported and manipulated by rods from below. This form of puppetry now is found mostly in West Bengal and Orissa. 

Putul Nautch, West Bengal
  • They are carved from wood and follow the various artistic styles of a particular region. In Nadia district of West Bengal, rod-puppets used to be of human size, but this form is now almost extinct. The Bengal rod-puppets, which survive are about 3 to 4 feet in height and are costumed like the actors of Jatra, a traditional theatre form prevalent in the State. 
  • 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.
  • The technique of manipulation is interesting and highly theatrical. A bamboo-made hub is tied firmly to the waist of the puppeteer on which the rod holding the puppet is placed. The puppeteers each holding one puppet, stand behind a head-high curtain and while manipulating the rods also move and dance imparting corresponding movements to the puppets. 
  • The puppeteers themselves sing and deliver the stylized prose dialogues accompanied by a group of musicians with a drum, harmonium and cymbals. The music and verbal text have close similarity with the Jatra theatre.
  • The Orissa Rod puppets are smaller in size but similar in style. Also here the puppeteers squat on the ground behind a screen and manipulate.

Yampuri, Bihar
  • These puppets are made of wood. 
  • Puppets are in one piece and have no joints, and thus requires greater dexterity.
  • It describes Yampuri (the house of Death). The show begins with appearance of the death-god Yama and his messenger, followed by their record-keeper Chitragupta. One by one, the people (supposedly after death) are marched in front of Yama to receive their doles of punishment.  The narrative is meant primarily to put the fear of heaven and hell in people for their current deeds and thus has almost the same purpose as Morality plays of the medieval Europe.

Chhadar Badar, Santhal tribes of Bihar and Bengal
  • There is a central bamboo rod (stuck in the earth or held by one hand), which has a circular wooden platform on the top, carrying a number of puppets on it. There is a leader puppet-maiden and a youth in various dancing poses, who face each other and execute a series of movements,  others play drums and flute. 
  • All these wooden puppets vary in height from 5 to 8 inches, each of which is tied with a string. The puppeteer holds the other end of the strings tied in a knot passing under the disc. 
  • The central rod, covered from all sides by a red cloth, has the puppeteer perform in the open with songs and the dancing dolls. 
  • The puppets are simply clothed with painted facial features, carrying turban or bird-feather on the head. 



  1. Hi Spurthi..

    I am preparing for CSE and have written mains this year.. With the help of techie frnds, I have been working on a similar blog which provides open content for GS( http://civilsprep.in ) from past few months. Yesterday, I have found this post of urs while searching for images for my compilation on puppetry forms of India (civilsprep.in/puppet-forms-of-india/) and to my surprise I saw someone else doing it in the same way.. Good to know :)

    I know there are lot of blogs for CSE out there in the web.. but just a few ZERO - NUISANCE blogs like this.. !! keep going .

    PS: I thought of mailing on ur mail id .. but couldn't get ur mail address..

  2. Hello
    Thankyou for writing in. Am sorry for the delayed response. Feel free to reproduce the content- its all open source anyway. :)
    Best wishes for the prep.

  3. Yes I know about this mall is very good style in chennai. Last time Aluminium Scaffolding with toy machine is great looking.