Rajasthani puppetry art is called as “Kathputli”. It got originated from two unique words from Hindi, namely “Kath” means wood and “Putli” means doll with no life or toy. It is in existence in India, especially for more than one thousand years. The agile action of puppeteers using the puppets with their fingers along with good facial features, vibrant colors and modulated voices never fails to entertain the crowd. It gives the state of Rajasthan an immense proud in showcasing this talented dance form first to the entire world centuries ago.
Initially, “Putli Bhats” community people travelled through various parts of Rajasthan and entertained the masses with their own hand-made puppets and earned money from different shows. It slowly got advertised the ancient Kings and Queens and as a result of it, they got an opportunity to perform in front of the Royal audience and got suitable rewarded. No doubt, it flourished during the times of Kings in Rajasthan as it caught their attention. It was seen not only as a medium of entertainment but also to teach socio-cultural and moral values.
Some of the topics exhibited in puppetry art include education, unemployment, dowry and poverty problems at large. It gave solutions and served as a medium for creating awareness among the public. The first puppetry show done by the Bhat community was based on life of the Great King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. 32 puppets were involved in this show making it more remarkable at that time.
Puppets are made of mango wood and filled with cotton. They are decorated with soft colourful clothes and vibrant make-up. They are usually around 1.5 to 2 feet high. No legs present for female puppets, but the male ones have just to differentiate them. Long big and stylized eyes catch the attention at first.
First an 9-inch wooden stick is cut and given desired shape in the case of string puppets. Face is drawn on it using oil paint of matching human skin color. Nose, eyes and lips are drawn using gentle brush. Small pipes are used to make hands and legs and they get attached to wood to give a perfect look. It gets wrapped up in vibrant clothing with eye-catchy jewelry accessories. Last but not least, attachment of strings to hands and legs are mandatory to make it move freely. The puppeteer narrates the story in the form a song and usually his wife accompanies the play by playing a musical instrument called Dholak.
Rod puppetry, shadow puppetry, and glove puppetry are the other forms of puppetry different from the common string puppetry. Crafts Museum in New Delhi, Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandir in Udaipur, Jagmohan Palace in Mysore and Chitrakala Parishad in Bangalore are the best museums in showing the best workings of puppetry.
Having a down time in every field of art is common and it so happened to the puppetry art during the Mughal rulings. But it stood the test of time, by the strong hearted Bhats community people to survive and rise again. This art is imbibed in their blood and they don’t see this not only as a source of living. It is like pure divine for them.