The Rajasthani string puppetry is one of the most vibrant aspects of Indian culture. These handmade wooden puppets are much more than just plaything or decorative dolls. They are a part of the traditional performance of puppetry – narrating an event from history, myths, folklore or legend, complete with music and speech. The tribes of Rajasthan have been performing this art from the ancient times and it has become an eternal part of Rajasthani culture and tradition. No village fair, no religious festival and no social gathering in Rajasthan can be complete without the Kathputlis. They are the repository of traditional wisdom, knowledge and social mores. Within them are contained the oral history of the region.
It is said that puppetry of Rajasthan is more than a thousand years old but there is no written evidence of it. Mainly the ‘Bhat ‘community practices this art termed Kathputli (Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning doll). Their legend goes back to the times of the Great King Vikramaditya, of Ujjain whose throne ‘Simhasan Battisi ‘ had 32 decorative dolls dancing and doing acrobatic feats. The first Bhat produced a play with 32 puppets on the life and achievements of king Vikramaditya and his progeny performed it for hundreds of years.
Much later came Prithiraj Chauhan of Delhi who gave them money to produce a play on his life and achievements. Under the patronage of Amar Singh Rathod of Nagour kingdom, the Bhats produced plays on his reign and heroic death, which are still present today. Under The great Moghuls of Delhi ,The Kathputli Bhats were gradually reduced to great penury. The Moghuls loved glamorous and gorgeous entertainment and did not patronize puppets.
Rajasthani puppets have their own unique specialty. Puppeteers manipulate the puppets with a whistling, squeaking voice and are interpreted by a narrator who also provides the rhythms. The puppets have no legs and movements are free. A slight jerk of the string causes the puppets to produce movements of the hands, neck and shoulder. Many puppets hang on one rope: one string tied to the head and other to the waist. The puppeteer makes a loop around his fingers and manipulates the puppet. He takes ghungru (bells) in his hands and plays it according to rhythm. The stage is made by placing two cots together vertically and tying bamboo around them horizontally. A curtain, generally dark in colour, is at the back-stage and a colourful curtain with three arches hangs at the front .The puppets are tied with dark strings, which do not show against the dark backdrop, and dim lights are used.
A traditional Puppet show : http://youtu.be/rnbhP348Q20
In India, puppets or ‘Putlis’, have a life of their own. The word being derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Putta’, equivalent to Putra (son), the puppets are believed to be the articulation of life and thought. Especially for the artists of Rajasthan, the Bhats, puppets are a sort of divinity giving them livelihood, peace, activity and joy. For the rest of the world, this ancient performative art of Rajasthani puppetry is a source of pure joy, entertainment, cultural enrichment and artistic satisfaction.
The the modern version of the traditional show, http://youtu.be/Pg-pJd47dfQ it clearly displays how the Puppets are manipulated.