Kathputli is an art form exquisitely used in Rajasthan for decades. An art form rich in identity and a perfect representative of heroic warfares, the culture of its storytellers.
“Being a 1500 years old art form, it still gives us goosebumps every time we present our show to foreigners or tourists who specially come to visit our motherland for this unique piece of art”, says 65-year-old Prat Singh who has dedicated most of his life in representing the rich culture and beauty of his motherland. Peppy colours, sharp facial features, dexterous moves, squeaking voices in a typical traditional avatar performing in front of the excited audience and amusing them is what we call “KATHPUTLI” in India. It is basically a puppet which moves on the nimble fingers of the puppeteer.
Origin – Kathputli Culture
It is derived from the two different words of Hindi- “Kath” meaning wood and “Putli” meaning doll which has no life or a toy. It is one of the ancient and the most prominent arts of Rajasthan (a state in India) which is believed to be existing in India since more than thousand years.
It may surprise many that it was Rajasthan’s amazing Kathputli only, which listed India in one of the first countries who invented its traditional puppetry.
Kathputli is a significant dance form of Rajasthan till date and no festival or fair is complete without this dance. Kathputli sypnosis “Putli Bhats” were the very first people who discovered this art.
They were the tribes of Rajasthan who travelled to different villages carrying their self- made puppets and entertaining the huge population in
exchange of cash. It was the medium through which they earned their bread and butter. And soon this art gained popularity among the royal kingdoms of Rajasthan.
And the “Bhat” community settled in different
kingdoms and started entertaining the royal courts of Rajasthan. They received great honour and appreciation for their work from the Kings
and Queens of these royal courts.
The art of puppeteer has a long tradition in Rajasthan, but the puppets themselves are fairly simple creations. The Maharajas of Rajasthan were fond of art and entertainment as a result of which Kathputli dance flourished in those times.
The speciality of this Kathputli dance was that they were just not the source of entertainment but also they taught society social and moral education. These acts of puppetry portrayed major social issues like dowry system, women empowerment, unemployment, poverty, and hygiene. The best part is that they just not portrayed the problems but also provided the solution to tackling these problems.
Different Type of Puppets – Versatile Art Form
Going back in the history of Kathputlis, the legend was produced by the first Bhat was based on the life and achievements of the Great King of Ujjain, Vikramaditya.
This show involved the act of 32 puppets and it became so remarkable and glorious that it was carried by his descendants for hundreds of years.
Much later a play based on Prithviraj Chauhan’s life and achievements was enacted, he himself expressed this wish and even gave money to do so.
The puppets are made of mango wood and stuffed with cotton. They are highly embellished then with colorful clothes and a good make-up.
A very important feature of these puppets is their elongated and stylized eyes. Female puppets don’t have legs while the male puppets have legs or footwear and the movement of the body is free, thus a slight vibration of the puppeteer causes their hands, neck and shoulders to move.
These puppets are generally one and a half feet in height and are made in Sawai-Madhopur, Bari, and Udaipur. Bhats can make their own puppets.
String puppet making starts from cutting an 8-9 inch wooden stick which is then given a desired shape. The wood is oil painted in skin color and the delicate details of the face are done.
A thin brush is used to make the eyes, lips and nose on the face. Small pipes are used to create the hands of the puppets which are further wrapped and stitched in a traditional cloth.
Then the whole body is covered with bright coloured beautiful clothes to give a perfect shape to the puppet. And then it is embellished with the jewellery and other accessories to give it a ravishing look. Finally, the strings are attached to its hands, back and shoulders to make it movable.
The puppet is then perfectly ready for the dance. Though it is a traditional method of making puppet it could be created with different materials like plastic, paper, socks, wood, clay, cardboard etc.
Apart from the string puppetry, there are other forms of puppetry too, some of which are shadow puppetry, glove puppetry and rod puppetry which are performed in the different states of India.
Final Touch – Puppets Decor
Generally, puppets are made of mango wood and filled with cotton. The most common thing about all the puppets is the vibrant colours used in crafting.
Puppets are still made from hands in Rajasthan from skilled craftsmen. They are usually around 1.5 to 2 feet high. To differentiate, male puppets have legs and female don’t have, also the attires of the puppets are in traditional Rajasthani style.
First, a 9-inch wooden stick is cut and given the desired shape in the case of string puppets. The face is drawn on it using oil paint of matching human skin colour. Nose, eyes,
and lips are drawn using a gentle brush.
Small pipes are attached to make hands. And later strings are attached to puppets. It takes a craftsmen /women to make a single pair within 2 to 3 days, the hues of the puppets dresses are vibrant and shiny with tilla work on it.
The female puppets are decorated with up with jewels and makeup. While the male characters with swords, horses and different props according to the story being narrated. He main characters are men with swords, representing warriors, maharajas
Horsemen either knights or entertainers.Females with long frocks, with no certain props.
And the most important is the backdrop setup which is based upon the story is going to be narrated to the audience.
Kathputli Fame – Kathputli Colony
When talking of puppetry one major point which cannot be ignored is the “Kathputli Colony” which is an area for street artists in Shadipur area of Delhi. It is a 40 years old slum area which shelters the families of magicians, puppeteers, jugglers, folk singers, painters etc. Approximately there are 2800 families which have their houses in this slum.
It was set up by the Rajasthani puppeteers in the 1950’s and from there only it got its name “Kathputli Colony”. Gradually, the street performers and artists of different states like Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh etc started dwelling in this area for their livelihood. But the condition of this area is too bad to live.
The Rajasthan Puppetry is no doubt a marvellous piece of art and talent, but it saw its depriving state during the reign of Mughal emperors as they loved glamourous and gorgeous entertainment and did not encourage puppetry. But it was the deep love of Bhats for puppetry that it survived the test of time as an outcome of which it is still famous.
For Bhats, puppetry was no less than divinity which they worshipped because that was the core source of their livelihood. Some places and museums in India where you can find the best works of puppetry are Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal(Udaipur), Chitrakala Parishad(Bangalore), Crafts Museum(New Delhi) and Jagmohan Palace(Mysore).