Kathputli: A String Puppet Theater from Rajasthan

Introduction

Kathputli means a puppet which is made entirely from wood. It comes from the words Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning a doll.  The other materials it consists of include wood, cotton cloth and metal wire. Kathputli has been one of the oldest form of entertainment. No village fair, no religious festival and no social gathering in Rajasthan can be complete without the Kathputlis. Due to the invasion of Rajasthan by the Mughals, Kathputli gradually lost its importance. It has been one of the oldest forms of entertainment.

Process

The puppet bodies and limbs are made of mango wood and stuffed with cotton. Mango wood is durable. The neck, face and heads of the puppets are carved out of a single piece of wood and the torso and hands are made with stuffed rags. Additional items such as musical instruments, swords are made out of cloth, wood or ribbon are attached to the puppets. The hands have no joints. The katputli have no legs but are draped in long trailing skirts of leheriya or bandhej that are decorated with gota work. The male puppets have feet or footwear. The wood is chosen according to the character to be made, and is coated with a protective layer of chalk and then painted; the face is completed with the painting of stylized elongated eyes. Many puppets hang on one rope: one string tied to the head and other to the waist. A slight jerk of the string causes the puppets to produce movements of the hands, neck and shoulder. The faces are painted in a light colour like yellow or white.

History

It is believed that somewhere 1500 years ago. The craft of making puppets, was practiced by the Putli Bhats, a community of performing artists. The Bhat community practiced this art as their family profession. Around 11 generations of Bhat community have been involved only in Kathputli art. The stories that they depict through the Kathputlis have been passed through word of mouth from their parents or grandparents. They travelled from village to village with their portable theatres entertaining gatherings with depictions of the exploits of local heroes in exchange for remuneration in cash, livestock or a portion of the patron’s harvest. As this form of entertainment gained popularity with the royal courts, the Putli Bhat community settled in different kingdoms developing puppets in the image of the ruler, the queen and members of court such as the court dancer, acrobats, snake charmers, magicians and ministers; and a narrative repertoire based on tales of the king’s bravery, kindness and numerous conquests. Much later The art flourished under the patronage of kings like Vikramaditya ,Prithviraj Chauhan and Amar Singh Rathod. During the Moghul period, however, the Bhats were gradually reduced to penury and had to depend on small landlords who had neither taste nor the resources to support and nourish this art.

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The songs, usually sung by women, were accompanied by music played on the dholak or tabla, percussion instruments, while the dialogues—interspersed with a series of whistles—and the jerky manipulation of the puppets with strings tied to the performer’s fingers were undertaken by the men in the troupe. The performer shows his skill with strings like swordsmanship, dancing, horse riding, juggling and acrobatics.make their own puppets also. During a katputli performance, the stage is made by placing two cots together vertically and tying bamboo around them horizontally. A dark coloured curtain is used as the back-stage and a colorful curtain with three arches, called Tiwara or Tajmahal, hangs at the front. The puppets are tied with dark strings, which do not show against the dark backdrop, and dim lights are used. This art form has gradually declined over the ages. The practitioners   perform at different hotels and restaurants. Katputli pieces are made to be sold to the tourists. The puppet shows also target social issues like dowry, poverty, illiteracy and cleanliness. Most of the practioners do not want their children to pursue this trade.

 

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