Rajasthani Kathputli Puppet Guide

History, Facts, Traditional Puppetry and more

If you have ever been to our old bazaars and famed tourist spots, you have already been charmed by the beauty and vibrancy of Rajasthani puppets called Kathputli. Their playful movements accompanied by piper and drum will tickle your funny bone for sure. 

Can’t relate? Then, you definitely need to see our artists performing live. 

Not visiting Rajasthan anytime soon? We have covered everything you need to know about the traditional rajasthani puppets below –

Rajasthani Puppetry History

Kathputli-making is one of the few traditional handicrafts that has survived the test of time in India, dating back to more than 1,000 years ago.

Two different kings are attributed to the popularity of this traditional art. First is the king Vikramaditya of Ujjain who is said to have chiseled these wooden dolls to his 32 thrones. Second one is Amar Singh Rathore. Nagaur is deemed to be the birthplace of these wooden dolls, where the tales of Amar Singh Rathore’s bravery are narrated with pride in every nook and cranny.  

6 Interesting Facts About Rajasthan Puppet Dolls  

  1. At the time, Aluddin Khilgi attacked Rajasthan, Kathputli shows were used to keep the public engaged and heighten their morals.
  2. Rajasthani puppet dolls are made from a combination of clay, wood, and wires.
  3. Though these wooden puppets can’t make any facial movements, their quick body movements followed by the jesting music make Kathputli puppetry a delight to watch. 
  4. New Delhi has a place known as the Kathputli colony. It is called so because a large portion of the populace are puppeteers. It is located in Shadipur depot. Along with puppeteers, you will find acrobats, dancers, magicians, snake charmers, and musicians there.  
  5. Before the Kathputli show begins, a cot is laid by its length and covered with colorful fabric. It is done intentionally to hide the puppeteers. The cot acts as the backdrop for the wooden puppet’s performance.   
  6. The word kuth means wood and putli means dolls. 

A Bringer Of Societal Change

Historically, they were not only used for entertainment but also to deliver moral lessons to the general public. Along with being a preserver of the Rajasthani culture, these string marionettes were also used for spreading awareness about the dowry system, poverty, unemployment and other social issues.  

The Modern-Day Kathputli

Although the artisans’ families have preserved the original allure of these wooden dolls, many are turning them into modern art. The Padma Shri awardee Shri Devilal Samar is considered a pioneer in modern puppetry. He brought Puppetry to the limelight starting the first puppet festival in 1954. Originally a schoolteacher he also established Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal to ensure this art flourished beyond his time.

Traditionally, these wooden dolls are suspended by two strings and are clothed in vibrant fabrics. He added the much-needed elaborate detailing to the puppet with multiple strings attached to the different body parts, inspired by other schools of modern puppetry. This led to a more humanized version.

However, in the past, only the upper part of the Rajasthani wooden dolls displayed movement (being the only portion attached to the string).

The Kathputli Community 

The artisan commonly associated with this art form are the Bhats. In their community, the puppeteers are known as Nats while the performance is called khel. They perform during the dry season and go back to their villages after the rain. They credit Amar Sign Rathore, the 17th-century ruler of Marwar for their traditional art as he was a dedicated patron and supported their artistry. The tales of his gallantry form the fabric of their performances. 

How is Kathputli Puppetry performed?

Generally, artists conduct an hour-long show giving you a sneak peek into the lives of royals or narrating the bravery of the Amar Sign Rathore.

The show will begin with Dholak making the announcement.

The upbeat music played during the performance accompanied by the sudden change of tones ignites a childlike fancy in the viewers. 

Along with intriguing dialogues, the characters also indulge in swordsmanship, dancing, horse riding, and acrobatics. 

Conclusion –.Everything that is connected to the heritage and culture of Rajasthan reflects its vibrant aura, and can be seen in our handcrafts as well. 

Other than the grand architecture, diverse cuisine and colorful attires, handcrafts form an inseparable part of our state’s identity. Puppetry making is one of them. Along with crafting puppets, the bhat community actively engages in puppetry theater. The Rajasthani puppets shows are a source of livelihood for the many rural communities. In the bygone eras, the Royals acted as their constant patron. The Kathputli performers were not just a source of entertainment for kings. They also acted as a medium to address the public and spread knowledge. 

 As a gesture of gratitude for supporting them, the bhats also spread words about their gallantry and other aspects of their lives. 

We hope you get to see our puppeteers performing when you visit Rajasthan and experience the puppets coming to life in the magical hands of our talented puppeteers. 

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