As a diverse, multi-cultural nation, the theatre of India cannot be reduced to a single, homogenous trend. The earliest form of the theatre of India was the Sanskrit theatre. It flourished sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 10th, which was a period of relative peace in India. With the Islamic conquests that began in the 10th and 11th centuries, theatre was discouraged or forbidden entirely. Modern Indian theatre developed during the period of colonial rule under the British Empire, from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th. In order to resist its use by Indians as an instrument of protest against colonial rule, the British Government imposed the Dramatic Performances Act in 1876. After Indian independence in 1947, theatres spread throughout India as one of the means of entertainment. 

In contemporary India, the major competition with its theatre is that represented by growing television industry and the spread of films produced in the Indian film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), known as "Bollywood". Lack of finance is another major obstacle..



Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance that involves the manipulation of puppets- is an object, often resembling a human, animal or mythical figure, that is animated or manipulated by a person called a puppeteer.

The puppeteer uses movements of their hands, arms, or control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs, and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then synchronizes the movements of the puppet's mouth with this spoken part. The actions, gestures and spoken parts acted out by the puppeteer with the puppet are typically used in storytelling.

In Puppet Theatre various forms, known as puppets, are used to illustrate the narratives.

In India, the roots of the puppet theatre lie in a dancer’s mask. Excavations at several Harappan sites have revealed a number of toys whose body parts can be manipulated with strings.

The puppeteer narrates his story in verse or prose, while the puppets provide the visual treat.

Stories adapted from puranic literature, local myths and legends usually form the content of traditional puppet theatre in India which, in turn, imbibes elements of all creative expressions like painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, etc.

The presentation of puppet programmes involves the creative efforts of many people working together.


The root of Puppet is derived from the latin word ‘Pupa’ meaning a doll.

But puppet is nowhere treated like a puppet but like a god and stage of puppetry like a universe. Srimad Bhagavata, the great epic depicting the story of Lord Krishna in his childhood say that with three strings - Satta, Raja and Tama, the God manipulates each object in the universe as a marionette.

The earliest reference to the art of puppetry is found in Tamil classic ‘Silappadikaaram’ written around the 1st or 2nd century B.C.

Natyashastra, the masterly treatise on dramaturgy written sometime during 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD., does not refer to the art of puppetry but the producer-cum-director of the human theatre has been termed as ‘Sutradhar’ meaning the holder of strings. The word might have found its place in theatre-terminology long before Natyashastra was written but it must come from marionette theatre. Puppetry, therefore, must have originated in India more than 500 years before Christ.


There are basically four kinds of puppets used in India as follows:

String Puppets

String puppets

String puppets are also called as marionettes. Marionettes having jointed limbs controlled by strings allow far greater flexibility and are, therefore, the most articulate of the puppets

Major features of String Puppets are: 

  1. Puppets are carved from a single piece of wood.
  2. Large dolls that are colorfully dressed
  3. Oval faces and dramatized appearances.
  4. Rajasthan, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are some of the regions where this form of puppetry has flourished.

Kathputli, Rajasthan

Kathputli puppets

Major features:  

       # Kath- Wood, Putali- Doll

       # Bhat community practices

       *more joints hence versatile

       * no prop

  1. Carved from a single piece of wood,
  2. Like large dolls that are colourfully dressed.
  3. Accompanied by a highly dramatised version of the regional music.
  4. Oval faces, large eyes, arched eyebrows and large lips are distinct facial features.
  5. Puppets wear long trailing skirts
  6. Do not have legs.
  7. Puppeteers manipulate them with two to five strings which are normally tied to their fingers and not to a prop or a support.

Kundhei, Odisha



Major Features:

       *prop support

  1. Made of light wood,
  2. No legs but wear long flowing skirts.
  3. More joints therefore, more versatile, articulate and easy to manipulate.
  4. The puppeteers often hold a wooden prop, triangular in shape, to which strings are attached for manipulation.
  5. The costumes of Kundhei resemble those worn by actors of the Jatra traditional theatre.
  6. The music is drawn from the popular tunes of the region and is sometimes influenced by the music of Odissi dance .

Gombeyatta, Karnataka


Major Features:

  1. Highly stylized and have joints at the legs, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees .
  2. These puppets are manipulated by five to seven strings tied to a prop. Some of the more complicated movements of the puppet are manipulated by two to three puppeteers at a time.
  3. The music that accompanies is dramatic and beautifully blends folk and classical elements.
  4. Episodes enacted in Gombeyatta are usually based on Prasangas of the Yakshagana plays.

Bommalattam, Tamil Nadu

Bommalattam Puppet

Major Features:

  1. Combine the techniques of both rod and string puppets. They are made of wood and the strings for manipulation are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears like a crown on his head .
  2. Largest, heaviest and the most articulate of all traditional Indian marionettes. (A puppet may be as big as 4.5 feet in height weighing about ten kilograms)
  3. A few puppets have jointed arms and hands, which are manipulated by rods.
  4. Bommalattam theatre has elaborate preliminaries which are divided into four parts – Vinayak Puja, Komali, Amanattam and Pusenkanattam.

Shadow Puppets

Shadow Puppet

Shadow puppets are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it. The manipulation between the light and the screen make silhouettes or colourful shadows for the viewers who sit in front of the screen.

Common features of Shadow puppets are:

  1. Small in size flat figures
  2. No joints.
  3. Made using deer skins.
  4. Translucent (not coloured) and thus throw opaque shadows on the screen.
  5. Various types of puppets are used apart from trees, humans, animals, chariots etc.
  6. This tradition of shadow puppets survives in Odisha Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Togalu (leather) Gombeyatta, Karnataka

Togalu Gombeyatta

Major Features:

  1. Mostly small in size
  2. Differ in size according to their social status, for instance, large size for kings and religious characters and smaller size for common people or servants.

Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh

Tholu Bommalatta

Major Features:

  1. Coloured on both sides. Hence, these puppets throw coloured shadows on the screen.
  2. Have jointed waist, shoulders, elbows and knees.
  3. Large in size
  4. The music is dominantly influenced by the classical music of the region and the
  5. Theme of the puppet plays are drawn from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.

Ravanachhaya, Odisha


Major Features:

  1. One piece and have no joints, hence the manipulation requires great dexterity.
  2. Not coloured, hence throw opaque shadows on the screen.
  3. Made of deer skin
  4. Conceived in bold dramatic poses.
  5. Human and animal characters
  6. Props such as trees, mountains, chariots, etc. are also used.
  7. Although, Ravanachhaya puppets are smaller in size-the largest not more than two feet have no jointed limbs, they create very sensitive and lyrical shadows.

Glove Puppets

Glove PuppetGlove puppets are also known as sleeve, hand or palm puppets.

Major features of Glove Puppets are:

  1. Head is made of either papier mache, cloth or with hands emerging from just below the neck.The rest of the figure consists of a long flowing skirt.
  2. Movements are controlled by the Human Hand with the first finger inserted in the head and the middle finger and the thumb are the two arms of the puppet.
  3. Dialogues plays important role.
  4. The tradition of glove puppets popular in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Kerala.



Pavakoothu, Kerala


It came into existence during the 18th century due to the influence of Kathakali.

Major Features:

  1. The head and the arms are carved of wood and joined together with thick cloth, cut and stitched into a small bag. The face of the puppet is decorated with paints, small and thin pieces of gilded tin, the feathers of the peacock, etc.
  2. The height of a puppet varies from one foot to two feet.
  3. The musical instruments used during the performance are Chenda, Chengiloa, Ilathalam and Shankha.
  4. The theme for Glove puppet plays in Kerala is based on the episodes from either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata

Rod Puppets

Rod Puppet

They are mostly practiced in eastern india- West Bengal and Odisha however the bommalata puppetry in Tamil Nadu combines the both techniques of strings and rods.

Major Features:

  1. Rod puppets are an extension of glove-puppets, but often much larger and supported and manipulated by rods from below.
  2. This form of puppetry now is found mostly in West Bengal and Orissa.

Putul Nautch, West Bengal

Putul Nautch Puppet

Major Features:

  1. Mostly three joints. The heads, supported by the main rod, is joined at the neck and both hands attached to rods are joined at the shoulders.
  2. Carved from wood and follow the various artistic styles of a particular region.
  3. The Bengal rod-puppets are about 3 to 4 feet in height and are costumed like the actors of Jatra theatre form.
  4. Musicians, usually three to four in numbers, sitting at the side of the stage provide the accompanying music with a drum, harmonium and cymbals.
  5. A bamboo-made hub is tied firmly to the waist of the puppeteer on which the rod holding the puppet is placed. The puppeteers each holding one puppet, stand behind a head-high curtain and while manipulating the rods also move and dance imparting corresponding movements to the puppets. While the puppeteers themselves sing and deliver the stylized prose dialogues.

Yampuri, Bihar


Major Features:

  1. Made of wood.
  2. Unlike the traditional Rod puppets of West Bengal, these puppets are in one piece and have no joints, hence the manipulation is different from other Rod puppets and requires greater dexterity.


Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in cultural traditions of india. They were and are still used for entertainment in many parts of the India apart from being an intrinsic part of various rituals and celebrations.Puppetry makes our culture more colourful in different forms with its unique blends.The significance of this multifaceted art is immense.

Hindu philosophy:
Ancient Hindu philosophers revered puppeteers,they compared them to gods and the puppet stage to the entire universe. The analogy provided by the philosophers was that- humans are subjects of the god in this universe as the puppets for puppeteers on the puppet stage.

Dissemination of Vedic epics:
Vedic and puranic epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata and srimad bhagavata reached corners of the subcontinent through various puppet forms practiced in the country.

Puppetry throughout the ages has played an important role in traditional entertainment. Themes were drawn from local myths, legends and even puranic literature combining them with creative expressions like painting, sculpture, music, dance and drama, this has made the puppetry a holistic entertaining institution.

Puppetry has been successfully used to motivate emotionally and physically handicapped students to develop their mental and physical faculties.

Education and communication:
Many scholars and institutions have identified the potential of puppetry as a medium of education and a way of communication. Awareness programmes about the conservation of the natural and cultural environment have also proved to be useful. These programmes aim at sensitising the students to the beauty in word, sound, form, colour and movement.

The aesthetic satisfaction derived from making of puppets and communicating through them helps in the all round development of the personality of the child.


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Created by Adinath Bhujbal on 2017/08/18 21:12