Kathputlis, or Rajasthani Puppets, are the most famous form of puppeteering in India. The word Kathputli comes from two words- Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning doll. These puppets are entirely made from wood, and then draped with cloth to bring out character. Kathputli puppeteers from Rajasthan are extremely skilled. They control the Kathputlis from above through strings, making themselves invisible. Puppeteers are either accompanied by their entourage of coworkers or family. From extra sound effects to providing background music, they help the puppeteers with everything. The background music is instrumental and largely from dholak, tabla or flute. This makes the Kathputli ka Khel an even more immersive experience.
History of Kathputlis Of Rajasthan
As a widely loved source of entertainment history of Kathputlis can be traced back to Rajasthani folk tales. Various Rajasthani tribes have performed this art since ancient times, making it an important part of cultural history. Even today, no festival, fair or tourist expedition can be complete without experiencing Kathputli ka khel.
Rajasthani royals were patrons of their land’s rich culture and crafts. The patrons would look after the artists as showing gratitude for singing the praises of the patrons’ ancestors. Ancestors of the Bhat community especially performed for the royal families and received great honour in return. For Bhats, puppetry was no less than divinity which they worshiped because that was the core source of their livelihood. The community spread their art of Kathputli ka Khel through regions, and therefore lived a largely nomadic life. One legendary show was made on the achievements of Vikramaditya, the King of Ujjain. The show involved 32 Kathputlis. It was widely popular and loved and showcased for hundreds of years through generational Bhat puppeteers.
Bhats make their own puppets from mango wood and stuff it with cotton. They are highly embellished then with colorful clothes and vibrant make-up. A very important feature of these puppets is their elongated and stylized eyes. Female Kathputlis don’t have legs while the male Kathputlis do. The movement of the body is free, thus a slight vibration of the puppeteer causes their hands, neck and shoulders to move. Made in Sawai-Madhopur, Bari, and Udaipur these puppets are generally one and half feet tall. It became widely adored in the region. This time, these puppets were not only a source of entertainment but also imparted moral and social education.
Kathputli Art Form Today….
Unfortunately, with western influences, it is no longer possible for these artists to sustain their life through Kathputli ka Khel. Now, they perform at hotels, restaurants and sites that cater to tourists. To attract a wider audience, they have expanded their shows to include stories of Bollywood movies and other popular contemporary tales. Many have also resorted to making and selling Kathputlis as souvenirs too. Regardless, the word ‘Kathputli’ remains strongly associated with Rajasthan as a vibrant form of entertainment for all ages.
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