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Day 2 – Q 4.What significance does puppetry hold in ancient Hindu philosophy and traditional Indian culture? Discuss.

4. What significance does puppetry hold in ancient Hindu philosophy and traditional Indian culture? Discuss. 

प्राचीन हिंदू दर्शन और पारंपरिक भारतीय संस्कृति में कठपुतली का क्या महत्व है? चर्चा करें।


A puppet is one of the most remarkable and ingenious inventions of the man. Puppetry is a type of narrative theatre; at the crossroads between bardic storytelling and theatre plays. Shows include live music, narration and gestures taken from dance. Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in traditional entertainment. Like traditional theatre, themes for puppet theatre are mostly based on epics and legends. Puppets from different parts of the country have their own identity. Regional styles of painting and sculpture are reflected in them. 


  • The earliest reference to the art of puppetry is found in Tamil classic ‘Silappadikaaram’ written around the 1st or 2nd century B.C. In Sanskrit terminology Puttalika and Puttika means ‘little sons’. 
  • Ancient Hindu philosophers have paid the greatest tribute to puppeteers. They have likened God Almighty to a puppeteer and the entire universe to a puppet stage. 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 

String Puppets

India has a rich and ancient tradition of string puppets or marionettes. Marionettes having jointed limbs controlled by strings allow far greater flexibility and are, therefore, the most articulate of the puppets. Rajasthan (Kathputli), Orissa (Kundhei), Karnataka (Gombeyatta), TamilNadu (Bommalattam) are some of the regions where this form of puppetry has flourished.

Shadow Puppets

India has the richest variety of types and styles of shadow puppets. Shadow puppets are flat figures. They are cut out of leather, which has been treated to make it translucent. 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, as the case may be, for the viewers who sit in front of the screen. This tradition of shadow puppets survives in Orissa. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu

Examples: Togalu Gombeyatta-Karnataka, Tholu Bommalata- Andhra Pradesh, 

                  Ravanachhaya- Orissa

Rod Puppets

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

Examples: Putul Nautch-West Bengal, Yampuri-Bihar, 

Glove Puppets 

  • Glove puppets, are also known as sleeve, hand or palm puppets. The head is made of either papier mache, cloth or wood, with two hands emerging from just below the neck. The rest of the figure consists of a long flowing skirt. These puppets are like limp dolls, but in the hands of an able puppeteer, are capable of producing a wide range of movements. 
  • The tradition of glove puppets in India is popular in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Kerala. In Uttar Pradesh, glove puppet plays usually present social themes, whereas in Orissa such plays are based on stories of Radha and Krishna. In Orissa, the puppeteer plays on the dholak with one hand and manipulates the puppet with the other. The delivery of the dialogues, the movement of the puppet and the beat of the dholak are well synchronised and create a dramatic atmosphere

Example: Pavakoothu, Kerala


Besides traditional puppetry, India is home to a lively contemporary scene. Independent India opened up to artistic exchange, and new forms and techniques affected puppetry, introducing new styles and giving origin to a refined urban puppet theatre.

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