Waiting in the wings for revival!
“Bol ri kathputhli dori kaun sang bandhi,” even kathputli doesn’t know who is the holder of her thread and making her dance to his tunes. She happily dances, making everyone happy. It was very famous in olden tales as it was a music and dance medium to tell the mythological tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata. It also narrated social milieus like dowry system, women’s empowerment, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, and cleanliness etc.
. This folk-art form originated in Rajasthan some 4000 years ago and has been popular since. The tradition of Kathputli is based on folk tales and stories. Scholars believe that folk tales convey the lifestyle of ancient Rajasthani tribal people and Kathputli art might have originated from present-day Nagaur and surrounding areas.
So how did the term evolve?
Kathputli word is the combination of two Rajasthani language words Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning puppet. Kathputli means a puppet that is made entirely from wood covered with a cotton cloth and tied with a metal wire which acts as a string. Being a string marionette, it is controlled by a single string that passes from the top of the puppet over the puppeteers. Puppeteer show his skill with strings like swordsmanship, dancing, horse riding, juggling, and acrobatics. Animal puppets are also used for the shows like camels and horses but only their necks would be movable.
As a child, I loved watching Kathputli dance and use to finish my homework before time to get ready for watching a puppet show. I loved their costumes, makeup, dancing, music, instruments and folk-tales they narrated. The curious child, that I was, my main attention was on – what was going on behind the curtain? How they were moving their hands bound by a thread? How they were synchronising their hand movements with Kathputli? Once, I told my father that I want to watch a puppet show from the back, sitting with the persons who are playing it. Ahoy! My wish was granted, I was amazed at the skill and the art of moving the hands.
I narrated to all my friends in school, what transpired behind the kathputli dance in Assembly Hall’s puppet show? So, what I saw was that Kathputli was tied with a metal wire which acted as a string. Being a string marionette, it was controlled by a single string that passed from the top of the puppet over the puppeteers. Puppeteer showed his skill with strings like swordsmanship, dancing, horse riding, juggling, and acrobatics. How amazing! Isn’t it.
We left Bhopal, so did Puppet Show. I did not get any opportunity to watch a puppet show after that. After several years, when my daughter was a toddler in Kinder Garden, her school organised a puppet show. Now, I was more excited than her, I took leave from the office to accompany her to the venue. What a delightful show it was with kathpulis dancing on the Salman Khan song, “Teri Chunaria Dil le gayi”
I relived my childhood there along with my daughter. Time passed and I had forgotten about it, well almost, till I visited Chowki Dhaani in Jaipur and got to watch Puppet Show again…this was followed by many years later in Udaipur at Club Mahindra Resort, where I enjoyed puppet show after long. Lastly, I got to watch it in Shree Thaal, Jaipur on my last trip in 2019.
Introduction Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in traditional entertainment. It is an ancient art, originated about 3000 years ago. It is the least expensive source of entertainment which imbibes the all-creative expression like painting, sculpture, music, literature, dance and drama etc.1 It has been the most popular form of entertainment for the village people. Almost all types of puppets are found in India. From different parts of the country, they have their own identity. Regional variations of style and theme are reflected in them. The stylized vocabulary of puppetry carries local myths and legends usually with the massage of social awareness, moral values, historical and traditional subjects.
The movement of the puppets on the beats of Dholak with the dialogue delivery creates a well synchronized dramatic atmosphere that mesmerises people across age groups.
Unfortunately, with the onslaught of electronic media into Indian households, the Bhati community of puppeteers are struggling to make two ends meets.
The Government and General Public must make concerted efforts to save this rare art form from fading into oblivion.
Watch Kathputhli narration and a Kathputli song”