Syllabus Section:  History – Art & Culture/ GS Paper I



Puppetry is one of the ancient forms of entertainment. The suggestive element of a puppet being controlled by a master makes it a captivating experience, while the low cost of animation and production of a performance makes it popular among freelance artists. The form gives unrestricted freedom to the artist in form, design, color and movement and makes it one of the most ingenious inventions of mankind.

Origin of Puppetry In India:

Puppetry has long been of interest in India, both for education and entertainment purposes. The excavation sites at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have yielded puppets with sockets attached to them which suggest the presence of puppetry as an art form. Oldest written reference to puppetry has been found at Tamil classic Silappadikaaram written around 1st and 2nd Century BC. Although puppetry has found references in mythology and art but due to the lack of a devoted audience and financial insecurity, there has been a steady decline in this art form.

Types of Puppetry:

  1. String puppet : Kathputli, kundhei, Gombeyatta, Bommalattam
  2. Shadow puppet : Tholu bommalatta, Ravanchhaya, Togalu Gombeyaata
  3. Glove puppet : Pavakutthu
  4. Rod puppet : Yampuri, Putul Nachh


The Puppets are chiseled out of wood and are 9 inch miniatures. Oil color is used to paint the wood to skin color and paint features like eyes, nose etc on it. Strings are attached to small holes in the hands, head and back of the body which are then controlled by the puppeteer. Miniature jewellery is attached to give puppets a realistic feelings. Some examples of string puppets are:

  1. Kathputli : Traditional string puppets of rajasthan are known as Kathputli, which means a wooden doll. The puppets are covered in traditional bright rajasthani dresses. The show is accompanied by dramatic folk music. A unique feature is the absence of legs. Strings are attached to the fingers of the puppeteers.
  2. Kundhei : These are the names of the string puppets of Odisa. These are made of light wood and dressed in short skirts. These puppets have more joints and give the puppeteer more flexibility. The strings are attached to a triangular prop.
  3. Gombayetta : This is the traditional theatre of Karnataka. It has influence of Yakshagana theatre of Karnataka. Usually, the presence of more than one puppeteer is there to manipulate each puppet.
  4. Bomalattam : Indigenous form of art of Tamil Nadu. A iron ring is attached to the strings of the puppet. This ring is worn by the puppeteer to his head. Bommalattam puppets are the largest and heaviest of the marionettes in India. Some are as tall as 5 feet in height and 10 kg weight.


These are flat figures cut of leather. Figures are painted on both sides of the leather. Puppets are placed on a white screen with light falling from behind to create a shadow effect on the screen. The figures are manipulated such that the silhouettes created on the blank screen create a telling imagery. Some examples of this form are:

  1. Togalu Gobeyatta : Popular theatre show of Karnataka. The size of the puppets changes with the social status of the character. Hence kings are shown at a higher size than commoners.
  2. Ravanchhaya : A popular form of entertainment in Odisha. The theatre uses puppets without joints and thus requires skill for operations. The use of non human puppets is also seen.
  3. Tholu Bommalata : Shadow puppetry theatre of Andhra Pradesh. The show is accompanied by classical music and is themed around devotional tales in Purana. Puppets are larger in size and colored on both sides.


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 manipulation technique is simple the movements are controlled by the human hand the first finger inserted in the head and the middle finger and the thumb are the two arms of the puppet. With the help of these three fingers, the glove puppet comes alive. The tradition of glove puppets in India is popular in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Kerala.


  1. Pavakoothu: In Kerala, the traditional glove puppet play is called Pavakoothu. It came into existence during the 18th century due to the influence of Kathakali, the famous classical dance-drama of Kerala, on puppet performances. In Pavakoothu, the height of a puppet varies from one foot to two feet. The head and the arms are carved of wood and joined together with thick cloth, cut and stitched into a small bag. The theme for Glove puppet plays in Kerala is based on the episodes from either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.


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. 

  1. Yampuri: The traditional Rod puppet of Bihar is known as Yampuri. These puppets are made of wood. Unlike the traditional Rod puppets of West Bengal and Orissa, these puppets are in one piece and have no joints. As these puppets have no joints, the manipulation is different from other Rod puppets and requires greater dexterity.


Source: CCRT


This will close in 0 seconds