Kathputlis of Rajasthan

“Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more humane world.” – Andre Maurois, French Author

A Kathputli is the Hindi word for a puppet that is made of wood. Kathputlis is an ancient art that is used to address a famous string puppet performance and is a form of folk entertainment in the state of Rajasthan and its one of the major tourist attractions of the state. Jaipur and Jodhpur are some of the major places in Rajasthan where these are prepared. The Kathputlis are basically of two types a male and a female one which is inspired by the Rajput miniature paintings of Rajasthan. 

The style of headdress, the shape of the eye, the beard, and the moustache style are used to suggest the character of the puppet. The height of the puppets is usually two feet having a wooden head with a huge nose and large eyes. The rest of the bodies of the puppets are painted with bright colours and then covered with pieces of cloth and stuffed clothes which also allow for free movement. Unless they are horse riders, the puppets have no legs but are covered with a long pleated skirt. 

It is said that puppeteers nowadays use a few characters whose identities they have modified to suit the current needs of the public. e.g., Munnajaan was renamed Anarkali and even this was later changed to Helen. Other than putting a cultural puppet show the puppeteers sell the Kathputlis to domestic and foreign tourists and earn their major part of the income from this. The costumes of the kathputhlis are made keeping in mind the regional and traditional traits. The puppet show is entirely based on the Rajasthani historical tales and local culture and traditions. Other than the male and female kathputlis, there are several other characters and items as well which are included in the show such as the court dancer, stunt horse rider, and snake charmer. The puppeteers who make these puppets and perform with them belong to the traveling Bhatt communities who have been performing for thousands of years.

What makes the Kathputlis unique?

What makes the Rajasthani Kathputlis unique is the fact that these are only one of their kind in the whole entire world. The puppeteers exhibit a great deal of virtuosity and skill as the puppets are operated through strings that are attached to the puppeteers’ fingers directly. The strings vary from 2 to 8, the larger the puppets, the more the movement and agility of the character. The famous “Bengali jadugar” Kathputli is manipulated using 8 strings, in such a way such that when the puppets hold its heads with its legs, it turns upside down, or pulls its extended head back into position, making the audience laugh. Talking about the hands of the puppets, they have no joints unlike the other string puppets of India.

When it comes to a well-known source of amusement filled with cultural and traditional stories the Kathputlis of Rajasthan are on the top of the list. This art of puppetry is practiced by a community of people called the Baths. These people have been connected with Rajasthani string puppetry to carry forward their traditional profession. Also known by the name of the “kathputliwalas”, they usually perform the puppet shows during the late evenings.