Indian Puppetry – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Explore the ancient art of Indian puppetry, a tradition steeped in centuries of entertainment. Discover its origins and delve into the various classifications that define Indian Puppetry. Puppetry, as a visual animation form, holds a special place for independent artists, owing to its captivating experience and cost-effectiveness in production and animation. Offering artists boundless creative freedom in design, color, and movement, puppetry allows the puppeteer to infuse life into the inanimate, endowing puppets with human-like qualities such as speech, singing, dancing, and behavior. Recognized as one of the earliest forms of storytelling, Indian puppetry invites you to unravel its rich history and diverse expressions.

The Origins of Indian Puppetry

Traces of marionette theatre dating back to around 500 BC have been uncovered, suggesting the popularity of puppetry during this period. Excavations at sites like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have revealed puppets with sockets, providing insights into the prevalence of this art form.

In the Sangham age, both the epic Silappadikaram (composed in the first and second century BC) and the Mahabharata make references to puppetry.

Beyond being a mere artistic medium, puppetry holds philosophical significance in Indian culture. The Bhagavad Geeta draws a parallel between God and a puppeteer, portraying the manipulation of the universe through the three cords of Satta, Raja, and Tama.

Diverse Indian Puppetry Traditions:

India boasts a wide array of puppetry traditions, each characterized by its unique puppet styles. Drawing inspiration from folklore, mythology, and local legends, these traditions have evolved into distinct forms of artistic expression.

Puppetry in India has seamlessly integrated with various artistic mediums, such as painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theatre, adding layers of richness to its creative tapestry.

Despite its vibrant history, this creative genre faces a steady decline in recent years. Challenges like a dwindling fan base and financial uncertainties contribute to the diminishing presence of puppetry as an art form in contemporary times.

Classifying Indian Puppetry:

1. String Puppet:

  • Kundhei
  • Kathputli
  • Bommalattam
  • Gombeyatta

2. Shadow Puppet:

  • Togalu Gombeyatta
  • Ravanachhaya
  • Tholu Bommalatta

3. Rod Puppet:

  • Yampuri
  • Putul Nachh

4. Glove Puppet:

  • Pavakoothu

Indian Puppetry – String Puppetry

Crafting these puppets involves carving wooden replicas measuring eight to nine inches. The wood is meticulously colored using oil paint, bringing to life facial features like eyes, mouth, and nose. Little wooden pipes are affixed to form the limbs.

Following this, the puppet’s body is stitched together and adorned with vibrant clothing. Adding a touch of realism, tiny diamonds and other decorations enhance the aesthetic.

Controlled by a puppeteer, strings attached to small holes in the hands, head, and back of the body facilitate movement. Strings connect the legs, arms, shoulders, lower back, and each side of the head. A hand controller, often shaped as the letters H or X, is linked to these strings. Alternatively, additional strings may be attached to various parts of the marionette’s body.

Indian Puppetry - String Puppetry
Indian Puppetry – String Puppetry

Kundhei: The String Puppets of Odisha

  • Crafted from lightweight wood, Kundhei puppets feature long skirts that contribute to their distinctive appearance.
  • Designed with additional joints, these puppets afford the puppeteer greater ease of movement during performances.
  • A triangular prop skillfully holds the strings together, ensuring effective control and coordination.
  • Noteworthy for incorporating the traditional Odissi dance, Kundhei puppet shows offer a unique blend of visual storytelling and cultural expression.
Indian Puppetry - Kundhei
Indian Puppetry – Kundhei

Kathputli: Traditional String Puppets of Rajasthan

  • Originating from Rajasthan, the name Kathputli is a fusion of the Hindi words for wood and doll, “Kath” and “putli.”
  • These traditional string puppets showcase vibrant Rajasthani clothing, creating a visually captivating spectacle.
  • Accompanied by a stirring folk music score, the puppeteer intricately connects their finger to the strings, skillfully orchestrating the puppet’s movements with precision.
  • A defining feature of Kathputli is the absence of legs on the puppets, contributing to their distinctive and easily recognizable appearance.
Indian Puppetry - Kathputli
Indian Puppetry – Kathputli

Bommalattam: Fusion Puppetry from Tamil Nadu

Bommalattam, a unique form of puppetry rooted in Tamil Nadu, seamlessly blends elements of rod puppetry and string puppetry.

The puppeteer adorns an iron ring on their head, intricately connected to the strings, allowing for controlled and nuanced movements during performances.

Bommalattam puppets stand out as the largest and heaviest marionettes in India, with some towering up to 4.5 feet tall and weighing up to 10 kilograms.

The Bommalattam theatre unfolds through four distinctive stages:

  1. Vinayak Puja
  2. Komali
  3. Amanattam
  4. Pusenkanattam

Each stage contributes to the rich narrative tapestry of this traditional puppetry form.

Indian Puppetry - Bommalattam
Indian Puppetry – Bommalattam

Gombeyatta: Traditional Puppet Show from Karnataka

  • Originating from the state of Karnataka, Gombeyatta is a traditional puppet show.
  • The puppets in Gombeyatta are meticulously modeled after the characters from Yakshagana Theatres.
  • A distinctive feature of Gombeyatta is the involvement of more than one puppeteer to control the puppets, adding a layer of coordination and complexity to the performances.
Indian Puppetry - Gombeyatta
Indian Puppetry – Gombeyatta

Indian Puppetry – Shadow Puppetry

  • Historical Heritage: Shadow puppetry, with its long history in India, has been handed down through the generations.
  • Medium: Flat figures made of leather serve as shadow puppets.
  • Artistic Detail: Miniatures are painted identically on both sides of the leather.
  • Presentation: Puppets are positioned on a white screen, and light is flashed from behind to cast a shadow.
  • Narrative Technique: Figurines are altered to create silhouettes that tell a compelling story on the white screen.
  • Geographical Prevalence: The shadow puppet tradition is still prevalent in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Odisha.

Togalu Gombeyatta

  • Renowned Theatre: Togalu Gombayatta is the renowned shadow theatre of Karnataka.
  • Distinctive Feature: Puppets vary in size based on social rank, with enormous puppets representing monarchs and religious leaders, and smaller puppets symbolizing the underprivileged and slaves.
Indian Puppetry - Togalu Gombeyatta
Indian Puppetry – Togalu Gombeyatta


  • Dramatic Style: Ravanchhaya, popular in Odisha, is known for its dramatic and bold puppets made of deer skin.
  • Artistic Challenge: Learning this art is challenging due to the absence of joints.
  • Artistic Freedom: Non-human elements like trees and animals are commonly employed in the narratives, showcasing the artists’ depth of instruction in the field.
Indian Puppetry - Ravanchayya
Indian Puppetry – Ravanchayya

Tholu Bommalata

  • Andhra Pradesh Theatre: Tholu Bommalatta is the shadow theatre of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Artistic Presentation: Puppets with different colors on both sides are presented against a backdrop of classical musical accompaniment.
  • Focus: The presentation centers on legendary and holy stories from the Epics and Puranas.
Indian Puppetry - Tholu Bommalata
Indian Puppetry – Tholu Bommalata

Rod Puppetry

  • Prominence in Eastern India: Rod puppetry is predominantly used in Eastern India, gaining recognition in regions such as West Bengal and Odisha.
  • Control Mechanism: These puppets are manipulated by the puppeteer through the use of rods.
  • Puppet Structure:
    • Three Joints: Typically, these puppets consist of three joints.
    • Rod Connections: Both hands are linked to the rods at the shoulder, while the primary rod supports the puppet’s head connected to the neck.
    • Concealed Mechanism: The primary rod is hidden by the puppet’s attire, and action rods are attached to the puppet’s hands.
  • Movement Creation: Puppeteers generate movement by manipulating the rods with their hands.
  • Materials Used in Construction: The puppet’s body and hands are crafted from materials such as bamboo, rice husk, and hay. These ingredients are combined and molded into the desired shape.


  • Origin: A typical rod puppet originating from Bihar.
  • Material Composition: These puppets, often lacking joints, are primarily crafted from wood.
Rod Puppetry - Yampuri
Rod Puppetry – Yampuri

Putul Nach

  • Geographical Connection: This is the customary rod puppet dance of the Bengal-Odisha-Assam region.
  • Physical Characteristics: The figures, usually three to four feet tall, are adorned in attire resembling Jatra characters.
  • Accompaniment: During performances, a musical ensemble of three to four musicians employs instruments such as a harmonium, cymbals, and tabla.
Rod Puppetry - Putul Nach
Rod Puppetry – Putul Nach

Glove Puppetry

Glove Puppetry, also known as hand, sleeve, or palm puppetry, involves small figurines characterized by a head, arms, and a flowing skirt. While materials such as fabric or wood are commonly used in their construction, there are exceptions.

  • Despite their initial appearance as limp dolls, skilled puppeteers can manipulate these puppets in various ways.
  • The head, typically made of papier-mâché, linen, or wood, is positioned above two hands emerging just below the neck, while the rest of the body is adorned with a lengthy, flowing skirt.
  • Manipulation occurs through the human hand, with the first finger placed on the puppet’s head and the middle and thumb controlling its two other fingers.
  • The tradition of glove puppetry is prevalent in regions such as Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha.
  • In Odisha, performances often center around Radha and Krishna stories, while in Uttar Pradesh, they frequently address societal issues.


Pavakoothu is indeed a traditional glove puppet show that originated in Kerala, India. Here are some additional details about Pavakoothu:

  • The traditional glove puppet show called Pavakoothu is presented in Kerala.
  • It developed in the 18th century as a result of the influence of Kerala’s renowned classical dance-drama known as Kathakali on puppet shows.
  • A puppet in Pavakoothu can be between one and two feet tall. Wooden arms and a wooden head are joined by thick fabric that has been cut and sewed into a small bag-like structure.
  • The puppets’ faces are adorned with paint, tiny pieces of thin gilded zinc, peacock feathers, and other decorations.
  • The musical instruments used during the concert were chenda, chengila, ilathalam, and shankh.
  • In the majority of the world’s areas, puppetry has been a crucial component of information exchange. Puppetry combines elements from a variety of artistic mediums, such as literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theatre, and it gives pupils a creative outlet.
Indian Puppetry - Pavakoothu
Indian Puppetry – Pavakoothu

For Daily Current Affairs Click Here

Join our Official Telegram Channel HERE
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE
Follow our Instagram ID HERE

FAQs on Indian Puppetry

  1. Which type of puppet is popular in India?
    • India has a rich tradition of string puppets or marionettes, with jointed limbs controlled by strings. Marionettes are the most articulate of puppets and are popular in India.
  2. What is the origin of puppetry in India?
    • Puppetry is believed to have originated in India and finds mention in the Tamil classic “Silappadikaaram,” composed around the 1st – 2nd Century. The plots of puppet shows often draw inspiration from religious texts such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranic texts.
  3. Which puppet is from Kerala?
    • Tholpavakoothu is a form of shadow puppetry practiced in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India.
  4. How old is puppetry in India?
    • Some scholars trace the origin of puppets in India to 4000 years ago, where the main character in Sanskrit plays was known as Sutradhara, “the holder of strings.”
  5. How many types of puppets are made in India?
    • There are various types of puppets in India, and some examples include Tholu Bommalata in Andhra Pradesh, Togalu Gombeyaata in Karnataka, and Tholpavakoothu in Kerala.
  6. Who is the father of puppetry?
    • The term “father of puppetry” is not universally attributed to a single person. However, one notable figure is Jim Lambert, who made his first puppet at the age of 8 and became a proficient ventriloquist by his early teens.
  7. Which state is famous for puppetry?
    • Rajasthan is known for Kathputli, a string puppet theatre that is the most popular form of Indian puppetry.
  8. Who made the first puppet?
    • The exact origin of the first puppet is unclear, but puppets similar to those we know today have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2000 BCE. Historians suspect that Ancient Egypt or Ancient India may be the true birthplace of the first puppet.
  9. Why is puppetry important in India?
    • Puppetry has been traditionally used in India as a popular and inexpensive medium to transmit knowledge about Indian myths and legends. It serves as a dynamic art form appealing to all age groups and is used as an aid for imparting education in schools.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *