Indian Puppetry (Kathputli) – An ancient art form

Indian Puppetry (popularly known as kathputli) is an ancient performance which involves story telling through playing the puppets. The puppeteers went from place to place to entertain the people by performing the mythological stories, historical romances and so on. The puppets show the influence of paintings, sculpture, costumes and arts of the region to which they belong.


The puppetry in India was originated around 4000 years ago. There is evidence of puppetry in Indus valley civilization. The discussion of puppetry is present in the literary works dating from 1500 years ago to 500 years old. The Ashokan edicts also describes about puppetry. In epics like MAHABHARATHA also the description of puppetry is present.

Must Read: Classical Dances of India: Mirror of Cultural India


There are four different kinds of puppetry in India. They are:



Here the puppets are made from a single piece of wood and colourful costumes are worn on them. They do not have legs. Puppeteers tie strings to the fingers of the puppets and perform by manipulating them. There are different variations in string puppetry in different regions

  • RAJASTHANI KATHAPUTLI in Rajasthan, presenting historical romances, duels, fights, and dances.
  • GOMBEYATTA in Karnataka, playing YAKSHAGNA characters.
  • BOMMALATTAM in Tamil Nadu with huge realistic puppets attached to the strings and played.
  • SAKHI KUNDHEI in Orissa
  • PUDA NACH in Assam
  • MALASUTRI BAHULY in Maharashtra.

Read Also: Folk dances of India


In shadow puppetry, the puppets are flat and are made of leather and animal hides. They are beautifully coloured and decorated. When these puppets are pressed against the screen with the light behind them they form shadows on the screen and those moving shadows are visible to the audience.

These shadow puppets are popular in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Karnataka, and Kerala. These puppets have several joints to facilitate the movement. The variants of shadow puppetry in different regions are:

  • THOLU BOMMALATA in Andhra Pradesh depicting episodes from epics.
  • THOGALU GOMBEYATTA in Karnataka dealing with secular themes and characters.
  • RAVANACHHAYA in Orissa with joint-less puppets needs more skill to perform.
  • TOLPAVAKOOTHU in Kerala depicting epics.


In the Glove puppetry, the head of the puppet is made of cloth, wood, and paper. The rest of the puppet is dressed in a long flowing skirt. These puppets are also called as sleeve (or) palm (or) hand puppets.

The puppeteer uses three fingers to manipulate the puppet and produce a wide range of movements. This puppetry is popular in Orissa, west Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala.

  • In Orissa, Radha-Krishna tales are enacted with dholak playing in the background.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, these puppets enact social themes.
  • PAVAKOOTHU in Kerala depicts episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha.


Rod puppets are larger than glove puppets and they are manipulated by rods from below. This Puppetry is found in West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar.

  • In Bengal, this puppetry is used to perform JATRA plays.
  • In Orissa, mythological stories are performed.
  • In Bihar, YAMPURI rod puppets are used to perform folk dances.


The puppetry art form in India was used as a medium in the freedom struggle as well. With unique characteristics, it is one of the ancient Indian traditions which needs to be preserved.

Also, Read:

The Sufi Movement: Practices of various orders of Sufis in India

National Festivals of India Part 1

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  1. nice kep it up……plz write on this article—fi 2. bio–gel 3.commission of inquiry act….it will be help ful for me

  2. Dear Sir a very informative.article. Please write something on the history of bull fighting in India. Why this was banned in Tamil nadu recently allowed by The Supreme Court. Is it also present in other states or world? Please throw some light on it. Thanks

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