The city of forts -Rajasthan is not only about its terracotta pink heritage buildings and rich textiles, but also about the variegated cultures and crafts. If you are planning to visit the state then make sure to have a look at all the magnificent crafts of Rajasthan, especially Kathputlis.
The name was derived from two exclusive words, that is, “Kath” meaning wood and “Putli” meaning doll in hindi. Thus kathputlis are dancing dolls or puppets that are carved from wood and decorated with gorgeous apparels in accordance to the characters they play. The puppet has a long thread for the head which reaches the puppeteer. Both the hands of puppet are connected by strings, held by the person manipulating it.
Kathputlis were a famous source of entertainment in Rajasthani villages. Not only the kings and chiefs, but even the locals were the part of the audience segment. These art forms were showcased in the form of drama by narrating a story along with background music and instruments. Initially, people from Putli Bhat community visited several hamlets in Rajasthan and entertained the local people with their self-made puppets.
Gradually, it gained popularity through the shows they conducted for the kings and queens. The Bhats got opportunity to perform in several puppet shows and social gatherings that were arranged across the state and beyond. Usually, the puppets are made of mango wood and filled with cotton. They are usually around 1.5 to 2 feet high. To differentiate, male puppets have legs and female don’t have. The fact that female puppets are devoid of legs could not be understood due to their Rajasthani poshak with anarkali style flowy silhouette. Even today, they are still handcrafted and the most striking feature is its bright, vivacious attire which is easily eye- catching for tourists.
For handcrafting the puppets, certain steps are followed. A 9-inch wooden stick is cut and crafted in the exact shape in case of string puppets. The face is drawn on it using oil paint complementing the natural shade of human skin. Other facial features are drawn using an intricate brush. Small pipes are attached to make hands. At last strings are attached to puppets.
The major hubs of these puppets are Udaipur and Jaipur where the puppet shows are still prevalent. They make the tourists more aware of the Rajasthani culture. It is a matter of appreciation that at local level small artists perform this art and spread social messages even today, thus making the craft impactful in recent times.