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Puppetry in India




Parul Rana



The origin of Puppetry in India cannot be dated but scholars hold that it was originated in India around 4000 years ago. The narrator or the 'Holder of the strings' is called Sutradhar, now widely called as the puppeteer. Puppetry is a form of narrative theatre where the puppeteer gives life to the puppet. There are around 20 different styles/forms of puppetry formed and based in different regions, different dialects, and languages. There are few basic things which form the similarity between all these different styles which includes the narrator, music in different forms as an accompaniment, structure of performance.

There are four main types of puppets: glove, rod, shadow, and string. They are differentiated based on the different ways of manipulation of puppets.

Glove Puppets: Also known as hand, palm, or arm puppets. It is controlled by the human hand and the hand emerges from just before the neck.

Rod Puppets: Rod puppets are an extension of glove puppets. These are made from head supported by the main rod. The body form is over the main rod and the arms are attached and controlled by a separate rod or strings. The element of Strings and rod are mixed in this form of puppetry.

Shadow Puppets: Shadow Puppets as the name suggests, are flat figures, pressed against the screen with a strong light behind them. The element of Light and screen are used creatively to make different effects, size variations, and colorful shadows.

String Puppets: As the name suggests, the key element is that of a string in this form of puppets. Several limbs and joints of the puppet are connected and controlled by strings allowing great flexibility. These are mostly made of light wood and could have no legs, wear large and colorful over flowy clothes.

Rinti Sengupta, a storyteller, and a puppeteer has more than 12 years of teaching experience in which she used hand puppets as a teaching aid and found children of all age groups responding to stories and puppets, which made her explore the world of puppets. She then took up full-fledged puppetry in 2018 to become a professional puppeteer and learned with Meena Naik from Kalsootri and traditional leather shadow puppets from Parashuram Gangawane. Rinti shares, "Although I have been lucky to learn all the four main forms of puppetry, my favorite form is Rod puppetry. I also enjoy muppets (an extension of glove puppetry). Children enjoy muppets a lot." Rinti Sengupta is presently running a channel on youtube called Hands and Stories where she teaches how to make puppets, share puppet stories, and much more. The channel aims at sharing puppetry with children, parents, teachers, and educators.

Anurupa Roy is a puppeteer, puppet designer, and director of the puppet theatre. She has done diploma in puppet theatre from DI Dramatiska Institutet, at Stockholm University, Sweden, Diploma in Guaratelle, traditional glove puppetry, from La Scoula Della, Guaratelle (School of Traditional Glove puppetry) in Naples, Italy under Bruno Leone in 2002. Out of her vast body of work, she has worked actively to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and gender issues, using puppets, with women and youth across the country.

Anurupa Roy shares on how she used puppetry as a form of conveying social messages and raising awareness on several issues, 'Puppet theatre is the theatre of dead material, which has no ego and no judgment so, puppets can be used to say and do things that may otherwise be taboo in society or difficult to speak about. Puppeteers use this very license to question mindsets...so essentially puppets don't really 'give' messages but subliminally question behavior, choices, and norms.'

Dadi Pudumjee, Puran Bhatt, Suresh Datta, Dr. Dattatreya Aralikatte, Sangya Ojha, Meena Naik, Sanghya Ojha, Chetan Parashuram Pinguli, are amongst others Indian puppeteers who have worked actively and contributed immensely to this art form.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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