Puppetry is a popular traditional art form of India, which has been practiced in the country since ancient times. In the early days, handmade puppets were used as an important means of communicating with people and even educating them. Though the use of art form changed, with the passing time, to entertainment, the original purpose is still not entirely lost. Many social groups in India, till date, continue to employ puppetry for the purpose of educating children, disabled and rural folks, on a wide variety of subjects.
The history of puppetry in India dates back to the epic era. The art form finds a mention in the epic Mahabharata as well as the Tamil literature from the Sangam era. Then, we find a reference to puppetry in the literary works dating from the late centuries BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era, including Ashokan edicts. Even Natya Shastra and the Kamasutra describe puppetry in some detail. As for concrete evidence on the history of puppetry, one can mention the excavations at the Indus Valley Civilization, which unearthed terracotta dolls, with removable heads and operated by a string (dating to 2500 BC), as well as terracotta animals, capable of being manipulated up and down a stick.
Types of Puppets
One of the most common puppets used in India is the glove puppet. It is quite small in size, comprising of a head, arms and a long skirt, which are attached to a glove, as the costume, and worn by the puppeteer on his hand. The head and arms movements are controlled by the puppeteer with his/her fingers. This form of puppet is more popularly seen in the states of Kerala and Orissa.
Rid puppets come in various shapes in sizes. These puppets are made to act by the support of attached rods, held by the puppeteer. While the rods to control actions are attached to hands, the main rod of the puppet is concealed in its costume. This type of puppet show is popular in Orissa and West Bengal.
Shadow puppets comprise of a flat two-dimensional figure, made of out animal skin and operated from behind a tightly stretched white cloth screen. Light is directed on the screen from behind, in a way that the shadow of the puppet falls on it. The puppets cutouts have cane sticks attached vertically to them, for handling and manipulation. Shadow puppets are popular in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa and Tamil Nadu.
Benefits Other Than Entertainment
Puppetry can be used for a number of purposes other than entertaining as well educating the masses. In fact, studies have proved that the art form can be used in the development of speech, reading, hearing and motor-control in spastic children. It is also believed to be helpful in enhancing the artistic and creative abilities in kids, like drawing, painting, needlework, carpentry, composing music, writing songs and stories. As such, many voluntary and educational organizations in India have been using the puppetry art towards these tasks and the use has now increased with time.