An Overview
Multiple functions of Indian Puppetry
Skilled Craft of Indian Puppetry
Inanimate to Animate in Indian Puppetry
Legend & Geneis of Indian Puppets
Categories of Puppets

Bommalatta, an ancient Indian art of two millennia old, became best known around the nineteenth century under royal patronage. The form is mostly seen in Tamil Nadu. Wooden puppets are 2.5 feet to 3 feet high and weigh around 10 kgs. Jewellery and clothes resemble those of Bharatanatyam dancers. The stage is on open ground with a thatched roof, 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. The black screen concealing the puppeteer is 3.5 feet high. Opening is 10 feet long and 3 feet broad, with hand-woven cloth-curtain. Two oil lamps burn at each end inside, now replaced by electric lamps. The manipulator speaks the dialogue.


Mridang, Ottu (a clarinet-like drone instrument), Jalar (brass gong) and cymbals are used as instruments with both classical and folk tunes. The puppets have joints in shoulder, elbow, back, knee, knee, wrist and feet. Strings are attached to an iron ring, covered with cloth. The puppeteer wears the ring on his head and manipulates the two hands of the puppet with two thin rods attached to the puppet. Smaller puppets are entirely operated by strings.

Bommalatta, Invocation

The puppeteer generally performs stories from Purana. Plays last throughout the night and are generally connected with festivals in temples. Puppets perform folk dances and classical dance-items. There are also performances to ward off evil spirits, epidemics and drought, or, to invoke the god of rain.

A special feature of Bommalatta is the performance of acrobatics,-- like catching the ball thrown above, mopping the eyebrow with the skirt, etc. On the whole, the puppets can perform many complex functions as they are operated both by strings and rods.


Chhadar Badar is a little known Indian puppet-form prevalent among the Santhal tribes of Bihar and West Bengal. There is a central bamboo rod (stuck in the earth or held by one hand), which has a circular wooden platform on the top, carrying a number of puppets on it. There is a leader puppet-maiden and a youth in various dancing poses, who face each other and execute a series of movements, -- apart from playing drums and flute. All these wooden puppets vary in height from 5" to 8", each of which is tied with a string. The puppeteer holds the other end of the strings tied in a knot passing under the disc. The central rod, covered from all sides by a red cloth, has the puppeteer perform in the open with songs and the dancing dolls. The puppets are simply clothed with painted facial features, carrying turban or bird-feather on the head.

Chhadar Badar

Another Indian form of rare puppetry is Yampuri from Bihar. The form originated a few decades back in Uttar Pradesh and came to Bihar, from where the few extant groups go to perform in various fairs in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

The puppeteers sit in a series of shallow ditches and put the puppets at about three feet height on wheeled platforms. The curtain, which keeps changing with different scenes, is at the back and musicians sit outside the trench,-- playing harmonium, dholok (barrel-shaped drum), cymbals, etc. The ticketed show lasts for an hour and is performed in Hindi language (or Bhojpuri dialect), describing Yampuri (the house of Death). The show begins with appearance of the death-god Yama and his messenger, followed by their record-keeper Chitragupta. One by one, the people (supposedly after death) are marched in front of Yama to receive their doles of punishment. There are some who are earmarked for heaven. People finally cross the sacred river Vaitarani keeping the tail of a cow in hand, as though they are marching towards heaven after their suffering in the hell.


There are other characters, too, like Vidushak (the clown), the sage Narada and the narrator. The songs cover salutation to the gods and goddesses like Ganesha and Saraswati. The puppets, numbering up to 48, are manipulated without any set script, and operated by strings pulling the puppets mounted on rods. The narrative is meant primarily to put the fear of heaven and hell in people for their current deeds and thus has almost the same purpose as Morality plays of the medieval Europe.


These are small contemporary puppets manipulated by fingers. All the fingers of the hand are used with imagination. A variation is the small puppet made of paper or cloth, which is manipulated by inserting fingers into the legs of the puppet. These are normally tabletop puppets and are fairly popular among small children in India.

Finger Puppet, Finger & Table Top Puppet

These are large figures, up to 8 feet high and used in contemporary plays and street drama in India.

Heroic, Anokhi Vastra, Ishara Puppet Theatre

These are interesting modern variations on the rod puppet, where a main rod carries just the heads without any shoulders. The puppeteer, holding the main rod with one hand, uses the other hand as the puppets hand from below.

Marotte, Puppet Play on Social theme

Used in magic shows for a long time, the idea of using luminescence in the surrounding darkness has been adopted by Indian puppeteers. The latter put on black dress and black hoods as masks, and become invisible in the dark stage. The luminescent puppets get illuminated from above, below or the sides. The puppets seem to float on the stage. Such shows, called Black Theatre, have come from France and Czechoslovakia.

Black Theatre, Call of the Wild, Dolls Theartre


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