The word 'kathputli' is derived from the word 'kaath' or wood and 'putli' or toy. Basically, a Kathputli means a puppet made of mango wood. Kathputli is a string puppet performance and is an ancient and well-known form of folk entertainment. It is a tourist attraction in the state of Rajasthan in India and the main centres where they're made are in Jaipur and Jodhpur. The Bhatt community, who are agricultural labourers, make these puppets as well as perform with them from village to village during the dry season when cultivation is not possible.
The puppet performances are based on Rajasthani historical tales, lore and local traditions. It's a light-hearted story telling format that is capable of imparting deep knowledge and wisdom down the ages. It is a captivating form of performance art that is easy to set up anywhere.
The puppets are mostly two feet tall with a wooden head, a huge nose and large eyes. The remaining body is made of colourful and bright pieces of cloth and stuffed clothes, which make it easy for movement. The puppet comes with a long thread for the head, arms and legs which the puppeteer grasps on the other side.
The costumes of the puppets are regional and colourful. While the upper portion of the female puppet is dressed in a choli and an odhni, the male puppets are dressed in achkan and long kurtas to resemble the Rajputs of Rajasthan. A few characters and items like the stunt horse rider, court dancer and snake charmer are necessary in traditional performances.
A small stage is set up using a small bed that is laid by length. The puppeteer turns his puppets over a line attached to the upper legs of the beds. The beds are enclosed with sheets to hide the puppeteer from the public view. He moves the jointed arms of the puppets using strings connected to each of them. The performances contain a lot of shouting and high-pitched sounds as the puppets turn around in a circular motion and move excitedly to the beat of the music or the puppeteer's storytelling.
Puppeteers make use of various sound effects with the help of instruments, music and singing as well. Loud beats on a drum called the dholak declare the starting of the puppet show. The shows usually last about an hour and are enjoyed by people belonging to all age groups.