Believed to have originated around 5th Century BC, Kathputli craft has a vibrant history of community, performance, and touching upon social issues. Kathputli, or puppet, is a beautifully carved and embellished wooden doll. At the centre of this traditional art form is the Bhat community of Rajasthan, members of which hold on tightly to the craft even as times change and tides turn. Not much is known about kathputli craft, but we do know that about 500 years ago, it was patronised by the royals and the affluent members of society for purposes of entertainment.
In practicing this craft, members of the Bhat community travelled from place to place and depicted social issues such as dowry and poverty with these lovingly made and decorated dolls.
One man, Devilal Samar, was taken by the colourful arts and crafts of Rajasthan, especially puppetry. So, in 1952 he founded Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal in Udaipur which houses a kathputli theatre! This initiative came about to support the artists who worked on kathputli craft and to preserve the long-standing tradition as integral to Rajasthan’s cultural legacy.
Today, we have two large Kathputli communities: one in Jaipur and the other in Delhi. As entertainment becomes ‘Netflix and chill’ and moves increasingly online, these communities become beacons of knowledge around our cultural history and pose many interesting questions to do with where these communities are located, their nomadic lifestyle, and the eroding tradition of kathputli craft.
Edited by Anjali Hans
Some resources and links to help you learn more about Kathputli craft: