Renaissance Puppets Complement Audubon at Ursinus' Berman Museum

May 19, 2006

Puppet-making is among the traditional family businesses in Jaipur, and an integral part of the local culture.

The lively wooden creatures spellbind people with their song, dance and tales, strung together in the rich heritage of Rajasthan.

"I've been in this business for 30 years. We sell the puppets locally as well as to export markets," said Zahour Mohammed, a local puppet maker in Jaipur.

Special art

Located across the Hawa Mahal, Mohammed's shop is among the many that sell kathputlis (puppets) and other traditional Rajasthani products.

The puppets are made of mango wood, with the bodies made of cloth or stuffed rags. They are then dressed up in a riot of colours.

The fancier ones are even bedecked with jewellery and fine silk dresses.

Put to work in the puppet shows, these string marionettes come alive in myriad roles like courtesans, traders and warriors.

"Snake charmers are best selling puppets. We have other similar funny puppets as well," a puppet maker said.

Changing times

While shops in most areas of the Pink City sell puppets for Rs 75-300, even better bargains can be found in the Kathpuli Nagar area.

The walled enclosure is home to the Kathpuli Bhats, a sub caste of entertainers.

Many of these artisans have preserved their trade by making what historians call the most primitive form of puppets.

"First we paint the wood, then stitch the clothes. We make the legs, hands and finally the headpiece," said Tulsi Bhat, a puppet maker.

However, times are now changing for the community, and many of them struggle to sell what they make.

"Earlier we did brisk business as only a few people knew how to make puppets. Now that everybody knows the art, the business has taken a beating," said Anju Bhat. So the next time you pass by Jaipur, be sure to pick up a pair of puppets from either Kathputli Nagar or one of the larger markets, and take home a string of Rajasthan's vibrant history.

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