It will be hard to find a child who has not heard of puppets. They may be known by different names in different areas, but puppets have, for centuries, enthralled children across the world. The first puppets are estimated to have originated nearly 3000 years ago. They are used for the primary purpose of story-telling and nowadays, it is also used to spread awareness about socially relevant topics. For instance, Ranjana Kanitkar’s organization first used puppets as a means to raise the voice against child marriage.
As far as the Indian subcontinent is concerned, there is slight evidence of puppetry in the Indus valley Civilization. One terracotta doll with a detachable head capable of movement was unearthed by archaeologists and it is believed to be nearly 2500 years old.
Various ancient literature such as the Mahabharata, Tamil epics, Ashokan edicts, Natya Sashtra, etc. have mentions of puppetry. Mahabharata, for instance, has a number of allusions to puppetry, the most famous one being from the Gita which talks of the three qualities, Sattah, Rajah and Tamah compared to three strings being pulled by the Divine to lead men in life. In the Kamasutra, it was revealed that the best way to entertain and seduce young girls was to organize a puppet show and present the puppets to the damsels after the performance!! The treatise contains elaborate descriptions on the making of puppets.
Puppets are used frequently in folklore. These puppets are made to imbibe all the expressions of humans thus making them as an extension of human expression. Ancient India considered them as a form of divine creation. Even today, a puppeteer opens his show with prayers. When the show is over, he puts the puppets reverentially aside.
When a puppet has to be discarded, it is not thrown away. Instead, they are floated away in rivers after performing a religious ceremony. And it happens only in India.
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Authored by Jijo George