Friday, 15 March 2013

Back Story | The Kathputli Puppeteer

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
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Kathputli is both a string puppet theatre, and a colony in New Delhi where a large community of artists, ranging from puppeteers to magicians, decided to settle in the 1950s. 

The Kathputli puppeteering is native to Rajasthan, India, and is the most popular form of Indian puppetry. Being string marionettes, these are controlled by a single string that passes from the top of the puppets to the puppeteers' hands. The tribes of Rajasthan have been performing this art from the ancient times and it's an integral part of Rajasthani culture and tradition. 

As for the colony, it was started during the 1950s. Many of the itinerant artists ended their traveling and moved into vacant area in West Delhi, and called it Kathputli Colony. The colony is now a slum; home to some of India's best street magicians, acrobats, and puppeteers. But a few years ago, the government sold the Kathputli land to real estate developers, with plans to raze the slum and clearing it for high rises and other developments.

The traditional Kathputli artists’ exodus from the princely states of Rajasthan to New Delhi has been a long and arduous one. The end of the Raj in the late 1940s meant the end of the reign (and patronage) of the Maharajahs, and these artists were then forced to travel far and wide in search of work.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

It was the traditional puppeteers from Rajasthan (the Kathputli) who first came and made this colony their new home. Over time, other street artists followed. Today, the slum houses magicians, musicians, qawwali singers, jugglers, acrobats, mime artistes, bear handlers, monkey trainers and snake charmers. 

About 1,200-traditional artists’ families live in Kathputli Colony, and are struggling to keep their forefathers’ artistic legacy alive. It won't be long before this is gone.