On our way north towards Agra we stopped at a town called Udaipur. We didn’t know much about the place, but we checked some pictures and we really liked what we saw. Also it was fortunate that a couchsurfer was willing to host us. So we had no doubt we were going there. What we didn’t know is that we would find (and actually by chance) the oldest kind of puppetry and one of the best puppet masters!
The city itself is quite nice. Usually nicknamed the Indian Venice has lots of interesting sights. There are two lakes and especially in the evenings there are lots of local people walking around, enjoying the cooler hours of the day.
The city palace is simply incredible. It’s an absolute must for anybody passing through here. Of course it’s going to be crowded, even in low season, but this is India! Don’t expect anything different!
Coming down from the city palace I found this shop saying that they made and sold typical Rahasthani puppets, so I decided to walk in and I liked them so much that apart from buying some I decided to make a little research.
It turns out that puppets, under the name of Kathputli, have been in use for more than a thousand years (some say 2000 years), in this region. That’s why it’s considered one of the oldest kind of puppetry still in use.
Kathpuli means wooden doll, and one of the most distinct characteristic is that the strings are held, and moved, directly to the fingers of the puppet master. These artists, called Bhats or Kathpuliwalas, many times go from town to town to show their skills.
In Rajasthan this kind of art is so important that is part of every aspect of the social life: festivals, fairs, gatherings, religious celebrations … Still today puppetry is used to teach and educate, both in a moral as in a social way.
Even if it’s a really old way storytelling the shows also include actual topics like the cast system, illiteracy, unemployment, hygiene … And this helps to make the society aware of this issues so present in everyday life.
So in Udaipur I had the chance of enjoying for almost an hour a conversation and different shows in the shop “the university of arts” (where I also bought them). I got invited to go the following day to see the producing process, but unfortunately I got sick … Next time I’ll see it!