Incredible India: Kathputli Puppeteers

Image Copyright © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

As no emerging photographic talent from India is being promoted during the Incredible India @ 60 extravaganza in New York City, "Incredible India on TTP" is a week-long series of posts in a small effort to redress this oversight by showcasing unknown, under represented or emerging Indian photographers, as well as some of my own photographs of this amazing country.

I photographed this husband and wife team of puppeteers at the Kathputli Colony, a slum beneath the bridge of Shadipur Depot in South Delhi. Kathputli Colony is what's called a tinsel slum, with some 800 families of artists such as magicians, acrobats, mime artists, puppeteers, jugglers, folk singers, snake charmers, bear handlers, monkey trainers and other street performers.

Kathputli also refers to string puppets of Rajasthan. As seen in the photograph, these are doll-like figures made of mango wood, usually without legs and feet. The word Katha means story, while the word Putli means puppet. The puppeteers are traditionally from the Bhatt community. The main puppeteer is the sutradhar and is accompanied by the bhagavat (narrator-singer), an assistant, and musicians for the drums, cymbals and the harmonium. A reed-like bamboo instrument that emits a shrill sound is peculiar to Kathputli.

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