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This article was re-purposed and published in “The Alternative”. This article also got published in “Bhoomi Magazine” .

Banwari Lal Bhat says “I do not want my kids to be in this job”. Though he and his family are financially dependent on his current work, he doesn’t want the kids to enter the same profession. He wants them to study hard and get into a different job. He emphasizes on the importance of English in today’s world. Although he himself speaks in broken English, he wants his kids to learn English.

You might be wondering what his current job is and why does he make a statement like that. Banwari Lal Bhat is a puppeteer from Udaipur, Rajasthan who earns his living by performing Kathputli shows. Banwari Lal says he has been into this profession since he was 12 and now he is 28. For last 16 years he has been roaming across India showcasing the puppetry art and earning a living. He says he has done shows across India except the beautiful seven sister states. He travels with his Kathputlis, while his family, a wife and 3 children are back at his native. His children go to school and he does not want them to get into this art form, until his kids are interested and want to do something new in this art. On the other hand, his sister’s and brother’s children have chosen puppetry as a means of earning. This is the story of not only Banwari Lal but of many artists practising this dying art form.

Banwari Lal the Puppeteer

Banwari Lal the Puppeteer

While wandering through one of the roads of Bangalore, we heard a shrill voice and dholbeats. We saw a small group of people standing around a small stage. Bright colourful clothes, beautiful eyes, nimble limbs were dancing in front of an enthralled audience. The small wooden stage had a bright yellow cloth as the stage backdrop and these Kathputlis were dancing with the deft fingers of the puppet man Banwari Lal. It can be brave emperor, or a dancing girl, a snake charmer or a snake, all dances on Banwari Lal’s finger tips. Do you still remember these colourful dolls dressed up in bright attires dancing through the attached strings? Yes they are the same Kathputlis. Kathputli as the name suggests is a puppet made of wood.  The head and shoulders are made of wood while the hands and legs are stuffed with cotton and covered with the cloth and attached to a string. 

Banwari Lal blowing the reed with the puppet dancing

Banwari Lal blowing the reed with the puppet dancing

The man in bright blue kurta was engrossed playing the dholwith the puppeteer singing and making shrill voices with a bamboo reed. The strong facial expression of the man with the dhol was really captivating. Banwari Lal dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire with a colourful turban on his head was narrating the story through songs from behind the yellow curtain. The whole setup brought back the nostalgic memories of childhood.

The Man with the dhol

The Man with the dhol

Kathputli is an ancient form of art. Through the Kathputli shows folktales of the kings, the wars and other historical events used to be depicted. According to Banwari Lal puppet shows were not only based around folktales of the kings but also on social issues to create awareness.

Stage with the colourful puppets

Stage with the colourful puppets

The Bhat community from Rajasthan began to practice this art as their family profession. Banwari Lal tells us that 11 generations of Bhat community has been involved only in Kathputli art. These people are not educated and all the stories that they depict through the Kathputlis have been passed through word of mouth from their parents or grandparents. The Bhat community natively belongs to the Nagaur district of Rajasthan and apart from the Kathputli shows they also make these puppets.

These wooden dolls known as Kathputli used to attract not only the kids but even the elders. The Kathputli show was one of the main sources of entertainment. Now we don’t even see them on the roads or even on the TV. Wandering Taste Buds was very lucky to meet Banwari Lal and his colourful puppets.

Depressed by the current conditions and interest of people, Banwari Lal is sure that this art form will disappear soon. He is not keen on passing this art to his children as he says he doesn’t want his kids to suffer, as now no one seems to take interest in this age old art form.

The Snake Puppet

The Snake Puppet

Can we do something to keep this art form alive and not just die with Banwari Lal and the people of his generation? We have always believed it is important for today’s generation not only appreciate how rich and diverse our tradition is, but more important is to pass it on to the next generation and teach them to value such art forms. It is very disheartening to see people turning a blind eye to the rich heritage we Indians possess. Let us know what you think are the different ways so that the Kathputli art doesn’t get lost and merely occupy a page in history books.

Banwari Lal has been in Bangalore for last 6 months and will be here till he has a source of income here. In case you want to organize puppet shows for any of your events or at any school you can contact his brother Parveen Bhatt on +91 9880458709.

It’s good to be inspired by other culture and art forms but let’s not lose our own culture and art forms. Wandering Taste Buds would like to hear your say on this.

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