Theatre of NarrationSinging ballads, hymns, hero-lauds, odes, songs and incantations within a ritualistic frame or independent of it is a very ancient tradition. In fact, it has a bearing on the origin and development of theatre. Indian folk theatre's origins could be traced back to distant antiquity. The aboriginal cave paintings, ancient Vedic literature and Buddhist literature have recorded the vibrant functioning of Indian folk theatre. The 'Natyashastra' (sometimes also calle d Fifth Veda) probably composed between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D. by Bharat Muni also records the grandeur of Indian folk theatre. There are signs of the impact of the folk theatre on the classical Sanskrit theatre. However, it was during the 15-16th centuries that folk theatre received a boost and became a forceful medium in different regions. Naturally, folk theatre used different languages of the various regions in which it emerged and prospered. The themes encompassed stories from Sanskrit epics and the Puranas, historical tales, folk stories of romance and valour and biographical accounts of local heroes. The narrator or the Sutradhar tells the story through mime, music and dance, puppetry, picture scrolls and even shadows on the screen. Mime was used with great finesse to impersonate the characters of the story. Indian folk theatre can be broadly divided into two categories – secular and 'theatre of entertainment' and 'theatre of religion.' Though the religio-mythological oriented forms developed since antiquity they were reinforced during the Bhakti movement in medieval India. The secular folk theatre form can be traced to the Swang tradition and focused mainly on entertainment. Both the forms functioned together and influenced each other. In various states in India many of the language theatre forms which emerged have been stylized as total theatres blending elements of music, dance and poetry deftly and have all the attributes of a classical theatre.
Some of the region-specific theatres, briefly described, are as follows.
Koottu (Chakyar Koottu)
Chakyar, a community of performing artistes in Kerala well known for their theatrical skills since long, performed Koottu. In the ancient period, the Chakyars used to narrate stories from mythological sources like epics and Puranas where elaborate dance and abhinaya was employed. With eloquent declarations and suggestive facial expressions and hand gestures, the stories are recited in a quasi-dramatic style accompanied by musical instruments like cymbals and mizhavu (drum) made of copper with a narrow mouth on which is stretched a piece of parchment. The narrator Chakyar singly acts the roles of various characters while narrating the story. This narrative form later evolved into the now famous Koodiyattam.
The tribals of Chattisgarh region developed pandavani to amuse and instruct the people in the form of story telling. The story telling revolves around the five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata fame. A team of pandavani performers includes one narrator-singer, one or two co-singers who also play on musical instruments like tabla and harmonium. The main narrator-singer holds a stringed musical instrument called tambura which is decorated with small jingling bells and peacock feathers in one hand and a pair of cymbals known as kartal on the other.
Tal–maddale is a narrative drama of Karnataka which later evolved into Yakashagana - a colourful dance drama of the region. The name derives from tal, a kind of cymbal, and maddale, a kind of drum. The main narrator is known as bhagavata and his teammates are called arthadharis. It is a play which does not use costumes, make-up, dance or acting and is performed in sitting position.
Burra Katha – a popular narrative form of Andhra Pradesh – is narrated to the beats of burra drum. The traditional performers of this form believe that they are descendants of Valmiki, the composer of the Valmiki Ramayana.
Gondhal – the dramatic narration of mythological stories, hero-lauds and folk legends in Maharashtra – forms a part of a ritual dedicated to various deities. Gondhal has deeply influenced the dramatic and narrative traditions in Maharashtra and its neighbouring regions.
Keertan is one of the most popular narratives throughout the country. It is also known as Kalakshepam, Katha, Harikatha etc. in different regions. Keerta stands for fame, reputation and its derivative Keertan means to laud, extol, worshipping the deity by chanting his praises with music and singing.
The narrative hero-laud is called powada in Maharashtra. The first available powada in Marathi was based on Shivaji killing his enemy Afzal Khan. Gondhalis and Shahirs, the folk singers of Maharashtra, kept the tradition of powada singing alive, High pitched melodramatic singing marks powada.
In ancient India, the picture showman was known as mankha and the art of narrating the story through pictures was known as Mankha Vidha. This art dates back to 6th century B.C.
The members of the Garoda community in Gujarat practise the art of narrating stories through painted pictures. It is performed with a paper scroll with pictures painted in water colour one below the other and separated by a thick black line.
This art form of Assam uses a host of dramatic techniques to illustrate the narrative and enhance its visual impact. Oja-Pali is associated with the worship of deity Manasa (the serpent goddess in Assam). The performers spend many days to narrate the story which is divided into three parts – Deva Khanda, Baniya Khanda and Bhatiyali Khanda. The main narrator-singer is oja and palis are the members of his chorous.
Villu Pattu literally means bow-song. This form of narration (using bow-shaped musical instrument) was developed in the 15th century in Tamil Nadu. A bow-song party usually consists of eight members who form part of the chorous to support the main singer-narrator. Performed with ballad style songs, the stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas are narrated.
Daskathia and Chaiti Ghoda
Daskathia is one of the several narrative forms that evolved in Orissa. It consists of two performers – gayaka (main singer) narrates the stories to the accompaniment of two small rectangular wooden pieces to produce various beats and palia who is the co-narrator. The stories are usually taken from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and folk literature. The performance also satirizes and makes social commentaries on the contemporary situation.
Chaiti Ghoda which also evolved in Orissa consists of a troupe of performers made up of two players on dhol and mahuri musical instruments and three characters. A dummy horse is crafted with bamboo and cloth and the dancer enters into the hollow body and dances, while the main singer and co-singer narrate mythological stories.
Ras Leela is a generic term that encompasses in its ambit several dances and dance dramas throughout the length and breadth of India based on the Krishna cult. The antiquity of the Krishna theatre, like the Krishna cult predates the Vedas. It must be noted that in the oldest Indian dramas, the samvadas (or colloquies) were composed in Prakrit (a colloquial form of Sanskrit) and not in Sanskrit. Ras refers to young Krishna's joyous, circular dance with the Gopis - the maids and the wives of cowherds of the Braj region – on the bank of river Yamuna on full-moon night. While Leela connotes play, both literally as well as God's playful interaction with humans and other earthly beings. In the Krishna cult, Ras Leela has special mystical and ritualistic significance.
From time immemorial, Ras and other Leelas have been part of the living tradition in various regions of the country in different forms. However, Ras Leela of Vrindavan is widely popular which developed in the 16th century due to the influence of Bhakti wave then sweeping the country.
Ras Leela portrays the incidents from Krishna's early life and the miraculous experiences of friends (sakhis) and young women who came into contact with him. The performance begins with the jhanki (tableau) of Krishna enthroned with his consort Radha seated beside him. Sakhis are seated on the right side of Krishna. Singers and musicians pay their respect to the central figures – Radha and Krishna. Then a series of dances known as nitya ras follow. The performance lasts for 2-3 hours till midnight.
In Kerala, around the mid-seventeenth century, emerged a colourful dramatic form known as Krishna Attam, based on the life of Krishna. Krishna Attam had a strong influence on Koodiyattam theatre and Kathakali. Krishna Attam is a compendium of 8 plays performed for 8 consecutive nights to unfold the entire story of Lord Krishna.
In the picturesque region of Gomantaka situated between the Sahyadri ranges and the Arabian Sea - known for its theatrical arts and music - various forms of theatre based on Krishna legend have survived through the ages. Kala in its earlier theatrical form, in fact, laid the basis for later Krishna theatre, which branched out in the form of Dashavatar Kala, Gopal Kala and Gaulan Kala.
Ankia Nat arose in the 16th century in Assam in the wake of neo-Vaishnavite movement. This one-act play - an opera delineating the splendour of Krishna legend – is structurally a synthesis of classical and folk traditions of the region.
Poet Jayadeva's Gita Govinda - a musical opera of unparalleled lyrical beauty occupies a premier place in the tradition of Krishna theatre. Gita Govinda written at the end of the 12th century inspired 35 dramatists who composed more than 100 plays between 1600 and 1850. In Vidyapati and Chandidas's devotional songs one can find the influence of Gita Govinda. The performance consisting of dialogues among two or more actors accompanied by songs became popular in Orissa, Mithila (northern Bihar), Bengal, Assam, Bundelkhand and Nepal. Even today, highly acclaimed classical Indian dances like Odissi and Bharatanatyam use the rich lyrical repertoire of Gita Govinda in their performances. Deep emotional involvement with the love-mysticism of Krishna cult forms the hub of the poet's compositions.
The life of epic hero Rama - believed to be an avatar (reincarnation) of Lord Vishnu (the preserver) - have been portrayed in the theatrical form in various languages across regions. However, in north India, Ram Lila is performed every year for days together during the festival of Dussehra celebrating the annihilation of Ravana. Ram Lila of northern India is based on Tulsidas's narrative of Ram's adventures, the Ramchartimanas, an epic poem composed in Awadhi. Passages are chanted from Ramcharitmanas interspersed with song, drama and pageantry to unfold the story. According to legend, after the death of Tulsidas in 1624, one of his disciples, Megha Bhagat enacted Ram Lil a for the first time. However, in the 19th century the royal house of Banaras undertook the sponsorship of the Ram Lila at Ramnagar on a massive scale.
The theme mainly revolves around the interaction between Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana (who accompanied Rama in the 14 year exile) and Bharat and Shatrughan. Ram Lila concludes on Vijayadashmi day when he vanquished Ravana, and the stage actors performing the main roles shoot down the effigies of Ravana and his brother with burning arrows. Hundreds and thousands of spectators who watch Ram Lila then proceed with the entire cast of the performance in a procession to witness the burning of effigies.
It is a folk art form popular in Rajasthan. Though the origins of khayal remains a highly debatable issue, yet it is known that Agra was an important centre. Khayal has various styles, each going by the name of the city, acting style, the community or the author, e.g., Jaipuri Khayal, Abhinaya Khayal, Gadhaspa Khayal, and Alibaksh Khayal. Each style is marked by nuances and subtle variations.
Acting space is divided into two areas: one is a three to four feet high platform where one side is covered with white sheets to form a lower stage. In some styles of khayal, a lower stage known as Laghu is also built. The second structure is between twelve and twenty feet high, which is erected behind the platform. This makshift 'balcony' can be reached by ladders. In the four corners, banana tree trunks with colourful flags strung between them are installed.
Though khayal creates a festive atmosphere yet the performance is not free from religious undertones. Before the stage is set up, a ceremonial pole is installed at the site and the actual performances begin with hymns to deities. The plays are mythological, historical or creative in content and are marked by romance, brave deeds and sentiments. Festive music is created by nakkara or dholak drums, cymbals and the harmonium.
The all-male cast is directed on stage by the ustaad or the director producer. Every performance has a clown as a prominent character.
It is purely a farce with a leader known as Khalifa. Through witticisms and antics, the clown determines the action and pace of the performance. Naqal is interesting because the all-male cast satirizes the audience as well. Immensely popular in Punjab and Kashmir, naqal form is also known as naqqual and nakkal.
Svanga is also known as sangeet and its origins could be traced to the late eighteenth century. This folk form, popular in Haryana and Punjab is sourced from the ballads and semi-historical stories. Svanga is performed during festivals and family occasions. The play consisting of an all-male cast is performed in the village open area or in the patron's house. Simple costumes with fancy headdresses including wigs are used. Dialogues occupy a predominant place while songs and music have a secondary role.
Nautanki is a form of svanga, and is believed to have been names after a popular play Shahzadi Nautanki (the story of Princess Nautanki). The folk tale relates to a princess in Punjab called Nautanki was famed for her beauty. Phool Singh, a young man, who wanted to marry Nautanki was consistently rebuffed by her sister-in-law. Enraged, Phool Singh with the help of his gardner, named Princess Nautanki and they lived together.
Contrary to the legend that nautanki originated in Punjab, this folk theatre has no trace of Punjabi language. In fact, it is in Hindustani. What is significant is that nautanki as a theatrical form primarily catered to the lower and middle classes an d survived for hundreds of years without any court patronage.
The plays are based on historical, mythological or folk stories and are either "narrated or enacted in the grandiose epic style." Singing to the accompaniment of nagadas (kettle drums) marks nautanki as a genre. The drums are of two sizes and the percussionists have their own method of controlling pitch. The bigger nagada is controlled by the use of a damp cloth to its head while the head of the smaller drum is heated over hot coals. Other instruments which are used in the performance are the dholak drums, harmonium, cymbals and sarangi (a string instrument). Over the years, songs have been based on film music though folk music still plays a predominant role.
Ten to twelve actors constitute the cast under the supervision of the stage manager known as ranga. Performances are usually in moralistic overtones interspersed with comic and dialogue sequences to change the momentum of the play.
Hathras and Kanpur have emerged as two distinct styles of nautanki. Hathras style is the older version. In the 19th century they set up akharas (training centers) where the khalifa was the supreme leader. The singing style was high on the pitch and style. The authoritarian way of functioning of the khalifas led to a rebellion and the Kanpur version of nautanki came into being. The Kanpur style was conceptualized by Sri Krishna Pahalvan and is marked by simple songs and elaborate stage scenery.
The basic verse pattern is divided into three portions : doha which is sung free, without a beat; chaubola which forms the main stanza; and daur or chalti or udhan which is sung at a great pace but becomes slow by the end. Sometimes innovations like introduction of kada between the three stanzas is made. Other metrical patterns which are popular include behartabeel, sauratha, alha, lavani, jhoolna, dadra, gazal, qawali and lately film tunes. Nautanki is written in Hindustani with a spattering of the dialect of the area where it is played. Braj nautankis are mostly in verse, whereas the Kanpur version uses Urdu poetry and lots of straight prose dialogue. The nautanki contains certain aspects of the Sanskrit theatre, both in the choice of stories and the sequence wise unraveling of the plot. The impact of Parsi theatre is also visible in the style of enactment, particularly in the Kanpur version.
Most of the nautanki artistes belong to families who have been in the profession for generations. Most of them are illiterate or semi-literate. Today, the formal elements of nautanki – dance, music, unlimited scope for their improvisation – are being explored for their relevance in contemporary themes. Nautanki has always been an open and secular dramatic form in contrast to many traditional theatrical forms. Bakri, one of the most successful nautanki plays in recent times written by Sarweshwar Dayal Saxena is a scathing social satire and has been performed over hundred times all over the country in Hindi and other regional languages.
Lavani Poetry and the Turra-Kalagi Akhara
The ancient practices of public debate on scriptures (shastrath), extemporaneous poetic composition (Samasyaputri) and musical dialogue (sawal-jawab) - all figure in the unique Turra-Kalagi tradition. In the performance, two contending groups direct questions and answers to each other, using the song type lavani or khayal to the accompaniment of dholak and chang drums. Turra represents the Shaivite position while the kalagi advocates the supremacy of Shakti. Each group is organized as an akhara and is marked by distinctive colours, and exhibits its ensign on its drum in the form of a crest (Kalagi and Turra both denoting the crest or the plume affixed to a turban). The contest between the two parties is known as dangal.
This form originated in Maharashtra and was an important popular form of poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries. The contest revolves around the theme of dualities like Shiva and Shakti, purush and prakriti, brahm and maya, or nirgun and sagun. There are innumerable instances where the debates which began as a metaphysical exchange ended up in verbal abuse and physical violence.
Turra-kalagi troupes and their lavanis probably traveled northward from Maharashtra, when these entertainers accompanied the camps of the Maratha army in the 18th century. Turra-kalagi then took its roots in Madhya Pradesh, where it is still performed as a folk song form. This folk form eventually reached northern India.
In Chittor and Ghosunda in Rajasthan, this form became associated with khayal folk theatre known as Turra-Kalagi khayal and developed a distinct style based on the stories found in the oral traditions of the region.
Nath Yogis and Narrative Folklore
Nath Yogis were ascetics and followers of Guru Gorakhanath of Punjab. Unlike the Lilas which focused on divine heroes incarnated in flesh and blood, the Nath Yogis on the other hand emphasized their belief in ascetic renunciation, magical beliefs and tantric mysticism. Due to the initiatory rite of inserting a heavy earring (mudra) into the pierced cartilage of each ear, they came to be known as kanphata (having split ears).
Through their popular sayings known as Gorakh Bani, the Nath Yogis were responsible for disseminating tantric beliefs and terminology among the common people of northern and central India. Yogis of the Nath sect not only functioned as singers, musicians and popular entertainers but had also built up a formidable reputation among the villagers as curers, magicians and masters of the occult. Yogis belonging to the Nath sect had a substantial geographic reach. The important pilgrimage sites and monastic centers ranged from Hing Laj in Baluchistan, Dhinodhar in Gujarat, Tila in Punjab to sites in Nepal, Bengal and Bombay.
A drama by Aga Hasan Amanat entitled Indrasabha was staged in Lucknow during the reign of Wajid Ali Shah. According to oral tradition, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah played the title role of Indra for the inaugural performance.
Indrasabha, in fact, set a new standard for popular drama in north India. It fuses both Hindu and Muslim elements of plot, metre and language drawn primarily from Awadh region. The drama takes place in the court of mythic Indra, king of the Hindu pantheon of Gods, who sits in state surrounded by fairies. Sabaz Pari (emerald fairy) loves Gulfam, an earthly prince. Kala Dev, the black genie, out of empathy for the lovers, smuggles Gulfam into Indra's heaven. Taking umbrage on this infraction, Indra throws Gulfam Pari then sings touching songs imbued with pathos in the disguise of jogin (a female mendicant) and ensures the release of the lovers. Indra, recognising the ordeal the lovers had faced grants his blessings and the lovers get reunited.
Indrasabha is a multimedia piece incorporating narrative, poetry, dance and music, within the visually lavish sets depicting Indra's abode – the heaven. The paris and devs including the hedonistic Indra (the lordly human monarch) surrounded by a harem of apsaras (beautiful dancing girls) were blended in the Indrasabha with the dastan (story telling) tradition imported from Persia. In fact, several themes in Indrasabha have been influenced by Urdu romances, including Mir Hasan's Sihr-ul-bayan and the Gulzar-e-nasim.
Indrasabha shot to immediate fame and was staged all over India. The written play also became a blockbuster. The first edition which was published in Kanpur in 1853 touched publishing heights by 1870s when 33 editions were published from major cities of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as well as Lahore, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The reputation of the work reached Europe and soon it was translated into German by Friedrich Rosen in 1892.
The influence of the newly emerging Indo-Muslim theatre continued till the era of talking cinema. It became common for the theatrical world to emulate the aristocratic Islamic prototypes of costume, scenery, language, music and story line. Indrasabha accelerated a process that transmitted court-based styles of music, dance and poetry to a popular milieu.
Urban Theatre and the Parsi Stage
Following the collapse of the court as a social institution, the means of sustaining dramatic activity started getting concentrated in the "economic networks for entertainment developing in the cities". Building on the heritage of Indo-Muslim theatre tradition spawned by the success of Indrasabha, the Parsi theatre came into being around 1850. The Parsi theatre got initial boost from Parsi-organised amateur groups in Bombay like Elphinstone Club, which were staging English and Indian drama classics. Soon, Parsi businessmen who were themselves theatrical buffs launched professional companies. Many of the actors who were also Parsis holding shares in these companies went on to form their own companies. For instance, Khurshedji Balliwala, the famous comic founded the Victoria Theatrical Company in Delhi while Khwasji Khatau known as "Irving of India" due to his histrionic abilities established the Alfred Theatrical Company in 1877. Over a dozen companies spread across the subcontinent attaching the epithet "of Bombay" to their names sprang up to show their affinity with the emergent popular urban theatre. Muslims, Anglo-Indians, and a modicum of Hindus joined the companies, though the organisational reins of the companies remained largely in the hands of the Parsis.
In a matter of years, the demand for Parsi theatre spread to all parts of India. Some of the major companies routinely toured between Bombay, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Delhi, the Gangetic plain, Calcutta and Madras. Some companies like Balliwala and his troupe traversed as far as Rangoon, Singapore and London. The influence of Parsi stage on the development of modern drama, theatrical practice and on folk styles of performance was substantial. It had a major impact on the emerging Marathi, Gujarati and on the new drama in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and other regional languages.
The Parsi companies later adopted proscenium arch with its backdrop and curtains, Western furniture and other props, costumes and a variety of mechanical devices for staging special effects - clearly a legacy of the material culture of European theatre. Parsi theatre even commissioned artists and technicians from Europe to achieve "the wonderful stage effects of storms, seas or rivers in turbulence, castles, steamers, aerial movements" and so on. The European theatre also influenced advertising and scheduling. The adoption of European techniques and business practices was a characteristics of the Parsi process of assimilation in the 18th century. Parsis, aided by economic prosperity and unhindered by hierarchical social structure and religious taboos, were way ahead of their Hindu and Muslim counterparts.
Early playwrights of the Parsi theatre like K.N. Kavraji, E.J. Khori and N.R. Ranina among others were themselves Parsis and wrote in Gujarati since it was their mother tongue. However, the large companies by 1870s had switched to the practice of employing Muslim munshis (scribes) as permanent staff, and Urdu became the principal language of the Parsi theatre. Some renowned companies of Delhi also commissioned the services of Hindu authors who could write in Urdu and consequently a number of Hindi plays like Raja Harishchandra, Gopichand, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vir Abhimanyu, Prahlad also made their inroads into the Parsi stage. Agha Hashra Kashmiri, the eminent Urdu playwright reworked many of the Shakespeare's tragedies for the Parsi stage.
In north India, both Urdu and Hindi became an integral part of the Parsi plays since these two languages were accessible to the largest number of audiences. However, productions in non-Hindi speaking areas also drew from regional languages like Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali, particularly for comic skits, improvised interludes, and songs. The Parsi theatre was distinctly Indian in character and included Indian subject matter with a great deal of Indian music and dance. The Indian dramatic tradition and the existing folk drama also influenced the Parsi theatre which also had a counter effect on indigenous theatre. Alongwith the stories of Hindu epic heroes and heroines, the stock Islamic romances like Shirin Farhad, Laila Majnun, Benazir-badr-e-munir and Gul Bakavali were also dramatised. Many Shakespearean stories and plots were heavily Indianised, characters being reassigned names, castes and communities, geographical settings transferred to Asia, and motivations and story lines adjusted to fit the Indo-Muslim environment.
The musical style employed by the Parsi theatre has been variously described as "tuned to the traditional modes (ragas) in the chaste classical style, or 'as consisting of slipshod Parsi and semi-European tunes".
In a path-breaking move, Parsi stage admitted women actresses around 1880 mainly due to Balliwala's insistence and were recruited primarily from the ranks of professional singers and dancers. The performance of women actresses was a big draw with the audience and solo dancers "were rewarded by the audience with currency notes and coins amidst shouts of Encore". Boy actors gifted with feminine voices, good looks and physical graces were also employed by many companies to play the heroine's role and perform dance items.
The variety and range of puppet movements are used to illustrate the narrative to intimate the audience on the transfiguration of inanimate to animate.
The basic four kinds of puppetry are glove, string, rod and shadow. String puppets belong to Rajasthan known as kathputli. Glove puppets on the other hand have their origins in Orissa and Kerala. These puppets are worn on the hand and their heads and arms are manipulated by the puppeteer with his fingers. While the puppets provide the visual foreground, the puppeteer intermingles the story in verse or prose to the movements of puppets.
Glove puppetry in Orissa is known as kandhei nacha. In Kerala, the performance of glove puppets known as para koothu relies on kathakali in their make-up and costume which is colourful and ornate.
Puppetry, in fact, is a projected play. The puppet, in essence, belongs to the creator's idea. The puppets have their own language and animation to come to life and transmit their message.
Historically, puppetry has co-existed with theatre, music, dance and design. While borrowing from these art forms, it has lent its distinct values of objectivity, stylisation and movement. Puppetry art had existed in most ancient civilizations, however, scholars attribute India to be its birth place. This could be traced to the term sutradhar, literally meaning the holder of the strings – the place taken by the narrator in theatre performances, in later ages.
Traditional puppeteers generally follow their regional folk theatre. They learn the art and techniques of puppetry from their elders. The puppet theatre has a narrative text (which may be read or sung), but the narrator and the singers are not visible to the audience. Through variations in pitch, colourations to stand out in relief with the décor, the puppeteer gives its own voice to the puppet. Women, too, have been lending their voice to the female characters.
Traditional puppeteers do not have any written script, but they use stories from epics, puranas, and the regional theatre. Mostly, stories are memorized. Comic characters are an important ingredient of the puppet theatre.
Puppeteers are adept in the folk dances of the region, as they often dance with their puppets. The yakshagana puppeteers of Karnataka are renowned for their dancing footsteps to the accompaniment of the dance sequences of their puppets.
Traditional puppeteers used oil lamps, earthen lamps and lanterns earlier, but now-a-days many of them are using electric light for their performances.
Music is quite important in traditional puppet shows. A single glove puppeteer can sing or play a percussionist instrument with one hand while manipulating puppets with the other. Many puppet groups have an ensemble of musicians. For instance, many rod puppet groups have 4 to 5 musicians. Most of the string puppet groups have at least one singer and one instrument player. Music plays an elemental role in kathaputli of Rajasthan, as the singer uses the sound effects for entertainment. Music is either based on regional folk songs and tunes or ragas. String and rod puppeteers of Bengal use popular songs from jatra (a theatrical form) and films. When these troupes travel to Bihar, they use Bhojpuri songs.
Since puppetry has been a medium of entertainment for the common people, many traditional puppet troupes are performing plays on social problems like sanitation, health care, girl's education, family planning and environment, sponsored by the governmental agencies or NGOs.