The power of puppetry

R Bhanumatthi

Puppetry is an ancient art whose antiquity can be established through old scriptures. It was perhaps the primitive urge of men to create life-like movement through figures, which later developed into a theatre form, incorporating elements of all art forms. Puppetry, as an art form, not only provides entertainment but can also be used to convey a meaningful and useful message. Over the years, it has developed into a powerful media of communication and today, is used widely by educators and students. Puppetry offers a real challenge to the imagination and creative ability of the individual. Of all art media, it is probably the least restricted in form, design, colour and movement and the least expensive of all animated visual art forms.


The art of puppetry is the synthesis of various arts like sculpture, design, music, mime, dance and theatre. It is the crystallization of the imagination and magic of the puppeteer. This medium gives tremendous opportunity for originality not only in presentation but also in writing scripts, preparation of puppets, dialogue, music, manipulation and the final production. There is endless interest and pleasure in creating a puppet, besides using it as a visual aid. The creation and operation of puppet figures involves many craft activities including drawing, painting and cutting, carpentry, wood carving, props preparation, modeling, plaster cast making, costume making, clay modeling and stage craft.

Puppetry in education
The art of puppetry plays an important role in the field of formal and non formal education. This art can be applied in early childhood education for storytelling and nursery rhymes, as a therapy for shy children, as a tool to communicate science and environment education, for skill development especially in art and craft.

From the perspective of biology education, the appeal and power of puppetry is well recognized but its potential has not been fully realized. Educational puppetry is practised in many countries including India. However, the approach largely is to ‘teach’ the child rather than use puppetry as a means by which the child expresses and learns. When the latter happens, learning becomes effective and meaningful. Environmental concepts, different types of wildlife, their role may be enacted through dramatization using animal, bird, lizard, frog, turtle, tree, ant and butterfly puppets. Events happening in life process like birth, regeneration, growth, death, degeneration, etc., can be described with puppets. Scientific concepts such as the rain cycle, water cycle, photosynthesis can be explained using different puppets. Further, specific concepts like ecosystem and the life forms, interdependence, endangered, endemic and extinct flora and fauna, need for conservation, role of students in preservation can be comprehended though simple puppets.

octopus The power of puppetry is well exposed when a group of children narrate a story in the form of a puppet show using puppet characters. There is team work, cooperation, shared activities and a sense of belonging while working for a show right from planning a story, developing characters, preparing puppets, writing script, composing music, stage design, lighting and the final presentation.

Teachers can prepare sample puppets as given below and use them in the class room.

Ecosystem based puppet characters
For Forest Ecosystem – Trees (teak, fig, neem, etc.), tiger, leopard, elephant, deer, jackal, bear, monkey, bat, crow, duck, owl, peacock, parakeet, snake, tortoise, turtle, crocodile, lizard, frog, toad, fish, butterfly, caterpillar, earthworm, centipede, millipede, spider, etc.

For Marine Ecosystem – Trees (coconut, palm, etc.), whale, dolphin, dugong, sea gull, duck, sea snake, salt water crocodile, sea turtle, fish, shark, octopus, jelly fish, star fish, crab, snails, oysters, etc.

For Fresh Water Wetland Ecosystem – Trees (Pongam, Coconut, Peepal, etc.), leopard, jackal, palm civet, water buffalo, squirrel, bat, kingfisher, kite, egret, heron, marsh crocodile, tortoise and terrapin, water snake, frog, toad, fish, dragon fly, damsel fly, beetle, grasshopper, water skater, etc.

For Arid/Desert Ecosystem – Trees (acacia, fig, palash, etc.) lion, leopard, fox, hare, deer, crow, peacock, owl, lizard, snake, scorpion, spider, grasshopper, etc.

How to use the puppet?

  1. This puppet may be shown to the student as a character and a dialogue/discussion can be initiated to create awareness about its food habits, its role in the ecosystem, endangered status, the need for protecting tigers in our forest, etc.
  2. Different types of puppets may be prepared to show the concept of biodiversity and the interdependence of flora and fauna in an ecosystem may be narrated.
  3. The children can prepare different characters (puppets) and work on a small show to be presented in the classroom using dialogues. This can be a group activity where each group prepares puppets based on different ecosystems as a theme.
  4. To make it more interesting each puppet can be given names like Olive the sea turtle, Rikki the mongoose, Mittu the parakeet, Fraggy the Frog, Wriggli the beetle, Slimy the snake, etc.

Some tips and suggestions

  1. Before drawing, select the right colour chart paper for the characters. For example yellow may be used for tigers, leopards, jackals, squirrels, etc. Blue for whale, shark, octopus, etc. White may be good for characters that need lot of colours like tortoise, parakeet, peacock, butterfly, etc.
  2. Always draw the character first then colour/paint and cutout the figures/characters last.
  3. Draw the characters proportionately according to the size of the paper.
  4. For biodiversity puppets include at least one example from flora (tree, flower, etc), mammal, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates.
  5. Use the puppets as a tool for teaching biology and not as an art form so give importance to the concepts to be taught.
  6. For primary school students keep the concept simple while for middle school you can have more elaborate topics and issues.
  7. Make your puppet colourful to attract the attention of the children.
  8. A storytelling session can also be supplemented along with biology concepts.

How to make a mouth opening puppet?

There are different types of puppets that can be taught or used directly by the teachers while narrating a story or describing the physical features of any flora or fauna.

Follow the instruction and make a tiger puppet

What you need
Chart paper (Red) – 9 inch square
Chart paper (white/yellow/blue) – 11 inch x 9 inch rectangle
Pencil, eraser and sharpener
Colours (crayons/water colours/poster colours/sketch pens)
Glue (Fevicol)

To make a tiger puppet

  1. Take a 9 inch square red chart paper. Fold the paper on both the sides. Fold the paper again into half from both the sides to get the crease mark. Open the flaps to form 4 cups Pic.1
  2. Glue together the two cups on the opposite side to form a mouth for puppet
  3. Pic-1

  4. Draw the head and body of Tiger on a yellow 11”x 9” rectangular chart paper Pic.2
  5. Pic-2

  6. Color the head and body and cut it separately Pic.3
  7. Pic-3

  8. Fix the head around the lower edge of the red mouth with glue Pic.4
  9. Pic-4

  10. Fix the body around the upper edge of the red mouth with glue Pic.5
  11. Pic-5

  12. Insert your fingers into the cones that form the puppet’s mouth (index and middle finger top left cup, ring finger top right, thumb left bottom & little finger right bottom) and close or open the mouth by moving the fingers Pic.6


Dr. R Bhanumatthi is an environment educationist by profession. She has experience in the art of puppetry spanning over two decades and is currently the managing trustee of Pavai Centre for Puppetry, Chennai. She can be reached at [email protected].

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