Word Epics in Puppet Theater: Further Resources

The below list aims to provide further resources on epic narratives in the puppetry arts of India, Iran, Japan, and Italy (additional suggestions welcome).


INDIA (Ramayana and Mahabharata)

Borrowed Fire: The Shadow Puppets of Kerala Set in a remote village in Kerala, India, this is the true story of the last of the scholar-puppeteers- Krishnankutty Pulavar – and his lifelong struggle to keep alive this ancient art known as Tolpava Koothu (“the play of leather shadow puppets”). Also entwined is the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana that inspires these men to marathon performances year after year. This documentary was conceived and directed by Salil Singh and Anurag Wadhera.

Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust, Mahabharata, “About the Show.” “Human beings are born for peace; they like to grow up in peace. They like to raise their children in peace, and they like to say goodbye to this beautiful life in peace. Then why are we always preparing for war? This seems to be the central dilemma of the Mahabharata.” Anurupa Roy is the creator, director, and a performer in the show.

Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust, About Ram. Trailer. An experimental theatrical piece with excerpts from the Ramayana and narrated by animation, projected images, dance, masks and puppets. Hanuman helps Ram reach Sita who is held captive by Ravan in Lanka. Directed by Anurupa Roy. Animation by Vishal Dhar. Performed by Katkatha Puppet Theatre Group. “About Ram, Anurupa Roy and Puppeteering,” review by Anindita Sengupta.

DRE (three characters from the Mahabharata). Damini House of Culture.  Collaboration between the dancer and choreographer Sudesh Adhana, the kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas, and the puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee, who together bring to life the souls killed in the great war, Gandhari the mother of all, and Krishna (the latter in the form of a puppet). The 50-minute video is from the premiere at the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet on October 12, 2010, but it was also performed in India and Spain. “DRE: or three as they say in Pashto (one of the national languages of Afghanistan) is a performance with contemporary dance and puppetry that creates layered conversations about power, manipulation and war. Is the war ever truly over?” For more information, visit the DRE blogspot.

Claudia Orenstein, “Finding the Heart of Indian Puppetry,” Puppetry International 36 (2014): 16-19. This account of contemporary puppeteers and centers of puppetry in India can be downloaded from https://hunter-cuny.academia.edu/ClaudiaOrenstein.

Dr Claudia Orenstein on the Evolving Art of Tolpavakoothu.” Theatre History Podcast #57. Produced by Michael Lueger. February 20, 2018. The link to this 30-minute podcast contains an extensive list of additional resources about tolpavakoothu (a traditional form of shadow puppetry from Kerala, in southern India), including Anurag Wadehra and Salil Singh’s documentary Borrowed Fire: The Shadow Puppets of Kerala.

Blackburn, Stuart H. “Creating Conversations: The Rama Story as Puppet Play in Kerala.” Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Edited by Paula Richman. U of California P, 1991. 156-172.

Venu, G.  Tolpavakoothu: Shadow Puppets of Kerala. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 2006.


IRAN (Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh)

Rostam and Sohrab. Opera composed by Loris Tjeknovarian. Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Marionette Theater. Created and directed by Behrouz Gharibpour. [No subtitles.] More information in English on this work in “Directing Iranian Marionette Opera: Behrouz Gharibpour,” Puppetry International.

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic is a cinematic shadow play Zal and Rudabeh, created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian.


JAPAN (Tales of the Heike)

An introduction to Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo, a form of Japanese traditional puppet theater called “cart puppetry” with excerpts from “Death of Atsumori” (The Tale of the Heike) and “Farewell from Moriyoshi to His Wife” (The Battle at Ichinotani). Presented by Tokyo Hachioji City.

Roberta Strippoli. Dancer, Nun, Ghost, Goddess: The Legend of Giō and Hotoke in Japanese Literature, Theater, Visual Arts, and Cultural Heritage. Brill, 2018. Includes versions of the Giō-Hotoke narrative in puppet theater through the centuries.


ITALY (Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and other chivalric epics refashioned in Giusto Lodico’s Storia dei paladini di Francia)

SICILIAN PUPPETS SERIES (Rassegna teatrale di Opera dei pupi siciliani)
Performances ran from February 5 to October 31, 2021. Acireale (CT), Alcamo (TP), Messina, Palermo, Sortino (SR).

eBOIARDO. This website contains several videos of Sicilian puppet theater performances, documentaries, and interviews with puppeteers, as well as photographs of puppets.

Jo Ann Cavallo, “The Substance of Sicilian Puppet Theater Past and Present.” Athenaeum Review 3 Fall/Winter 2020: 139-153.


This page is periodically revised with updates about publications and online performances on the topic. To provide suggestions or feedback, please contact Prof. Jo Ann Cavallo at jac3@columbia.edu.