Puppetry has always been of great significance in Asia’s cultural life. The reason for this is that puppetry and also shadow play developed alongside religious rites and ceremonies. The encounter with Asian puppet theatre is therefore always an encounter with Asian cultural landscapes as well.

The Museum of Theatre Puppets has in its collection a large array of Asian puppets. Due to our limited space, it is unfortunately impossible to present them all in an adequate manner. Therefore we have decided to display single areas in various special exhibitions that are designed to reveal the richness of Asian puppetry.

­European puppetry as well was influenced to some extent by Asian playing techniques. The Japanese Bunraku technique especially impresses Western audiences and influenced European and American puppet theater. Most of all, however, it is the style and techniques of our shadow theater that has been leaning towards Chinese shadow theater (“ombres chinoises”) since the 17th century. The biggest difference between European and Asian puppetry is in the special significance of puppetry almost everywhere in Asia, be it under Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim influence.

The main source for plays between India and Indonesia are the two great Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. By means of puppetry, a largely illiterate audience is familiarized with their teachings. Both the building of the puppets and the puppeteering itself can be described as religious acts in a broad sense. Often, the puppeteer thus takes on a preacher-like role. Also, music plays an important role in Asian puppetry.


Asian shadow puppetry

"Art is something that lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal." (Chikamatsu Monzaemon)

As long as human fate is depicted by human actors in theatre, there are no concerns with Asian audiences. However, problems arise when it comes to supernatural powers. Asian people thus decided very early on to use puppets and shadow puppets to represent supernatural entities, be it gods or heroes of the past. “In their silhouettes, we can still discover the remnants of light, so we can divine a higher reality in them.” (Thomas Immoos)

Shadow puppets served as accessories to exemplify the epic telling of ancient myths. The ordinary people were hardly able to understand the traditional tales of gods and heroes in a sophisticated language or even in Sanskrit. Already in the 2nd century BC, the Indian scholar Patanjali reported of recitals of such epics that were illustrated with pictures. Shadow puppetry proved to be an excellent means to help recall the stories of gods, demons and superhuman heroes. In the light of candles or tilly lamps, those figures moved on a white screen in an estranged fashion that showed enough reality to stimulate imagination.

Over time, human fate found its way on to the shadow stage as well. Shadow puppetry developed into world theatre, as the screen on the wall represents the sky and the stage depicts earth.

Shadow puppetry is an excellent means of letting the deceased make an appearance again. A Chinese tale, for instance, ascribes the emergence of shadow puppetry to necromancy.



Bunraku Head of a bunraku puppet, end of 19th century, Japan

Bunraku is the most significant form of theater in Japan. The almost life-sized puppets are each controlled by three puppeteers with the utmost precision. While the chief puppeteer is usually visible as he moves the puppet’s head and right arm, his aides are wrapped in black garments and are thus invisible in front of a dark background. The puppets’ dialogue is accompanied by music. Bunraku is especially renowned for tragic romances that end with suicide (Shinju). Bunraku theater is writers’ theater. Before the performance, the speaker holds up the text and takes a bow. Thus he promises to follow it loyally. Since 2005, Bunraku has been included in the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.



Scene from the Ramakien, shadow puppet, end of 19th century, Thailand

The basis of the traditional Thai rod puppet theatre “hun krabok” is the classic form of dance drama “khon”, which is performed by men in masks. The Ramakien epic, which is the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana, is the foundation of shadow theatre. Large shadow puppets (“nang yai”) are used in the north, whereas the Southern province Pattalung uses mostly smaller puppets (“nang talung”), which gave them their name, too. The puppeteer holds his puppets up high and performs dance movements in front of or behind the screen.


Puppet theatre seems to be almost ubiquitous in India. The centers of traditional play are, amongst others, the provinces of Rajasthan (Kathputli marionettes), Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh (glove puppets), West Bengal (rod puppets), Andra Pradesh (shadow puppetry), Kerala (Kathakali glove puppets). Especially shadow theatre has had a long and significant tradition in India. The Indian scholar Patanjali reported of recitals of well-known epics that were illustrated with pictures. It is possible, albeit not indisputable, that he saw early shadow puppetry. If this holds true, the history of Indian shadow puppetry reaches back until at least the 2nd century BC. Definite proof of shadow puppetry being existent at the courts of Indian kings can be traced back to the 6th century. The shadow theatre is staged behind a thin screen and manages to create a complete work of art with the simplest means. Literature, dramatic arts, music, dance, painting and light contribute to the effect as well.

Our museum displays Indian shadow puppets, marionettes and different rod puppets. 

Click on a photo to start the gallery:


Like in India, all kinds of puppet theater are common in China. The repertoire of Chinese puppeteers spans hand puppets, rod puppets and also marionettes and shadow puppets. The cultural revolution from 1966 to 1976  put traditional puppetry into great danger; therefore, some forms are threatened with extinction and have been declared intangible heritage by the UNESCO.

We display rare marionettes from China, rod puppets from the Beijing opera house, shadow puppets as well as hand puppet stages with their corresponding puppets.

Click on a photo to start the gallery:




Karagöz shadow puppets, beginning of 20th century, Tiurkey

Karagöz and Hacivat – the jesters from the Bosporus

He is cheeky, cheerful and lazy – and he hits hard. We are not talking about the German Kasperle, but Karagöz from Turkey. Karagöz and Hacivat are the most important characters in Turkish puppet theater. Karagöz plays -- cheeky and often obscene -- are usually performed at large family celebrations and every night at coffee houses during Ramadan. Puppet theatre in Turkey often contains socio-critical elements.

Hacivat does not get along well with everybody and always pursues his own interests. He is educated and is able to take on many roles. For money, he will work in any profession, be it the village president or a matchmaker. Hacivat knows one thing or two about haggling and doesn’t have difficulties when it comes to money-making. He makes Karagöz do the hard work for little money. Karagöz is a simple, funny, but sly common man. Often, due to lack of money, he has to take on jobs that he is not up to.

Our exhibition displays different variants of Karagöz and Hacivat with their ensemble. On the pictures you can easily tell Hacivat as a person to be respected by his typical headgear.



Boy with elephant, marionettes, end of 19th century, Myanmar

Marionette theatre in Myanmar is dance theatre. All puppets are moved dancingly and feature special constructions. One performance presents one of 550 episodes out of the life of Buddha. In addition, there are 27 established types of puppets; animal figures are the most important ones. Marionettes are characterised by music, singing and dialogue.

Wolfgang Till: Puppentheater. Bilder, Figuren, Dokumente. München 1986
Thomas Immoos: Einleitung. In: Fred Mayer: Schattentheater. Zürich 1979, S. 12-18.
Ramana Murty: Indien. In: Fred Mayer: Schattentheater. Zürich 1979, S. 59-66.

Opening hours

The Museum of Theatre Puppets will be closed for two years while the buildings will be renovated. The buildings, some of which date to the 16th century need to be restored, and the 35 year old exhibition will be updated. The work is scheduled to begin in January 2018.

Entrance fee

7.00 EUR
Pupils, students 3.50 EUR
Children (6-12 years) 2.50 EUR

How to find us

TheaterFigurenMuseum Lübeck

Kolk 14 · 23552 Lübeck · Germany
Phone: +49 (0)451 786-26
Fax: +49 (0)451 784-36

Map directions

Diese Seite wird unterstützt von LYNET