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By comparison, shadow puppetry in Asia started much earlier than that in Europe. China, for example, as early as 121 B.C., tells of a Chinese legend involving the Emperor Wu (or Wu-ti) of the Han Dynasty and how he got over the grief of losing a favorite concubine after being entertained by a magician who told the emperor a story using shadow puppets. Although considered a legend, recent studies indicate that the story is actually based on fact, since the writer of the story, Ssu-ma-Ch'en, was found to be a contemporary of Emperor Wu and at that time, lived in the emperor's court.

India, meanwhile, has clear references of shadow puppetry in its epic poem, the Mahabharata. In one of the epic's contents, the poem Arjunawiwaha (Arjuna's Wedding), has been cited to show that shadow puppetry and shadow theater existed in the region as early as the 11th century. In the poem, the word used in place of shadow was not wayang (shadow) but ringgit, a term synonymous with wayang.

By contrast, Europe had shadow puppets or its later forms at a much later date.

The exact dates circled around the 15th and 18th century, and many of the shadow puppetry concepts were of Asian origin.

For example, Spain made mention of shadow figures in 1619 and used the term "sombres chinescas", which when translated literally would mean "Chinese shadows", a phrase similar in translation to that used by France in the 18th century, which was "ombres chinoises."

Either way, the terms appear to indicate Chinese influences on the art that then existed in the Western world. In addition, most early European shadow puppets were presented in opaque shadows, similar to those presented in Java. This gave rise to suspicions that Indonesia also contributed to the introduction of shadow puppetry in Europe. The term "ombrez Chinoises" also appear to be of Javanese origin since Javanese actually look a lot like the Chinese, at least to the untrained Europeans living during those times.

In terms of similarity, however, Asian and European shadow puppetry agree that the art is an effective vehicle in spreading their respective religions. India, in particular, originally made use of shadow puppetry performances to teach Indonesians their religion, which is Hindu, done usually through stories based on the Indian epic poem, the Mahabharata.

Europe, with special mention of Portugal and Spain, also employed shadow puppeteers in their goal of spreading the Christian religion. This occurred quite rampantly during the Middle Ages when a more complex form of puppets, the marionettes, became the vogue. These were used by the church to tell stories based on the Bible, the holy book of Christians. A favorite story then was the Nativity, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Priests and monks served as the puppeteers in most puppetry performances.

An interesting aspect of both Asian and European shadow puppetry is the fact that the two have undergone several evolutions. Shadow puppetry in the West has become increasingly involved in theater in the late 19th century, which eventually led to careers on television where more modern forms of the art were invented.

Asian shadow puppetry, however, suffered immensely with the introduction of new philosophies and inventions, notably television and cinema.

And for those unable to flow with the changes, disappearance from the puppetry scene was inevitable, but not completely, as recent observations indicate that more and more people are reconsidering local values and cultures.

In India, shadow puppetry was once considered a "dying art" but efforts by concerned sectors in society has enabled the art to slowly regain its former prominence.

Please enjoy these free hand shadow puppets and learn interesting facts on shadow puppets.

Learn to make hand shadow puppets and the history of making shadow puppets and hand puppets.Shadow puppets have a long history and lots of interesting shadow puppet and hand puppet facts exist. These free hand puppet examples are for you to try your hand at creating shadow puppets and hand puppets, and hopefully put on your very own shadow puppet show!

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Images and portions of the text by Henry Bursill and were originally published by Griffith and Farran in 1859.