Spotlight Seasoned Tholpavakoothu artistes came up with a brilliant presentation of select stories from the Bible in the traditional format of shadow puppetry. G.S. Paul

The open-air Basheer Vedi, a regular venue for literary meetings on the Kerala Sahithya Akademi campus, Thrissur, turned into a make-shift ‘Koothu maadam’ (play house) recently. Koothu madams are traditional stages where the centuries-old Tholpavakoothu (shadow puppetry) is performed in Bhadrakali temples of Palakkad district. The stories enacted by shadows cast on a screen by leather puppets are usually excerpts from the Kamba Ramayana, authored by the Tamil poet Kambar who belonged to Tiruvazhuthur in Tanjavur district in Tamil Nadu.

But the audience that thronged the Basheer Vedi was treated to another story this time. They were taken by surprise when shadows of characters from the Bible swept across the screen in quick succession. They delineated select anecdotes from the life of Jesus Christ. The first-of-its-kind play to be produced in the history of the art form, ‘Yesucharitam’ (Life of Jesus), was presented by a troupe led by master puppeteer K.K. Ramachandra Pulavar.

Ramachandra Pulavar opened the play with traditional rituals. The tookku vilakku was placed in front of the maadam and the 21 oil-wick lamps placed on the vilakku maadam ( horizontal beam) behind the ayapudava (cloth screen) were lighted. The call of the conch was followed by kalari-chintu , the invocation to Ganapati, Saraswathy, Mahavishnu and other gods. Interestingly, there was also an invocation to Jesus, all the prophets and elders as well. The vidushaka and the pattar-pavas appeared on the screen next.

The sequence of anecdotes commenced. The arrival of St. Thomas in India received a neat description along with the pantheon of Gods who had taken birth here such as Rama, Krishna and Buddha.

Gandhiji was also shown as one of the great men who were born in India. The birth of Christ with the entire attendant details was shown next. Mary, mother of Jesus, fondling the baby in the cradle was especially noteworthy for its animation The story of John the Baptist was captivating. His incarceration and beheading were dramatically depicted.

Impressive portrayal

The portrayal of the forest and several wild animals shown as part of the story of the Good Samaritan was praiseworthy indeed. The movements of the deer entranced the audience.

Among the miracles of Jesus, the wedding feast at Cana where he turned water into wine was spectacular as the vessels containing water and the congregation filled the entire screen. Jesus riding on a mule to celebrate the feast of Passover and the Last Supper that followed were also impressively depicted.

The puppet that essayed the life of Jesus in this anecdote was perhaps the most impressive for its eyes seemed to convey many things, including the tribulations that were in store for Jesus. The crucifixion was dramatic and the manipulation of the puppet during the ascension of Jesus was commendable.

The show also embraced the intrinsic technique of throwing thelli, an inflammable powder on the flames, at times to highlight the theatrical events. In general, the manipulation of the puppets was agile; but it demanded more rehearsals.

The script and the songs ( adal pattu ) prepared by folklore researcher V.A. Varghese were in chaste Malayalam, a departure from the convention which is a mixture of Malayalam and Tamil. But one felt that the rendering could have been in cadences as followed in the traditional style. The play was performed to a pre-recorded text. However, its appeal to an uninitiated audience cannot be ruled out.

It took almost six months for the preparation of the play for which more than 120 puppets were fabricated painstakingly by the troupe. Ramachandra Pulavar was assisted by puppeteers K. Rajeev, K. Rahul, S. Lakshmanan, S. Arunkumar and K. Karthikeyan.

The one-hour play was held under the aegis of Chummar Choondal Smaraka Folklore Centre, Thrissur, in connection with its 14th annual celebrations.

The first-of-its-kind to be produced in the history

of the art form, ‘Yesucharitam’ (Life of Jesus),

was presented by a troupe led by master puppeteer K.K. Ramachandra Pulavar.