Master artist in Kerala to experiment with shadow puppetry to stage Shakespearean plays
After remaining a temple art for centuries exclusively narrating stories from the epic Ramayana, shadow puppetry in Kerala has hit a path of experimentation with a master artist planning to adapt the medium for Shakespearean plays.
The initiative is being taken up by master puppeteer K.K. Ramachandra Pulavar, who is paving the way for experimentation of novel themes in the traditional art in a bid to grab the attention of a young audience.
But while experimenting with secular themes, the traditional focus would not be abandoned or the ritualistic purity of the art compromised, he said.
The puppeteers illustrate the magical stories of epics by dexterous movement of puppets and beaming their shadows on cloth screens.
They enthral the audience by transforming the cloth screen into a battlefield or palaces in seconds by moving the objects swiftly in the light of wick lamps.
But the art form, known as “Tholpavakoothu” in Kerala, is in crisis now due to a host of reasons including the fast dwindling number of viewers, domination of new forms of entertainment and absence of talented artists.
The ritualistic art form was once much sought-after during temple festivals in the state, but its popularity gradually faded over the decades in the flood of new modes of entertainment like the cinema and comedy shows on television.
The lack of knowledge of the new generation about the history and legacy of the art form is one of the major problems it faces, says the Pulavar. ‘Pulavar’ is the title given to the puppeteers in Kerala.
According to believers, the Goddess Kali could not watch the fight of Lord Rama and demon king Ravana as she was fighting with Darika, another demon during the time. So, the ‘koothu’ is staged before the Goddess to show what she missed.
In most temples, an idol of the goddess would be placed in a podium before the “koothumadam”, a 42-foot-long special stage.
Background verses and the playing of musical instruments like ‘ilathalam’ (cymbal), ‘shanka’ (conch), ‘chengila’ (gong) and ‘chenda’ (drum) add vibrancy to the show. — PTI