Art Art

Are the lights going out for Tholu Bommalata in Andhra Pradesh?

The lights go off. A loud voice booms out and Hanuman leaps into the flat white screen. He will narrate his journey to Lanka to save Sita. For the next hour, the audience watches enthralled as the Sundara Kanda from the Ramayana, unfolds in front of their eyes, forgetting that it is but a puppet show. Leather puppets mounted on palm stems, move animatedly, their shadows bringing alive the action packed narration. Usually performed in Telugu, the play is translated into English by storyteller Deepa Kiran.

Are the lights going out for Tholu Bommalata in Andhra Pradesh?

Puppeteer Sindhe Sriramulu and his team are working the magic of Tholu Bommalata at the recently-held Vizag Junior Literary Fest in Visakhapatnam. It is a 15th Century folk art form that was introduced by Sri Krishnadevaraya in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Once a thriving art form that kept alive mythological stories, it is on the verge of disappearing. Today, Tholu Bommalata is only tokenly performed at village fairs. So a performance at the literary festival is significant. Sriramulu and his team made one think about the need to protect and preserve this fabulous old art form and give it sufficient platforms to reach out to the younger generation.

A puppet is born...

    Sriramulu is from Nimmalakunta, a village in Dharmavaram mandal in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Leather puppetry is in his blood as his family has been in it for four generations and is perhaps the last one struggling to keep the art form alive. “There was a time people would travel a 100 kilometres to watch a show,” he says sadly. But he is happy for the opportunity he got to perform at the fest. Sriramulu says it gives him hope as he shows children what his art is all about.

    Are the lights going out for Tholu Bommalata in Andhra Pradesh?

    Not being able to make enough from puppet shows, the puppeteers have diversified into other means of earning a living. Many of them now make lampshades, wall hangings, paintings and bookmarks with goat skin. Sriramulu says back home in Nimmalakunta, about 40 families are engaged in the manufacture of lampshades and puppets. But only 10 to 15 families can afford to put up puppet shows. He along with his mother Subhadramma and wife Bhagyamma and his maternal uncle’s family manages to give about 10 shows a month. His also organises workshops on leather puppetry.

    The puppeteer admits that the major source of income comes from workshops and sale of leather décor products. But his real love is Tholu Bommalata. “It’s our identity, a part of our family legacy. We cannot solely survive on it, but neither can we part with a tradition nourished and cherished for generations.”

    The family recently received a loan of ₹8 lakh from Khadi and Village Industries Commission with 35% subsidy, which has helped, he says.

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    Printable version | Aug 6, 2021 10:21:23 AM |

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