Shadow leather puppetry Theatre

Narrating stories through puppets

A leather puppetry show

A leather puppetry show   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

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Leather puppetry today balances between being a performing art form and a merchandise that sustains artistes livelihood

Shadow puppeteer Dalavai Kullayaapa and his team of six artistes from Chitrakari Tholu bommalata created magic in Singapore recently. From behind the stage they had the audience in thrall who sat glued in front of a flat screen on stage. Kullayaapa’s leather puppets mounted on sticks and animated movement, narrate an impressive story. “The audience were immersed for three days watching us perform Ramayana with shadow leather puppetry; It was overwhelming to get such an honour for the art form,” recalls Kullayaapa accompanied with another puppeteer C Srinivasulu. After Singapore, the team went to Guntur before coming to Hyderabad for a performance and session as part of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre foundation. With 6-8 ft high colourful leather puppets moving to music, the shadows held the audience in raptures.

Kullayaapa belongs to the Nimmalakunta village in Anantapur, a home for many shadow puppeteers. He honed skills from his father and senior puppeteer (late) Dalavai Chinna Narayana. “The art form originated 1,500 years ago in Maharashtra and became part of Telugu’s culture. It was a form of entertainment for zamindars and royalty and a means to propagate mythological stories among people,” he says. Some of their popular shows are Sundarakanda, Rama jananam and Ravana vadha, the different episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha.

Like most traditional art forms, shadow puppetry has been gradually losing its sheen. Kullayaapa quotes a Telugu proverb to talk about its popularity in earlier days. “90 amadalu velli aaina, tholu bommalata choodali’(One wouldn’t mind travelling even 90 kms to watch one show). People travelled long distances to witness these shows.”

Changing lifestyles have resulted in decreasing performances and subsequently some artistes have shifted to other professions for livelihood.

The making of a puppet

    Shadow puppeteer Dalavai Kullayaapa during a session

    Shadow puppeteer Dalavai Kullayaapa during a session   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

    Kullayaapa informs the artisans have formed a society to make their art sustainable. “Most of the artistes are poor uneducated and do not know how to market themselves. This society is to ensure all the members get an opportunity and some form of income,” he says. Puppeteers have also diversified into merchandise and are using leather scroll to create lampshades, cellphone covers, key chains, design on boxes, handicrafts and paintings. He admits these products are only helping them to feed their families. He says, “Tholu bommalata is our art and family legacy. We cannot leave it but also cannot survive on it. These performances feed our soul and we make products in our free time to earn money.”

    Narrating stories through puppets

    The innovative and colourful merchandise has also brought in more fashion and design students to his workshops at NIFT and National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “Design students get inspired from this traditional art and take it forward in their fashionable creations.” Before coming to Hyderabad, he had a workshop at Guntur also.

    The recent National awards list has brought cheer to Kullayaapa, whose name figures in the handicrafts category. “We want to take Tholu bommalata to the elite and spread the art internationally,” he concludes.

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    Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 12:57:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/dalavai-kullayaapa-carries-forward-his-familys-legacy-in-leather-puppetry/article30106240.ece

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