Nimmalakunta leather puppetry losing its shine

Lack of patronage forces artists to diversify into other areas

Updated - November 21, 2019 07:12 pm IST

Published - November 21, 2019 06:42 pm IST - ANANTAPUR

Sriramulu and his family engaged in making of leather puppets and lampshades in Nimmalakunta village of Anantapur district.

Sriramulu and his family engaged in making of leather puppets and lampshades in Nimmalakunta village of Anantapur district.

Introduced by Sri Krishnadevaraya during the 15th Century, the art of leather puppetry (tholu bommalata) as a means of propagating mythological stories among the masses in villages in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is on the wane, and has got reduced to token shows at government-sponsored programmes or at art villages.

Leather puppetry of Nimmalakunta in Andhra Pradesh got the geographical indication (GI) tag in 2008, but that did not transform the livelihoods of the artists dependent on this, and they are now forced to diversify into making lamp shades, jewellery and painted wall hangings.


The basic material has also changed from goatskin to synthetic leather. While natural dyes used to be made at home and used for colouring or drawing the characters laboriously with a wooden pen, now water-based chemical colours are used.

Nimmalakunta in the district once had a flourishing business in this art form at least till two decades Today, only a handful of families are taking this art form forward, as it requires dedication from all members of the family in preparation of the two-dimensional puppets made out of treated goatskin, and learning the dialogues of all the mythological characters of a particular kanda (chapter) of Ramayana by heart.

A 10th Standard dropout, Sindhe Sriramulu, a leather puppetry artist, in his 30s learnt the art from his mother, who continued it after his father passed away when he was too young. When he grew up, he started giving voice to all male characters in the seven kandas of Ramayana. As there was nothing written, and remembering each character’s dialogue was difficult, some families specialised one particular kanda.


Miniature 2D and 3D leather puppets have turned into showpieces for urban homes and at large institutions. “There are only a few people who ask us for puppets or other artefacts made of leather and natural dyes, and one of them is Crafts Council of Telangana in Hyderabad,” Sriramulu told The Hindu .

Now, while 40 families of Nimmalakunta are engaged in the manufacture of lampshades and puppets, only 10 to 15 families have the wherewithal for presenting a leather puppet show anywhere.

Sriramulu helped by his mother, Subhadramma, and wife, Bhagyamma, and supported by his maternal uncle’s family is able to give 10 to 15 shows a month and organises workshops on leather puppetry in various cities.


Sindhe Bhagyamma, meanwhile, trains women in drawing and painting on puppets/lampshades as part of Kalakrithi — a cooperative movement to promote the art form. The family recently received ₹8 lakh loan from Khadi and Village Industries Commission with 35% subsidy, which has helped it meet input costs.

Several youths in the village are now educated, but do not wish to take up this profession and only one or two in their family know this art, which has forced the family to give up this profession, laments Sriramulu.

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