Andhra Pradesh

Space shrinking fast for women puppeteers

Women Puppeteers Anaparthi Pallalamma, right, and Thota Rajeswari with the leather puppets at Jamuna Nagar in East Godavari district.  

The tribe of women leather puppeteers is fast vanishing in East Godavari district. Of the 400 families which settled in Madhavapatnam panchayat of Samalkot mandal in East Godavari district in 1980, barely six women puppeteers are left now.

Prior to that, they were nomads in the district. The leather puppetry families had migrated from Maharashtra more than 100 years ago and they speak Marathi and Telugu.

Anaparthi Janardhanamma, one of the stalwarts in leather puppetry, told The Hindu: “I believe we are the last generation women puppeteers still associated with the art. I do not see anybody from the present generation attempting to master the art.”

Living in an unfinished house, battling hearing impairment owing to her age, she speaks as loud as the characters in the play demand.

Ms. Janardhanamma, Anaparthi Pallalamma, Anaraparthi Tirupatamma, Thota Satyanarayanamma, Thota Kusalamma, and Thota Rajeswari are possibly the last surviving women puppeteers .

Epic performance

Ms. Pallalamma, 65, says: “I play the character of Sitadevi in Ramayana, and that of Draupadi and Sudheshna in Mahabharata.”

The puppets are made of goatskin and thus the play with these puppets earned the name ‘tholubommalata’.

In the tradition of leather puppetry, the complete play consists of a seven-night length of Ramayana (Sundarakanda to Rama-Ravana War) and Mahabharata (Virata Parvam to Padmavyuham) as standardised by the gurus of this art.

Ms. Rajeswari,60, told The Hindu: “I do not advise the new generation to continue in the field as the income is too meagre to support a family. There is no patronage either from society or from the government. We beg the government to come to our rescue. Many families associated with the art are forced to look for alternatives.”

As many as 13 women puppeteers — Thota Venkayamma, Thota Bajjodamma, Thota Ganemma, Thota China Ganemma, Thota Lingamma, Thota Ganemma (Another artist with the similar name), Thota Janakamma, Anaparthi Chandramma, Anaparthi Ammulamma, Anaparthi Saradamma, Anaparthi Chilakamma, Anaparthi Bodemma, and Anaparthi Ademmahave — have passed away since 1980.

Thota Bala Krishna, 58, who recently groomed about 15 girls, said: “Those initiated into the art need to be encouraged by the government by sponsoring their training until they master it.”

In this art, woman cannot be replaced by man to run the play as the characters in the epics demand the voice of the same gender.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 8:21:44 AM |

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