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An art form swings across the gender barrier

All-woman team performs Tholpavakkoothu, a first in history

December 29, 2021 09:13 pm | Updated 09:13 pm IST - PALAKKAD

Rajitha Ramachandra Pulavar and her all-woman team playing the puppets from behind the screen during a Tholpavakoothu show in Palakkad recently.

Rajitha Ramachandra Pulavar and her all-woman team playing the puppets from behind the screen during a Tholpavakoothu show in Palakkad recently.

Tholpavakkoothu, one of the oldest shadow-based temple art forms in the country, used to be a male domain until recently. Now, a woman member of a Tholpavakkoothu family has produced an all-woman Tholpavakkoothu show, the first ever.

Rajitha Ramachandra Pulavar, who led the performance at the District Panchayat Hall here on Christmas day, aptly titled the show Penpavakkoothu, meaning women’s Tholpavakkoothu. It took centuries for a woman to perform a Tholpavakkoothu, breaking the conventions set by generations. Rajitha says she was prompted to learn the art form when her father Ramachandra Pulavar, a leading exponent of Tholpavakkoothu, was criticised for allowing a European woman to sit on the steps of the Koothambalam while performing a show some years ago.

“Ever since that incident, I was determined to learn and perform the art form. It is no longer a man’s domain,” said Rajitha, who joined her father whenever he travelled abroad.

Rajitha can now make leather puppets used for Tholpavakkoothu and direct the shows as well. The show she presented on Christmas day, telling the story of a woman from her infancy to adulthood, was well received by the crowds. Rajitha and her team touched upon the problems faced by women in families and societies.

The team

Mohammed Sulfi scripted the show and Jasmin gave background music. Rajalakshmi, Aswati, Nitya, Nivediya, Sreenanda and Sandhya were among those who gave life to shadow puppets. Rajitha’s historic Tholpavakkoothu show was part of a drive by the State government to reassure women on their safety.

Rajitha said the neglect and harassment being faced by the women in society could be overcome only by empowering them and making them take up mainstream roles. Tholpavakkoothu is widely held in Devi temples across Malabar, especially in Palakkad neighbouring districts, as a devotional art form. Women used to be only spectators in this art form until Rajitha made the bold move.

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