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Tholu Bommalata: Andhra's Shadow Puppetry



  Nov 29, 2023

Tholu Bommalata: The Art of Shadow Puppetry in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana



Tholu Bommalata: A form of shadow puppetry unique to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India, known for life-sized, vibrant leather puppets. It showcases episodes from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, enriched by diverse narratives and songs. Predominantly practised by the Aare Kapu community, this art form is centered in districts like Anantapur, Guntur, and Nellore.

Historical Roots: Dating back to the third or fourth century CE, its earliest mention appears in the 13th-century Telugu text, Panditaradhya Charitra. Inscriptions from 1208 CE also reference it, indicating its historical significance in southern India. The Pallava, Chalukya, and Vijayanagara empires were notable patrons.

Puppeteers and Craft: Traditionally a hereditary craft, practitioners often align with the Chitrakar caste. Puppeteers are also the craftsmen, with troupes usually comprising family members. The lead puppeteer, supported by others, engages in singing, narrating, and performing.

Puppet Design: The puppets, made from animal hides like goat, deer, or buffalo, range between 1 to 2 meters in height. They are meticulously crafted, with articulated joints for movement and painted on both sides for visual effect. Iconographic conventions guide their color and design.

Performance and Screen: Performed behind a large white screen, the action unfolds with the help of a light source casting silhouettes and colored shadows. Traditional oil lamps have been replaced by modern lighting. The narratives are often drawn from various epic versions, featuring comedic interludes and character-specific entry directions.

Music and Decline: Integral to the performance, music includes instruments like muddalam, mridangam, and shankha. Despite its rich history, tholu bommalata has declined since the 1970s, with many practitioners shifting to other professions. Efforts like the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2008 have been made to revive it, yet challenges persist.

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