Nimmalakunta Leather Puppets – A day with Dalavai family…

11.12.2016:

10.00 hrs – We were at the Dharmavaram Bus station. We thought of shopping here and if time permits to head to another famous pilgrimage centre of Andhra Pradesh – Puttaparthy. Bilal and I were calculating the time and were walking towards the road when a board drew my attention. The board said ‘Welcome to the Nimmalakunta Art Village and Puppetry Workshop”. We dropped the plan of Puttaparty as we need to cover another important place and hence decided to visit this village. We hired an auto-rickshaw to take us there and drop us back in Dharmavaram.

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Nimmalakunta is a small village located 10 kms away from Dharmavaram town, which is famous for its leather puppets. There are different forms of traditional puppetry prevalent in rural areas in India. Shadow puppetry in Andhra Pradesh is referred by the name Tolubommalatta. ‘Tolu’ refers to leather; ‘bomma’ denotes doll and ‘atta’ means play. It is traditionally performed in villages and now in various theme restaurants and craft villages. The origin of Tolubommalatta in Andhra Pradesh has had a long history and the oral tradition and old scriptures suggests that the art form originated in 200 BC, when the rulers of Satavahana dynasty patronized it. The mode of entertainment in those good olden days! 🙂

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The components of a puppet show are the curtain, the audience sat before it, the commentator behind the curtain, the lights that throws the shadow on the screen and the puppets (actors). Episodes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are the popular themes selected. The puppets range from 3 to 6 feet in size. Among the Andhra Pradesh Puppeteers, the Nimmalakunta artists are well known both at the national and international level. The Nimmalakunta puppeteers are frequently seen in all the government sponsored exhibitions conducted in major cities all over India. They are also well known as leather craft artists.

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When we reached the village, the community center and the workshop were closed. Our auto-driver inquired, and to our luck – the Dalavai’s family turned to help us. Dalavai Chalapathi Rao is a famous shadow puppeteer, a national award winner and gave many a performances in the West.  His son started explaining us the various aspects of puppetry while his son was busy painting the lampshades and his wife busy in making the puppets. They explained us the process right from the procurement of the skin, processing it and how they are cut and designed. They showed us various pictures of puppets under the light in a dark room.

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Leather puppets of Andhra are large and made from translucent goat skin. The details are painted in bright colors and perforations are added. The designs are mainly mythological figures and occasionally the painters own creations. These drawings are done with a pencil. After making the designs, outlines are painted with black. Thereafter colors are filled in with vegetable dyes – brilliant red, green, white, yellow, brown and orange being the most popular. Many of these puppets have movable hands and legs and some, movable heads and necks 🙂 Elaborate ornamentation of puppets indicating jewellery and clothing is typical and amazing.

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They further told us that with the advent of television and cinema, leather puppetry is on the decline and that they are diversifying into the production of miniature puppets, lampshades and other utility items. The lamp shades are of much demand in the near-by Bangalore and Hyderabad and these people supply most of their work to these cities. I too bought a lamp shade before leaving the place 🙂

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