Picture this: As you settle down in a pitch-dark auditorium, a yellow glow engulfs the stage from behind a seven-feet high transparent screen. Life-size figures, painted in vibrant hues, appear behind the screen. They cast colourful shadows on the screen as they dance to the tunes of a live orchestra. These characters are, in fact, leather puppets created by Chitrakari, a group of six artistes from Andhra Pradesh. With Children’s Day around the corner, they will perform in the city tomorrow as part of NCPA’s show, Udaan: Reach For The Sky, organised only for kids.
Leather puppets of (from left) Ravana, Hanuman and Sita
The puppet dance
Known as Tholu Bommalata (Telugu: Dance of the leather puppets), this art has been practised in Andhra Pradesh since centuries. “My forefathers would travel with leather puppets, across villages, in a bullock cart. They would stay in each village for a month and perform these shows every night. Since there was no electricity at that time, they would use oil lamps to create shadows on screen,” shares 29-year-old Dalavai Kullayappa of Chitrakari. Hailing from the Anantapur district, he learnt this art from his father and has taken it up as a full-time profession.
A puppet of Rama
Ranging from three to six feet in height, each puppet is made through a laborious process. While previously, it was made using deer skin, now goat hides are used. “We soak the leather sheets and dry them for a few days. Then, we carve out body parts and paint them using natural colours. These are attached to wooden sticks for support. It takes roughly 10 days to make each puppet,” says Kullayappa, who is bringing down more than 30 puppets for this show.
Carrying forward the tradition of presenting folklore, legends and mythological the-mes, the artistes present episodes from Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and legends of Lord Krishna. For this show, they have planned to present Sunderkand, a chapter of Ramayana about Hanuman’s journey to Lanka to find Sita, who is kidnapped by Ravana. “Sticking to our tradition, we will present the show in Telugu, with Sanskrit shlokas. An orchestra with tabla, harmonium and dholaks is also part of the performance,” he adds.
On: November 6, 11.30 am
At: Experimental Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Nariman Point.
Entry: Only for children (first-come-first-served basis)
Also, catch a tabla solo by six-year old Atharva Lohar. A disciple of Sunil Shelar, he began playing tabla at the age of four. Earlier this year, he won the first prize in the minor category at the National Cultural Competition in Pune.
Atharva Lohar at a performance
He has now qualified for the International Cultural Olympiad in Thailand next month. “The idea is to inspire children to hone their skills and also, try different cultural activities,” says Dr Suvarnalata Rao, head of programming (Indian music) at NCPA.