Puppet show artists in pathetic condition

Artists gain attention after PM views show

ANANTAPUR: The centuries-old art form, Puppetry show, which played a magnificent role to awaken people in the fight against the British rulers, has gained fresh attention over the pathetic condition of its artists.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi watched a show at Lepakshi, held by the Nimmalakunta Puppet Artists. Even as a person from the community was honoured with the Padma Shri award a few years ago, the artists have been struggling to eke out a living for their families. Many of them started working as daily wage labourers and a few of them who had affection for the tradition started selling the puppet dolls.

The shadow puppetry that thrives in village Nimmalkun is known as Tholubommalata, which has the richest tradition. TVs and Cinemas, however, grabbed the space for entertainment, putting traditional arts to a disadvantage.

Except during VIP visits and holding of a few programmes at state and national levels, these artists are facing worse conditions.

Nimmalakunta, a tiny village in Dharmavaram mandal in Satyasai district is famous for this craft. Be it string, rod or shadow glove, puppetry artists in Nimmalakunta are masters in shadow puppetry using leather puppets.

Centuries ago, leather puppeteers from Maharashtra migrated to AP and chose to settle down in Nimmalakunta. Maratha emperor Chatrapati Shivaji encouraged the artisans to migrate and spread the art and culture throughout India.

The artisans procure goat skin and process it well till it is translucent. Once it is dry, they sketch the outline and colour both the sides, and then make tiny perforations.

The artisans who make these leather puppets/tholubommalata are from the Chitrakula community.

Seven to eight stories from Ramayana as also the Virataparvam and Keechakavadha from Mahabharata form interesting subjects for the puppet theatre. Stories with emotional drama have immense appeal among the viewers.

Sometimes, other than these epics, local stories with current topics and day-to-day incidents of life have become part of this theatre.

Dalavai Chalapathi Rao, who was leading the community, got Padma Shri Award three years ago. But, about a hundred families have been struggling to eke out a living and many have changed their profession.

“Three decades ago, there was huge respect for our shows in the villages. The situation turned pathetic and now we are unable to even have our daily food. Our children started working as farm labourers. Only a few of us now sell dolls during exhibitions,” Padmakka from Nimmalakunta lamented.

She urged the government to provide support to the art. Otherwise it will disappear, she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inspired by the epic Ramayana puppet show at Lepakshi and he mentioned about the exclusive art form during his speech in NACIN. He praised Dalavai Chalapathi Rao, who has been in the profession and toured around the globe with his troupe and staged shows.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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