Poverty turns puppet show artistes into farmhands in Andhra Pradesh

More than a dozen artistes from the village had foreign jaunts and performed shows in various countries.

ANANTAPUR: Many Tolubommalata (shadow puppetry) artistes are being forced to take up work as farm labourers due to financial constraints. Thus, a two-century-old legacy of leather-puppetry, ancient folk of Indian tradition and religion is facing dire consequences due to no takers for it.

Nimmalakunta, a village located in Dharamavaram rural mandal in the district, is famous for puppet making and staging Tolubommalata by depicting stories of epics Mahabharata and Ramayana for many decades.

More than a dozen artistes from the village had foreign jaunts and performed shows in various countries, but could not overcome financial crisis.

Nimmalakunta was home to hundreds of migrant families from Maharashtra after Maratha king Chatrapathi Shivaji's defeat in a war with Muslim rulers. The Maratha migrants started presenting puppet shows as a form of livelihood.

Chalapathi Rao, senior artiste and winner of a national award, recalled his airbus journey that began in the 90s and continued over three decades. “We used to play the puppet shows based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata - both overseas and locally,” he said and added that puppet shows had a great significance in the past when there was no other entertainment such as TV and movies. These shows also played a key role in bringing awareness among the people against British rulers during the Independence struggle.

A goat skin puppet can be as small as 3 inches to as big as about 6 ft. “The artists also make lamp shade, door and wall hangings using leather,” Tolubommalata expert Ramana said and added that poor encouragement for the shows among the locals was forcing them to choose an alternative way of livelihood. “In Nimmalakunta, about 50 families are engaged in this craft depending on markets from exhibitions,” he said.

Dalavai family members, led by Rangamma, had visited the US, UK and several other European countries in 1992 and performed stage shows for the global audience. “But, our poverty remains with us due to poor encouragement at local level in the state,” the family lamented.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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