Tholu bommalata, Leather puppets
Andhra Pradesh’s famous leather puppets are large in their make, and made from translucent goatskin. The distinctive details are painted in bright colours, and perforations are later added to these striking puppets. Traditionally used as shadow puppets, the leather puppet theatre, or Tolu bommalata as it is locally called, was developed in the 16th century under the patronage of Vijayanagara rulers.
The craft was part of Andhra’s cultural heritage, as leather puppetry united the arts of painting, and sculpture, with theatre. It also called for seasoned and deft hands for manipulating puppets, and puppet-making.
If one witnesses a rendition of Tolu bommalata, you will notice that episodes from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata are the popular themes depicted. “A fine white cloth measuring 12x9 ft lit from the back with a bulb or oil lamp functions as a screen. Both sides of the puppet are painted by us to enhance the projection of the figure. The puppet is then inserted in between two bamboo splits for stiffness, and movement. They can range from 3 to 6 ft in size.”