Shadow puppetry is amongst the most ancient performing arts, involving a complex set of skills like drawing and painting, story telling, acting, playing music and singing.
In olden times leather puppetry was widespread across Asia, from Wayang Kulit in Indonesia to China and India. With the opening of trade routes it reached the Mediterranean coasts: in Turkey the dean character of shadow puppetry, popularised during the Ottoman Empire, is called Karagöz. The same character is known as Karagiozis in Greece. In India shadow puppetry could be found across several regions: Togalu Gombeyaata in Karnataka, Tholu Bommalata in Andhra Pradesh, Ravan Chhaya in Odisha. Nowadays it survives in only two clusters: Nimmalakunta village of Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh and Odash village of Angul district in Odisha.
Tholu Bommalata literally means “the dance of leather puppets” , Tholu meaning leather and Bommalata puppet dance. The puppets are usually characters drawn from the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
With the decline of Tholu Bommalata as performing art, new means of expression are needed for the milieu. Working with leather puppetry artist Anjanappa Kanday and his team of puppeteers from Nimmalakunta, we have explored Tholu Bommalata iconography combined with contemporary and innovative forms of the medium. Thus our series of leather puppetry lamps and art installation started more than five years back, and since then we continue to explore the design potential of this noble craft form.