When puppets tell stories

Puppets are popular all over the world. They are not just children’s toys. Older people enjoy them too. In many parts of India, different types of puppets are used to tell stories. Andhra Pradesh is famous for a special type of puppets. They are made of leather. Shows using these puppets are known as Tholu bommalata.

The leather is specially prepared and cut into the desired shapes. Faces and clothes are painted on. And then holes are punched in specific places. There’s a reason for this. Leather puppet shows are always held at night. The puppets are held in front of lanterns or other light sources. The leather is semi-transparent – that means, a little bit of light shows through them in general, but it shines brightly through the holes, making it look as if the puppets are wearing lots of jewels!

These puppets are usually large. They are controlled by strings attached to bamboo sticks. Their arms and legs can be moved. Some have many joints and skilled puppeteers can effectively show fight scenes.

In olden days, when there was no Internet, no cable TV, not even cinemas, Tholu Bommalata shows were very popular. After a hard day’s work, villagers gathered to watch puppet shows of stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other books. There were specific colours for specific types of characters, so that the people could easily recognize them. For instance, puppets standing for Gods like Rama and Krishna were painted blue and the sages were painted yellow.

Nowadays, these puppet shows are not very common. Artisans who used to make large puppets are now making smaller ones to be use as showpieces. They also use the same technique to make lampshades. The light shines through the holes in these shades, creating a beautiful effect.

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