Tholu Bommalata: Hanuman and Lankini

21st Century
Tholu Bommalata shadow puppets of Hanuman and Lankini

Tholu Bommalata tradition of shadow puppetry dates back to 12th century Andhra Pradesh; in Telugu, tholu is hide or leather and bommalata means ‘dance of the dolls’. Gleaming through the screen in night-long performances, these puppets are used to narrate stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Tholu Bommalata performances often weave bits of popular culture and current affairs into the narrative to keep things fresh. And to account for shortened attention spans, shows that once went on for 18 nights are now condensed to an hour. Bright electrical lighting has replaced flickering earthen lamps but the magical glow of the characters and their fantastical narratives still have the power to transport the audience.

Artist Sindhe Chithambara Rao is a National Award-winning puppeteer. He and his family practices the ancient Indian art of Tholu Bommalaata, which is Telugu for ‘dance of the leather dolls’. It’s an art that’s been passed down to Chithambara Rao from his parents, who learned it at the feet of their parents and so on stretching back generations.

Leather puppets of Lankini & Hanuman
21st Century
S Chidambara Rao
Goat skin and dye
Lankini: H: 201 cm x W: 63.4 cm; Hanuman: 6.10 X 2.7 Feet (13 components)
Accession No.
Lankini: 2017.51.17 Hanuman: 2017.51.1