Shadow Puppets

Rama and Lakshmana going to the Jungle

This shadow puppet of Rama and his brother Lakshmana is a Togalu Gombeyatta puppet, a shadow puppet tradition of Karnataka, India. It translates to the dance of leather puppets, with ‘Togalu’ meaning leather, ‘Gombe’ meaning a doll or a puppet and ‘atta’ meaning dance.  Southern Indian shadow play is known to be the oldest in the… Read more »

Arjuna on Ratha

This shadow puppet of Arjuna on his chariot is from Tholu Bommalaata, a puppet tradition from Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, tholu means leather, bommalu means puppets and aata means dance. Arjuna is the main character in the Mahabharata alongside Krishna. He is one of the Pandava brothers, who win against the Kauravas. Considered a… Read more »

Raja Harishchandra

This shadow puppet of Raja Harishchandra is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, ‘tholu’ means leather, ‘bommalu,’ puppets; and ‘aata’ dance. King Harishchandra is shown carrying a bow and a pack of arrows with a dagger on his waistband. Raja Harishchandra appears in ancient texts such as Markandeya Purana, Mahabharata… Read more »

Rama

This shadow puppet of Rama is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, ‘tholu’ means leather, ‘bommalu,’ puppets; and ‘aata’ dance. Valmiki, in his epic Ramayana, describes Rama, as an ideal personality and compares him with numerous gods and sages with many virtues. Rama is committed to Dharma even when exiled… Read more »

Brahma

This shadow puppet of Lord Brahma is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, tholu means leather, bommalu means puppets and aata means dance. Brahma is one of the Holy Trinity in the Hindu Pantheon. Here he is depicted with three visible heads and four arms holding the scriptures in one hand. He also wears a yellow… Read more »

Matsya Vallabha

This shadow puppet of Matsya Vallabha is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, tholu means leather, bommalu means puppets and aata means dance. Matsya Vallabha in Valmiki’s Ramayana is the son of Hanuman. When Hanuman was flying across the sea after burning Lanka with his tail, a drop of sweat fell into the water which was… Read more »

Lankadhipati Ravana

This shadow puppet of Ravana is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, tholu means leather, bommalu means puppets and aata means dance. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Ravana is portrayed as an opposition to Rama; the evil against the good. Ravana is a devout worshipper of Shiva. Apart from his physical characteristics, he is said to possess in-depth… Read more »

Ganapathi

This shadow puppet of Lord Ganesha is from Tholu Bommalaata, puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh in India. Here, tholu means leather, bommalu means puppets and aata means dance. Every Tholu Bomalaata performance starts with offering a prayer to Lord Ganesha asking for his blessings. He is an important deity in the Hindu Pantheon and is regarded as the remover of obstacles… Read more »

Tholu Bommalaata

The Sarmaya guide to the shadow puppetry traditions that peaked during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire in southern India

Comic Relief

To balance the solemnity of narrating episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Tholu artists like to bring in some laughs with the help of these trusty sidekicks

Tholu Bommalaata

A Tholu Bommalaata performer pours their whole person into not telling, but showing you a story. Their hands cut, cure and craft the leather puppets. Their strong voices send the epics soaring into the night air. Every muscle in their body, from the arms working the figures to the toes beating out a rhythm on… Read more »

The mythical origins of shadow puppets

Made in China, made in India, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, or even Turkey, the tradition of shadow puppets has survived for a long time, the second century BC, some say. But as is also custom, scholars have many disagreements on its origins. Folklorist Stuart Blackburn suggests that this tradition, like Buddhism, travelled to the rest of… Read more »

Tholu Bommalaata: Dog-Lion Hybrid

This is a figure used in Tholu Bommalaata performances, Andhra’s shadow-puppetry tradition. The figure here is a hybrid with the head of a dog, complete with a leash around the neck, and the limbs and the lower body of a tiger or a lion. Except for the more recognisable forms, say of gods and goddesses,… Read more »

Tholu Bommalata: 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… Read more »