The History of Puppetry
Shadow puppetry was born in China nearly 4000 years ago. These are still popular in China and Indonesia. Native Americans and Aztecs still make use of animal puppets for their religious rituals. Puppets are broadly classified into four kinds, namely marionettes i.e. string puppets, shadow puppets rod puppets and glove puppets. Since it is an ancient tradition usually epics and legends are the contents of this craft.
Leather Puppetry in Andhra Pradesh
In India especially in Andhra Pradesh, Nimmalakunta is famous for this craft. Hundreds of years ago, leather puppeteers from Maharashtra migrated to Andhra Pradesh and chose to settle in Nimmalakunta. It is saidChatrapatiShivaji encouraged the artisans to migrate and spread the art and culture throughout India. Those who migrated to Karnataka settled in Hassan and Mandya districts and the ones who migrated to Andhra Pradesh settled in Nimmalakunta.
Even today, this shadow puppetry theatre of Andhra Pradesh thrives in the village Nimmalakunta in Anantapur district and is called Tholubommalata. Tholubommalata of Andhra Pradesh has the richest tradition amongst all. The artisans procure goat skin and process it well till it is translucent and once it is dry they sketch outline and color both sides, and then make tiny perforations. The artisans who make this leather puppets/tholubommalu are from chitrakarula community.
Stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata are considered interesting subjects in puppet art. In addition to these epics, local stories with current topics and day-to-day incidents of life have become part of this theatre. However, following the advent of Cinema, Television and many other entertainment means, the fame, charm and popularity of this art started showing a steady decline. Even the youngsters in the community showed interest only in making puppets but not in maneuvering the puppets. The growing civilization slowly started showing its adverse effect on the art.
Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao, An Icon of Puppet Art
At this juncture Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao, Leather Puppetry artisan started playing his role as a friend, teacher and guide to his community youngsters.Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao was born in 1936, into the family of traditional leather puppet- makers in Nimmalakunta, Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. He was initiated into the art of leather puppet making at the young age of 13 years by his father the late Shri. Khade Rao. For the last forty years he has been making leather puppets for shows with mainly mythological themes.
Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao and his family started graduating the craftsmen from plain puppetry to making leather paintings, lamp shades room partitions, a very new trend in the craft and these were sold to public. This started attracting the younger generation as the remuneration was lucrative. Shri. Chalapathi Rao started touring all over the world with his troupe by giving shows. In Germany they conducted one hour shows continuously for a period of 45 days. At the end, the audience were completely awe struck by the animated leather puppets.
He not only encouraged the youth in the craft but also imparted proper training to them so that they can reach new heightin the craft while earning encouraging remuneration for their art. He also trained and assisted them to get awards.
Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao is the recipient of the National Award for Excellence in the Leather Puppet making in 1988. He has also received many other awards and citations in various forums and public functions. The most popular acts done by him along with his troupe of 8 artists are adaptation of 6 khandas (scenes) from Ranganatha Ramayana- Sundarakanda, Lanka Dhanam, Sugriva Pattabhishekham, Sati Sulochana, YudhaKandam (Kumbhakarna&Ravana) and 2 paravalas from Bharatham - VirataParavam and DraupathiVastraBharanam.
In the early 1990s he was invited by various delegations aboard where he demonstrated the making of puppets and he also performed shows in America, Germany and France. Along with the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), New Delhi, Ministry of Textile, Govt. of India he had organized 30 shows in America.