Artisan Story


Dalavai Chalpathi Rao

Leather Puppet Artisan

Nimmalakunta, Dharmavaram, Anantapur, A.P., India

Awards & Certificates

Shilpa Guru Award Winner - 2006 New Delhi

Golden Jubilee Award Winner - 1997 New Delhi

National Award Winner - 1988 New Delhi

Anantostavam Certificate - 2011 Anantapur

SurajKund Mela Certificate - 2005 New Delhi

Krishna Mahotsav Certificate - 2003 Vijayawada

Shilparamam Certificate - 2000 Hyderabad

France Appreciation Certificate - 1999 France

Kalanerajnam Certificate - 1995 Anantapur

Germany Appreciation Certificate - 1991 Germany,Berlin

The Craft

Nearly 4000 years back shadow puppetry was born in China. These are still popular in China and Indonesia. Native Americans and Aztecs also use animal puppets as part of their religious rituals. Puppets are broadly classified into four kinds. These are 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 the craft

In India especially in Andhra Pradesh, Nimmalkunta is famous for this craft. Be it string, rod or shadow glove, puppetry artists in Nimmalkunta in Andhra Pradesh, and in almost all other states in India are masters in shadow puppetry using leather puppets. The senior artistes of the community say that, centuries ago leather puppeteers from Maharashtra migrated to Andhra Pradesh and chose to settle in Nimmalkunta. ChatrapatiShivaji encouraged the artisans to migrate and spread the art and culture throughout India. Those who migrated to Karnataka settled in Hasan and Mandya districts and the ones who migrated to Andhra Pradesh settled in Nimmalkunta. Even today, this shadow puppetry theatre of Andhra Pradesh thrives in the village Nimmalkunta in Ananthapur 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.


Seven to eight stories from Ramayana (from Rama's birth to his pattabhisekham), virataparvam and keechakavadha from Mahabharata make the interesting subjects in puppet theatre. Stories with emotional drama have immense appeal among the viewers. Sometimes other than these epics, local stories with current topics and day-to-day incidents of life have become part of this theatre. In olden days the show would begin at 6 pm and go on till 6 am. Especially on festivals days like Sivaratri this show would go throughout the night. After the advent of Cinemas, Televisions and many other entertainment modes and change of life style, this theatre's fame, charm and popularity started showing decline.

Even the youngsters in the community showed interest in making puppets but not in maneuvering the puppets. In earlier days every occasion in the villages gave chance to this theatre including one day in schools, 11th day ceremony after the death in a family. When the land was parched for want of rain the center of the village which has the boddu rai (Naval stone of the village) was washed with 108 buckets of water, then puja was performed and after that these, the artists would perform Tholu Bommalata. The growing civilization slowly started showing its adverse effect on the art. Taking the cue, the pragmatic younger generation of artists is focusing on modern paintings as they fetch good money for their better livelihood.


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 with his seven brothers and the other relatives who are more than half the population in the village started graduating the craftsmen from plain puppetry to making leather paintings, lamp shades room partitions, a very new trend in the craft and they were sold to public.

Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao was born in 1936, into the family of traditional leather puppet- makers in Nimmalakunta, Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao 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 40 years he has been making leather puppets for shows with mainly mythological themes. He has also undergone a formal training in this craft.

A painting costs Rs. 10000/ to Rs. 2 Lakhs depending upon its size. Lamp shades and wall hangings vary from Rs. 250/ and above. This started attracting the youth as the remuneration was lucrative. Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao started touring throughout the world with his troupe and started giving shows. In Germany they conducted one hour shows continuously for 45 days. At the end, these audience were totally in love with the animated leather puppets.

Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao not only encouraged the youth in the craft but also imparted proper training to them so that they can reach new heights in the crafts and also earn encouraging remuneration for their art. He also trained and assisted them to get national awards. He is 72 years old but his age is not a hindrance in his penance like struggle to revive the craft as well as encouraging the youth since there is encouraging income connected to it.

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.Shri DalavaiChalapahti Rao is a maestro in leather puppet performances and narration of acts from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The most popular acts done by him along with his troupe of 8 artists are adaptation of 6 khandas (scenes) from RanganathaRamayana- Sundarakanda, Lanka Dhanam, Sugriva Pattabhishekham, Sati Sulochana, YudhaKandam (Kumbhakarna&Ravana) and 2 paravalas from Bharatham: VirataParavam and DraupathiVastraBharanam.

In the early 90s he was invited by various delegations aboard during which he has demonstrated the making of puppets and performed shows in America, Germany and France. He has done 24 programs in Germany and 10 programs in France. Along with the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), New Delhi, Ministry of Textile, Govt of India he has done 30 shows in America.

Shri. DalavaiChalapathi Rao, has motivated leather Puppet artisans of Nimmalakunta and Dharmavaram to work under one-roof and market their products with a fair price. Later the artisans have formed a Mutually Aided Co-operative Society.

Contributions Towards Development of the Craft

01 Skill up-gradation program O/o DC(H), New Delhi & APHDCL 100 Artisans
02 N. of new designs developed during thew workshop attended O/o DC(H), New Delhi & APHDCL 50 New Designs
03 Conducted Shipla guru Parampara O/o DC(H), New Delhi & APHDCL 5 Artisans
04 No of Demonstration programs attended International
05 Free Training Programs 10 Programs Trained 100

S No. Promoter Country Details Year
01 promoted by O/o DC(H) New Delhi New York Puppetry Show 1991
02 Sangeetha Nataka Academy Germany Puppetry Show 1992
03 Cultural Department France Puppetry Show 1999
04 Ministry of Textiles & Ministry of Commerce and Industry Govt of India Austria Puppetry Show 2010
05 Ministry of Textiles & Ministry of Commerce and Industry Govt of India Brazil Puppetry Show 2012