Saturday 23 March 2013

The world's largest collection of leather puppets

Puppetry is one of the most ancient arts and its origin goes back to the beginning of mankind. Each country has its own unique form of puppetry and India is no exception. It has some of the most distinctive forms of art and a few of them go back to the age of the Epics-Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Karnataka too has many styles of puppetry and one of them is Togalu Gombeyaata or leather puppetry. This is one of the most ancient arts of  Karnataka and it is also called as shadow puppetry.
However, many know that Bangalore has the largest collection of leather puppets in the world and the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat has the distinction of housing them in its puppetry gallery.
One of the Chitrakala Parishat’s former secretary and founder, the late M.S. Nanjunda Rao, has also come up with an excellent book on puppetry.
The Chitrakala Parishat has more than 3,000 leather puppets and they represent perhaps the only such collection in the world. They cover a wide spectrum of  puppets and it is often labeled as the largest collection of puppets in one place.
All the puppets are beautifully hand crafted and the colours used on them are mostly organic. The leathers have been finely tempered to achieve maximum elasticity. The breathtaking collection was initially put in place by M.S. Nanjunda Rao and it has kept growing over the years.
The leather puppets have been sourced from the then Hyderabad State , Mysore State and Madras Residency. Many of the puppets were painstakingly sourced from Adoni, Madhugiri, Bellary, Ananthapur and Nagamangala areas and they are native to these places.
Goat hide and deer skin are generally used for making these puppets. This is so as they can easily  absorb colours. The raw hide is generally treated with salt and caustic soda to remove hair and other impurities and then dried. Then colours are applied on the leather using locally available vegetable dyes. Red, blue, green and black colours are usually used.
The hide is then cut into appropriate shapes which are joined together using strings and small sticks. For puppets representing human and animal figures, the head and limbs are joined in such a way that they can easily rotate or move. The maximum size of the puppet is 4 x 3 feet and the minimum is 6 x 3 inches.
Generally, the puppets represent characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata. But, after Independence, national figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru  have also become popular.
Once the puppets are put together, the puppeteer moves from village to village. He selects a place in a village and sets up a stage. The stage is made of bamboo stems and woollen blankets. A white semi-transparent cloth is strung across the stage and this serves as a screen on which the images of the puppets are projected.
The puppets are strung across a rope behind the screen and a bright oil lamp placed behind the puppets project their images on to the screen. The puppeteers sit behind the screen and manipulate the puppets based on the scene being enacted.
However, some puppeteers now use steel frames for stage and also  loud speakers to carry the voice to s longer distance. They also use arc lights instead of the traditional oil lamp.
Puppet performances in Karnataka generally commence with an invocation to Ganesha, Goddess Saraswathi or any other Hindu God. The puppeteers also good mimics and speak for the puppets. The main musical instruments they use are the Mukha Veena or small veena played by blowing air from the mouth and harmonium.
The puppets are controlled using sticks and strings. The performances in rural areas in Karnataka usually commence at night and continue till dawn. In Karnataka, shadow puppetry owes its origin to Chitra Katha or scroll paintings. In Bengal, it is the   Jadano Pat or rolled painting, in Maharashtra it is Chitrakathi or single paintings, Yampat or scroll paintings in Bihar and Phad or panel paintings of Rajasthan. All these scrolls have images and pictures of god and goddess.
By the way, the first mention of  leather puppets are  in the Puranas and the Jatakas. The earliest patrons of Togalu Gombeatta were the Rashtrakutas. Subsequently, Pallavas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Marathas of Kolhapur.
In Karnataka, there are several families which for generations have been performing puppetry in their local areas. Some of them are   Gomberama Chakkai Gobbeyata, Togalu Gobbeyata .
In Karnataka there are two major varieties in the leather puppet shows, depending on the size of the puppets. The Chikka Togalu Gombeyaata or small leather puppet play and Dodda Togalu Gombeyaata  or larger leather puppetry.
This is an art which is practiced by a particular community called Killekyatha. They are also called Gomberamaru and Sillekyataru and Katabaru who are generally nomadic in nature.
The puppets in interior Karnataka are two or three feet tall where as those in the border areas and in Andhra Pradesh are almost as tall as a human being.
Some scholars have classified Togalu Bombeyata into three broad categories called Badagalapaya, (North Karnataka),  Tenkalapaya (Old Mysore state) and Mudalapaya (Border of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh). This classification is based on parameters such as size of the puppets, the stage and the positioning of the artistes. In Mudalapaya, the main artiste has to stand during the performance because the puppets are rather big in size. Occasionally, he joins in the revelry by wearing anklets and dancing with the puppets.
Scholars of Andhra Pradesh have traced the origin of leather puppetry in that State to the small village of Nimmmalakunta.
Leather puppetry in Andhra Pradesh is better known as Tolu Bomlat in Telugu and in Kerala it is called Pavaikottu.
Check out the leather puppets of the Chitrakala Parishat in Bangalore. Getting to the parishat is easy. It is located in the heart of Bangalore and the nearest bus stop is Gandhi Bhavan or Ashoka Hotel or Kumara Park Road in Seshadripuram.
Some of the other places where you can find a variety of leather puppets are the crafts museum in Pragati Maiden in Delhi. Here, you get to see puppets from all over India. Delhi has several other museums where puppets can be viewed. The Malliah Theatre Crafts Museum on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg,  New Delhi, contains a rare collection of puppets, masks and ornaments.
Similarly, the National Children Museum housed in Bala Bhavan of Delhi too has a rich collection of toys and dolls from India and abroad. The Sangeet Natak Akademi located at Rabindra Bhavan on  Ferozshah Road, New Delhi, has a large collection of traditional puppets of India.
The Akademi also has a large archive of audio and videotapes, photographs and films on puppetry
The Folklore Museum in Manasa Gangotri, Mysore and the Jaganmohan Art Gallery and palace in Mysore have excellent collections of puppets.
The Janapada Loka near Ramanagar on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway has some excellent folk materials, including puppets. It also has a superb collection of miniature puppets.
The Nehru Children’s Museum near the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata has a fine collection of dolls from India and abroad with some puppets. The Orissa State Museum in Bhuvaneswar has a collection of traditional string puppets.

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