Art · Culture · People

Leather puppets

While strolling down the arts fair, I managed to walk into a workshop on Leather Puppets sponsored by the Ministry of Textiles. All the participants were making sketches of what they intended to have as puppets and designer was guiding them as to how they could make their pieces more marketable.

When I asked if they had any finished pieces, they showed me a couple. The Ravana cost Rs 400. I had seen a few leather puppets but never realised the kind of effort that goes into making them nor did I know the history of the art form till I read it over the net.

More about Leather puppets from from
The craft of making Leather Puppets originated in the small village of Nimmmalakunta in Andhra Pradesh. Before the advent of television, Leather Puppetry was one of the major forms of entertainment not only to the rustic people but also to the people dwelling in towns and cities. The popularity of Leather Puppetry has partially dwindled but even now it is widely prevalent in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Locally, the Leather Puppetry shows are referred to as Tholu Bommalata. They are based on stories from the Indian epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. In this case, holes are made on the Leather Puppets and a slim bamboo stick is attached to them so that they remain straight. Strings are attached to the various joints of the Leather Puppets to facilitate controlling their movements.

The main raw material that is used for making Leather Puppets is the skin of goats and sheep. It is the responsibility of the Leather Puppet Society to supply the craftsmen with the leather that is required for making the Leather Puppets. The skin of the animals is subjected to an intensive process of cleaning.

This spring cleaning process involves soaking the skin in pits of lime water for a period of 10-15 days. What follows is cleaning it with the help of a knife. It is possible to clean it using a knife because after being drenched for so many days, the surface becomes smooth. It is re-soaked in water for 10 days. However this time kadaka powder is added to the water. Kadaka Powder is a local vegetable dye. At the end of all this the hide finally becomes ready for decoration.

Beautiful designs are then drawn on this light brown colored leather. The borders are drawn with the help of an outlining brush. Vegetable dyes were formally used as colors. However, now-a-days chemical dyes are also used because they are very easily available. The brightly colored Leather Puppets are indeed very beautiful to look at. The eyes of the Leather Puppets are always painted at last.

You will surely be impressed by the large Leather Puppets of Ram, Hanuman and the demon king Ravana. Lamp shades and wall hangings are also made with the leather. They enhance the beauty of the drawing rooms. They are fairly priced and so do make sure you pick up a few of these as decorative items or as presents.

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