The world of leather puppets

The world of leather puppets

The world of leather puppets

We have to save the art of folk leather puppetry from the clutches of globalisation. Newer art forms and commercial ventures of entertainment have taken a toll on local, traditional art forms today.

But one woman puppeteer, Anjinamma from Bommalatapura village in Chintamani taluk, is striving hard to ensure that leather puppetry doesn’t fade into oblivion. Leather puppetry is all about unravelling stories and teaching life lessons through puppets behind a white curtain and using bright lights, and there is no match to this local art form. Although the puppets are hidden behind the white curtain, the performance creates the illusion that they are alive. This is the speciality of this art form.

Bommalatapura village has a legacy of leather puppet making. Anjinamma’s affair with leather puppetry started from a very young age, when she toured many villages as a nomadic leather puppet maker and puppeteer. Since the beginning, she has been involved in all the processes of puppetry — from puppet making, which involves skinning goats, cleaning the skin, designing, embroidery, dyeing, to handling the puppets. Apart from making her puppets dance, Anjinamma also makes the performance come alive with her dance sometimes. By imbibing this art and exhibiting it across villages, Anjinamma has been broadcasting the folk tradition for the past 50 years.

Anjinamma’s puppet collection includes five-century-old puppets too. She has preserved them with care. The puppets measure around three to seven feet. She has continued her profession even after marriage and has imparted the skill to the next generation too.

Today, leather puppetry is an integral part of her family and they make a living out of it. Anjinamma has fabricated more than 50 puppets on her own and has organised over 1,000 shows across Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Anjinamma’s family exhibits, with support from other artists, shows with themes chosen from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The two epics are brought alive on the screen using over 150 colourful puppets. The large-sized puppets of Rama, Sita and Ravana deserve a special mention here. Of late, art enthusiasts are organising leather puppetry exhibitions and shows in cities to encourage the art form. The immense talent of Anjinamma came to light through such efforts. Considering her contribution to leather puppetry, Dr L Basavaraju Foundation recently honoured her with Dr L Basavaraju Award.

The dark shadows of privatisation and globalisation hasn’t spared this art form. Thanks to TV and other media, the public at large, has showed an indifferent attitude to this form. Because of this, those dependent on this art form are on the verge of acute poverty. What this profession needs right now is some strong moral support and encouragement so as to protect it. More shows should be organised so that more people like Anjinamma come to light and get encouragement.

M Ramakrishnappa
(Translated by A Varsha Rao)

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