On the verge of extinction

On the verge of extinction

Arts on the brink

On the verge of extinction

Fading roots: Indian folk arts connected with local milieus, still survive but only just.

Folk art forms, basically, reflect the community’s perception of life and nature and they also deal with the community’s beliefs and rituals.

In Malnad and Coastal regions of Karnataka, leather puppetry is popular. There is a story about the origin of puppet show artists. A man called Kattare Kalalhari had an illicit relationship with a woman. When the family of the woman disinherited her, she survived with the help of a set of leather puppets.

Today such  puppet shows are  performed with several objectives. It is believed that a puppet show performance brings rain, and  cures many diseases. A puppet show performance is arranged on occasions like village fair, festival and marriages to entertain people.

Today puppetry is considered as one of the most ancient Asian arts.  Some even trace it’s origin to 3000 BC which is also the period when  Bhagavadgita was scripted. The Sanskrit play Maha Nataka was written only to be performed as a puppet show.

The skin of a deer or goat is used to prepare leather puppets and is soft, sensitive and transparent.  It remains in good shape for a long time. But the goat skin shrinks during winter and develops creases.  These days, deer skin is not easily available and hence goat skin is increasingly used. There is a rule that divine characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata have to be prepared only by using deer skin. In Andhra, buffalo skin is also used to prepare puppets. The skin is made transparent by tanning and then diagrams are neatly dawn and intricate lace and embroidery art are used to decorate the puppets with ornaments saree border, chariot wheel and crowns. And they are coloured. Usually blue, light red, and yellow colours are used for deities. The demon characters are painted with dark red, black and dark yellow colours. The colours are prepared out of plants.

These colours do not fade for a long time. Now a days, the preparation of plant colours has stopped and synthetic colours are widely used.

To make the puppet  erect, bamboo sticks are placed right in the middle and stitched. An extension of the bamboo stick can be found at the bottom.  This is the  original form  of the puppets but  later on, puppets with moving limbs and face started performing on stage. To make the face and limbs move, a particular technique was used. Parts of the puppet, like neck, waist, arms, thigh joint and knee were  separately made and stitched together with the help of a thread. A single bamboo stick was used to make the neck, chest and the waist stand stiff. When the puppets are small in size, the artist manipulates them, sitting on the stage. If the puppets are life-sized, the artist has to stand.

Shadow games: Leather puppetry is an evocative craft but losing its audience.Puppets should not develop creases and should not become dry and rough. A kind of herbal extract is used to preserve them in proper shape. The puppets can last for many years if they are maintained well.  A bamboo box is prepared to store the puppets. It is called Baadali. The box is a sacred item. Artists who give up this profession, take the box and immerse it in a river. In Karnataka, there are three types of puppets,  without the movement of limbs. They mostly belong to North Karnataka.  These puppets range from one to three feet height.  

The puppet show artists who play the puppets are not visible. A light is hung behind the white cloth. The reflection of the puppets on, the white cloth is beautiful.  

Somana Kunitha

This folk  performance is prevalent in the districts of Mandya, Tumkur, Hassan, Mysore, Chickmagalur and Bangalore and is  performed on festive  occasions.

People of Vokkaliga, Lingayatha, Nayaka, Besta and Kuruba communities participate in this art. During village fair these Soma dancers dance in front of deities, receive offerings and participate in other rituals.   


The main character in this folk performing art is Veerabhadra, the commander of the army of Lord Shiva. Veerabhadra ties around his ankles, a pair of shining anklets, wears colourful cloths, sports Vibhuthi lines on the forehead and smears dark red colour round his eye brows. He holds a shining sword and brandishes it to and fro in a frightening manner. He sports a bushy moustache. A few dancers  accompany him. 

Veerabhadra narrates the story of enmity between Lord Shiva and King Dakshabrahma. He narrates how Dakshabrahma was killed during a sacrifice ritual. The narration is called Odabu. This item is performed during Shivarathri, Gowri Habba, Ugadi and other Shaiva festivals.  It is considered as an inseparable part of the culture of Veerashaiva communities. 


Mudalapaya originates from southern Mysore regions and is spread across  Bidar District in the North. The stage made out of wooden planks is expansive and on it, characters dance swiftly and with ferocity. This folk form  is traced to Vijayanagar and while performing it,  characters of deities enter the stage from the side wings, the demon characters enter the stage from outside. The characters of deities never show their backs to the viewers.  This resembles the Greek exit and entry traditions and it is believed  that this performance is a gift from the Greek Theatre. Since this art form is in vogue in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the influence of Dravidian civilisation can also be seen.

Basically, Mudalapaya is richly musical. Yakshagana transformed itself into a stage craft from a poetically narrative form. Mudalapaya has followed suit.  From the point of view of the nature of performance, its most dramatic moments are  when ferocious characters like Durgi and Kali enter the stage during midnight and when around early dawn, demon characters with frightening make up enter the stage. Many modifications are seen in today in these traditional forms because they reflect the social life of that time. We have to accept change as the gift of time. Changes in art cannot be opposed totally but any modifications should be sensitive.

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