The Hindu, Saturday, 14-11-09
Reviving the ancient art of puppetry
The Tholpavakoothu (shadow puppet) theatre is one of the oldest traditional art forms of Kerald mainly found in the districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram.
But this traditional temple art is getting extinct as there are only a few families who are still versed in this ancient art form.
It is believed to have originated in the 9th or 10 century A.D.
It is performed from December to June during the Pooram season.
It usually starts at 10 p.m. and continues till dawn.
The show is mainly organized in the theatres constructed close to the temple of the goddess 'Bhadra Kali'.
Tholpavakoothu is based on the epic of 'Kamba Ramayana' and the language used is a mix of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil.
She implored Lord Shiva to make it possible for her to see the victory of good over evil.
The Lord asked her to go to Kerala bhoomi, the sacred land created by Parashurama from the sea and go to a temple there.
When she reached the temple some devotees were reciting
the Kamba Ramayana. She overheard the story and wanted it to be enacted. So the devotees who recited the Ramayana put up a stage and Tholpavakoothu was enacted.
Puppets were originally made from deer skin.
Use of goat skin
But due to the ban on using deer skin now goat skin is used. It is hand made by the artistes and their families.
One has to go through a rigorous training of nearly 10 to 15 years to perform this art. A puppeteer should be well versed in Ramanayana, Vedanta, Astrology, Ayurveda, temple architecture, puranas, agamas and ashtray, said P.K. Ramachandra Pulvar, one of the leading Tholpavakoothu artistes from Koonathara in Shoranur. The Puppeteer is known as 'Pulavar'.
The name is a title bestowed on a person who has gone through an intensive training in puppetry and gained an in depth knowledge of Tamil and Sanskrit literature.
A Pulavar must have a good working knowledge of Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit, he said.
Ezhupara, which is a cylindrical drum made of jackfruit wood and covered with calf skin on both ends and cymbals form the main accompaniments.
On special occasions Chenda, Pipe, Drums and Gong are added to the orchestra.