Shadow Play

Art, leather craft and mythology come together, as we trace the history of handmade puppets in the country.

As a designer who works with traditional artisans across the country, I travel frequently to visit them. What always strikes me is how much art, craft and everything handmade is an integral part of their everyday lives. From the painted homes of Orissa’s Pattachitra artistes to eating in crafted brassware and women doing their daily chores in hand-woven ikat saris, it is so seamlessly a part of them that they don’t know any other way of life.
When I visit leather puppet artistes in Nilmalakunda, a village in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, I am greeted by vibrant goat hides—in different shapes and motifs—decorating the entrance of almost every house. This craft has been handed down from generation to generation, and the translucency and vivid colours give the puppets their brilliance, almost jewel-like in the light. So different from my paper sketches! As I sit watching a piece of art take shape, Allu Kullayappa, 86, tells me that leather puppetry in India dates back to the 12th century and our country has a varied tradition of these (see box). But there aren’t many written records.................Read more



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