tholu bommalata (Shadow Puppet)

About this object

History of use

Puppetry, particularly shadow puppets, is an ancient dramatic form in India mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka Tales of the 3rd century B.C.E. Nowadays modern forms of entertainment, such as the Hindi film industry, have rendered them extinct except for some rural areas in the states of Orissa, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The Andhra Pradesh/Karnataka shadow puppet tradition, compared to the few remaining troupes, are the most extensive and dramatic. Probably originally Maharashtran and maintained by dynasties, such as the Vijaynagars of the 13th and 14th centuries, it now survives as presented by Marathi-speaking puppeteers, commonly called Raoji. These are the largest in size of the Indian shadow puppets.

Iconographic meaning

Represents an aspect of Shiva, and in south Indian folk tradition, the defense minister in the army of Ravanna. Classical versions of the Ramayana do not emphasize this figure. However, south Indian folk dramatizations of the epic do. He is called Kala Bhairava, the time of the fearful. He symbolizes the inevitability of death. He wears the bold horizontal lines of Shiva on his forehead.

Physical description

A shadow puppet, representing the character Kala Bhairava (the time of the fearful), of leather cut out representing a martial figure. Has coiled hair with two long twisted braids down either side. Eyes are staring. Two long sharp side fangs. Has a black beard and moustache. Holding a sword to the figure's right. Wearing tight red shorts and chain link jewelry.