TOGALUBOMBEYATA (Leather Puppetry)


            Togalubombeyata (togalu bombeyATa) (ತೊಗಲು ಬೊಂಬೆಯಾಟ) is a theatrical performance which involves the production of the movement of the shadows of colored dolls painted on a thin sheet of leather, An entire episode taken out one of the well known epics of India is presented almost through out the night with the help of leather puppets. This art is practiced extensively in almost all parts of Karnataka except the coastal region. However leather puppetry is a pan Indian phenomenon prevalent in most of the Indian states of course with unique regional characteristics.

            This is an art which is practiced in Karnataka by a particular community called ‘Killekyatha”. (kiLLekyAta) (ಕಿಳ್ಳೆಕ್ಯಾತರು) They are also called ‘gombe rAmaru’ and ‘siLLekyAtaru’ and ‘kaTabaru’. These artists are essentially nomadic. ‘kiLLEkyAta is also the name of a particular puppet character. The head of a family and the family members constitute a troupe of performers. This art is not associated with any ritualistic act and the performances are basically re creative. The language spoken by this community has similarities to Marathi and it is surmised that they might have migrated from that state.

            These leather puppets provide an excellent example to the artistic tradition of Karnataka in painting. Hides of a young goat or a deer are properly tanned and made in to thin, paper like material. Organic dyes are used to paint various characters and objects on these leather sheets. Gods, demons, kings and queens, soldier, chariot and palaces are some of the puppets created in this manner. They are smeared with oil prepared with native herbs to make them softer. The puppets are given stability by attaching bamboo sticks at the right places. The puppets in interior Karnataka are two or three feet tall where as those in the border areas of Andhrapradesh are almost as tall as a human being.

            Togalubombe performances are accompanied by the songs sung by a chorus consisting of both men and women. They delineate the relevant story. Instruments such as uppanga, mukhaveeNe, maddale and harmonium are used to control the movements of the puppets.

            The stage on which the puppet show takes place is an elaborate structure. An area of about eight feet square is made in to an enclosure with the help of bamboos. (The stage that is erected for bigger puppets is almost 72 feet square.) The sides and the top part are covered with clothes. The side facing the spectators has a thin white sheet of cloth. The main artist who moves the puppets is concealed below the stage. When he holds a puppet in front of a well lit lamp, its shadow is produced on the screen. The movements of the puppets are manipulated by the artist. Even the artists who provide the music are seated next to him. They deliver the dialogues of the characters whenever the situation demands it.    

            The stories that are selected from Ramayana and Mahabharatha have a prologue which consists of humorous incidents enacted by kiLLEkyAta and bangArakka. The main stories are modified to suit the needs and tastes of the spectators and consequently they acquire new dimensions.

            Some scholars have classified togalubombeyata in to three broad categories called baDagalapAya, (North Karnataka) tenkalapAya (Old Mysore state) and mUDalapAya (Border of Andhra and Karnataka) based on the various details such as the size of the puppets, the stage and the positioning of the artists. In mUDalapAya the main artist has to stand during the performance because the puppets are big. Occasionally he dons anklets and dances along while moving the puppets on the screen. Yet another mode of classification depending on the size of the puppets speaks of Chikka Togalu Gombeyaata (small leather puppet play) and Dodda Togalu Gombeyaata (life size or larger leather puppet play). Each variety shows several regional variations in the style of music, craftsmanship, stage technique and manipulation.

            Togalubombeeyata is truly one of the more attractive theatrical varieties of Karnataka and it has gained a lot of reputation.



Further Reading and Links:

1. (An introductory article.)

2.      Leather Puppetry in Karnataka/M.S.   Nanjunda Rao. Bangalore,   Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, 2000, xxiv, 282 p., ills. (Book)

3.        (A Video on Shadow Puppetry in Karnataka)

4.      Togalu Gombeyaata ( A photograph from a performance)

5.      Puppetry in India by Elisabeth den Otter  ( A detailed and illustrated introduction to various forms of puppetry in India)

6. ( A leather puppet)

7. (Another heroic leather puppet)

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