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Unique shadow puppet theatre gaining popularity


‘Tol Pavakoothu’, the unique shadow puppet theatre form of Kerala, the popularity of the oldest art form is picking up, according to a leading artiste


Kozhikode: After a lull in the viewership of ‘Tol Pavakoothu’, the unique shadow puppet theatre form of Kerala, the popularity of the oldest art form is picking up, according to a leading artiste.

The art, a slow paced leather puppet shadow play of Ramayana, which was very popular once, might have lost patronage due to constraints of time and fast paced modern life.

The demand for the this art form is gaining due to the support, including scholarships, it was getting from the Centre and state governments, M Lakshmana Pulavar, a renowned Tol Pavakoothu artiste informed.

The popularity of television programs and cinema had to a certain extent led to lack of patronage for this art, which was held only at ‘Koothumadams’ (exclusive halls built for the show), he said.

Confined to the koothumadams of Bhagavathy temples, once, this ancient ritualistic shadow theatre that uses leather puppets to invoke epic characters live on stage, is slowly moving to the public domain.

Tol Pavakoothu, with its origin in Bhagavati temples in Palakkad district, is an ancient ritualistic art form worshipped by the people of Kerala as the Mother Goddess. The play is performed from January to May at Koothumadam.

The play traditionally enacts Kamba Ramayana, a Tamil epic written by Kamban in the 12th century based on Valmiki’s Ramayana in Sanskrit, describing Rama’s life using a dialect of Tamil, with an admixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam.

Tradition has it that the Koothu was enacted to entertain the mother Goddess. The plays are staged between 10 pm and 4 am and go on from 16 to 41 days.

Lakshmana said the story was told using over 75 intrinsically designed puppets made out of deer or buffalo skin. Various musical instruments were used during the enactment.

The puppets are moved by puppeteers behind a white screen against a background of 21 wick lamps. Shadows falling on the screen from behind create the illusion of a dynamic play. Words delivered in a stylized way supply the dialogues and the narration.

Scenes like Lord Rama breaking the bow before marrying Sita, Hanuman carrying Rishabadri with Mritha sanjeevani medicinal plants, fights between Bali and his brother Sugriva and Ram-Ravana are depicted with precision.

It is still performed in more than 100 temples spread over three districts of Palakkad, Malappuram and Thrissur.

Lakshmana has for the last several years been running an institute to train students in the art form in Palakkad district. About 10 students were currently undergoing training in the art form, he said.

He said his Kala Kendra in association with the tourism department was performing the art on a 60-minute clipped version of the Ramayana performance across the state, which has rekindled interest among people to the centuries old art.

Lakshmana had performed the show in various parts of India and abroad including Sweden, Greece and Germany.


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