Tholpavakoothu (BH:D309)

June 9, 2012

Read in the Hindu Metroplus that Lakshmana Pulava's troupe would be performing Tholpavakoothu (leather puppet play) at Vyllopilli Samskriti Bhavan this evening. Showed up by 6pm.

Mr. Pulava was getting ready behind the stage. He had a couple of minutes to spare.

"Are these leather?" I opened with an ignorant question pointing to the numerous 2D puppets lying on the stage floor as if resting before their show.
"Yes. It used to be deer skin in the past. Now we use ox skin."
"I see that they are intricately colored. Will that been seen in the shadow?"
"Yes. Deep skin was very thick. Ox skin shows the color more prominently in the light of the oil lamps."
20 oil lamps were being prepared behind the white screen atop the black stage  separator.
"How many are in the troupe?"
"There are eight of us."
"What kind of music do you play?"
"Traditional music is used."
"Are there standard songs for the puppet play?"
"Yes, we have. Several of them based on the Kamba Ramayana."
"What is the story today?"
"We'll do a quick Ramayana in 1 hour 15 minutes featuring some interesting episodes."
"I am glad I came for the show. I read about it this afternoon in the Hindu."
"I am glad there is publicity. When we performed in 2008, there was virtually no audience."
"How regular are your shows?"
"We do shows frequently in temples of Palakkad Shornur area."

Later in the introduction, he mentions that 108 temples have regular shows. The legend goes that since Goddess Bhadra Kali was fighting Darikan at the same time as the battle of Ramayana, she missed it. So Shiva ordered the performance of the puppet show so that the Goddess can know the full story.

The performance was a heart warming spectacle. The language was a curious mix of Tamil stylized Malayalam, sort of the one Kamalhassan's cook character speaks in Michael Madanakamarajan. 80% of the singing and dialogues sounded improvised. The puppeteers were astounding in pulling off a perfectly timed show that included plenty of fireworks, literally.

We had a full house and plenty of kids. The fact that the show thoroughly amused the kids in the age of cartoon network speaks volumes of the quality of real life animation pulled off by these artists. 

Since I haven't read Kamba's Ramayana, some of the episodes intrigued me.   Ravana in this version carries of Sita along with the hut, there was no concept of Lakshamana's famous line. Maricha tells Ravana that they'll meet after death even before he sets off on his mission. Soorpanakha has an original grudge against Rama. Hanuman defiles Ravana's wife to initiate a curse that predicted Ravana's death soon after his wife is dishonored. 

The dialogues in the Bali-Sugrava fight was genuinely funny. A jester character called "Kudakkaran" (umbrella holder) was introduced in Ravana's court scene. Some hilarious lines for him. Apparently he has invented some new Raagas in Carnatic music named 'Kettalodi", "Kazhutha kamboji" and "Manampurattal" There was even a full fledged folk song thrown into the performance.  Wonderful experience.

Yesterday, I visited the famous Technopark campus for the first time. Dived into the basement of one of the enormous concrete cuboid that finds little redemption in being named Tejaswini. First hand experience of one of the young, techie India's original sanctuaries. None of the city's major garbage problem seems to have come inside these gates.

Section 144 has been declared in the city and garbage dumping is now a criminal offense. A move that comes mostly because the mayor herself has caught fever. If only the mosquitoes knew to spare the corrupt!

World Archives Day today. The 'Mathilakom' records of Padmanabhaswamy temple dating from 1305 AD are being digitized. 30,000 palm leaf "churanas" each with 1000 records. Stupendous task. Thiruvananthapuram will get two new museums soon. Signature museum featuring samples of famous signatures and Freedom Struggle museum. 

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