Arc Lights and Puppets

Arc lights were dimmed and the curtain was slowly raised. A coarse voice welcomed the audience to the beating of the drums. And on a thin white back ground, silhouettes appeared to the sound of music. My little girl sat by my side clutching my hand, in anticipation of what was going to happen on the stage in front. We were in Thirunelveli District in the southern most part of India, and in a quaint little shack that evening I witnessed one of India’s most amazing puppet show – Thol Bomallattam.

 “Thol Bomallatam” is a one of a kind shadow puppet show. Brightly colored puppets are made out of goat skin and are about 5 to 6 feet in height. With colors on both sides they throw colored shadows on the screen. They are animated with the help of rods and perform and dance to the tune of classical music. The theme and story of the show is drawn from the great Epics of the country-Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. All through the show, one does not get to see the artists who manipulate the puppets or even the puppets directly.

The only thing visible is a backlit white cloth screen against which the puppets are placed from behind so that one sees the shadows on the screen.


My little girl sat enthralled through the show. I was glad that at least for a moment I was able to take her away from television and the virtual world, to an art form that seemed so real.

We are in a generation that is surrounded with gadgets. Entertainment is just a touch or click away. And trying to find some place amidst this ever growing world of handheld entertainment, are traditional art forms such as Thol Bomallattam.

Despite having existed for years, these art forms with not many patrons anymore, are slowly seeing their decline. Sad but true.


So have you witnessed any breath taking traditional art form in the recent past? Would love to hear about it.

This is a part of my journey exploring 26 lesser known shades of a country called India, with the #AtoZChallenge 2016!!!


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  1. Great.. I m participating too in this challenge but all recipes though. I agree with you on these traditional art forms. Pallanguzhi n all traditional board are dying too.. Bought a pallanguzhi board this time. Its one if my favorite.

  2. I remember watching a puppet show at Jaipur when I had gone for a vacation there. At Amer fort, if I recall correctly. And I loved it better than any other cartoon show I’ve watched till today!

    All the best for the challenge 🙂

  3. This is amazing. i have seen puppet shows mostly in Rajasthan.. their puppets are a different variety.

  4. What an enthralling form of entertainment! I have seen shadow dancers on “America’s Got Talent”, but they were human, not puppets. I’m going to enjoy learning more about your rich culture.

  5. Hi I loved your theme and this post was fantastic! I hail from Tirunelveli too, but have never caught this! Will do so the next time I visit. Looking forward to your next post!

  6. These shows truly have declined.. May be because the options for entertainment have increased.. Also, people want quick things and quick results and techie stuff I guess.. It’s sad.. but that’s how it is..

    Looking forward for more to come 🙂


  7. That’s an interesting theme you have there. I’ve seen these puppets used as decorative lampshades! An art form that is quite rare these days is the trapeze artists or DOMBARI who balance on a tightrope. Unfortunately most of the performers are children who are made to do things which seem really dangerous, so I’m glad to see these acts on the decline.

    BellyBytes from
    Mumbai On A High

  8. this is so beautiful! Goat skin puppets are new to me…and the coloured shadows look like fun!
    Indeed in these times of gadgets, our kids do miss out on all this entertainment.

    Shubhangi @ The Little Princess

  9. Have seen a shadow puppet show during school days. They are indeed so fascinating. True, our kids should get to know these traditional art forms which are on the verge of extinction.

  10. The level of creativity that a few artists exhibit without using any electronic gadgets — the same gadgets that have started to define us, today — is commendable. However, like you said, these highly creative people and their creations are slowly dissolving into nothingness. Imagine, if one day all electronic gadgets are destroyed, then these creative people will be the ones who would rise from the ashes.

    @Ankifreesoul from
    No Agenda Just Life
    Million Shades of Life

  11. Wow. Love this art form – I’ve seen the artisans and work and it is fascinating. Very sad they’re not getting the support they should. Leather puppetry is a regional art form with different variations all over India. I wrote a rather long post about it some years back. India IS incredible. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your posts throughout April! 🙂

  12. It’s such a shame when traditional art forms gradually fade away as our society becomes more fast paced and less interested in these type of cultural activities.

  13. I had been a great fan of rich Indian tradition and culture and have read quite a lot about it (well, a quizzer). I never came across this art from, would read about it more. 🙂

  14. I’ve never seen these in person, but I have seen these in a movie or cartoon. I’m trying to think of why it’s so familiar.

  15. I would actually love to witness this in real. It must be so exciting for you and your kid 🙂 I hope this doesn’t become one of those extinct art forms.

  16. Puppetry has played an important role in disseminating knowledge in most parts of the world. Puppetry imbibes elements of all art forms such as literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama and enables students to develop their creative abilities. Puppetry has been used traditionally in India as a popular and an inexpensive medium to transmit knowledge about Indian myths and legends.

  17. Wow! I have never heard of such a puppet show ever. This must be such an awesome experience watching such a great form of art. Lovely and thank you for sharing. I m so intrigued.

  18. Wow! I have heart of such a puppet show ever. This must be such an awesome experience watching such a great form of art. Lovely and thank you for sharing. I m so intrigued.

  19. wow! great stuff, my kids did some crafts a while back that worked in similar way (of course nothing beautiful like this!)
    Thanks for sharing!

  20. Hi! In Malaysia, we have a similar type of shadow puppetry called “wayang kulit” (skin film) and it’s also a dying art here. Great post, informative! 🙂 Good luck with A to Z!

  21. There was this Ulsavam in a temple in kerala where they had this as a part of the hagavatam reading series. They did the whole rukmini swayamvar part. I saw this when i was six or seven. What a lovely memory to bring back , so thank you for that! Fab post this.

  22. Your theme and mine have something in common. I am intrigued by Thol Bommalattam and would like go there and see if it is something worth exploring.

    My theme this year is about unusual occupations where i ma featuring 26 occupations from all over india some of them feature some dying art forms.

    Will be back for more. and we should touch base – offline after the challenge.

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