Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tholpava Koothu: Shadow Puppets of Kerala

21 coconut shell oil lamps on a suspended wooden beam, illuminate the 42 foot shadow screen during the ritualistic 14 night performance of the Kamba Ramayana in the village of Kavanakkodu, Palakkad District, Kerala, India.

K. K. Ramachandra Pulavar generously welcomed me into the world of Tholpava Koothu ('Thol' means leather, 'Pava' means doll and 'Koothu' means play). Ramachandra comes from a long ancestral lineage of Tholpava Koothu artists, and he's the head of the Krishnankutty Pulavar Memorial Tolpava Koothu & Puppet Centre, named after his late father.

Each evening would begin with a parade of costumes, drumming and dancing. After hours of drumming and fireworks the Tholpava Koothu would begin with prayers to the ancestors with Ganesh and the 4 Brahmans, representing the 4 directions, pictured above. The performance would carry on until sunrise.

On the final night the festival was exceptionally lively, and before the coronation of Rama (the final act in the 14 day version of the Kamba Ramayana), the play stopped and I joined the others and the elephants in the 5am ritual bath in the village pond. When the show continued the water from the elephant's bath was used in the ritual coronation of Rama, which included prayers for the rain, the crops, and the health of the people in the village.  Check out the bellow video of K. K. Ramachandra Pulavar and company performing.