Dalavai Kallayppa and his family are one the last few representatives of one of the earliest performing folk arts of Andhra Pradesh, shadow puppetry. Popularly known as ‘Tholubhummalata’ in Telugu, it literally means "the dance of the leather puppets”. A craftsman par excellence, he learnt this art form from his father, Chinna Narayana, a state level awardee.
Shadow puppetry is inextricably linked to Andhra Pradesh’s traditional folk culture. According to oral tradition, the leather puppetry traces its origin to 200 BC when it was patronized by the Satavahana rulers. Nimmalakunta in Anantapur district, D.C. Palle in Nellore district and Narsaraopet in Guntur district are the main centers of leather puppet making in Andhra Pradesh. Of these, Nimmalakunta is well known for artisans practicing this hereditary craft. Dalavi hails from the Nimmalakunta village in Anantpur district.
Goat hide and sheepskin are the basic material. Etchings are made of images on dried goat leather with a sharp edged knife and painted with vibrant vegetable colors. Since these puppets are a pre requisite for the traditional folk art form of puppetry, the motifs are either religious or depict flora and fauna. In case of puppets, the artisan paints on both sides of the leather after it has been cut into required shape. The lampshades are given their shape using a mould. Chiseling small holes in the decorative patterns enhances the attractiveness of the lampshade. This is done with a pogaru (chisel).
Dalavi narrates how his father was one of the first to graduate to making other products like lampshades and wall hangings besides puppets. He realized that this was the only way to safeguard the art form and eke out a living. Over the years Dalavi has learnt to innovate using new technology. He and his fellow artisans in the village experiment with various designs and products in order to marry the traditional art to modern tastes. Says Dalavi, “we need to remain responsive to the changing market in order to survive”.