to the oral tradition, the form originated in 200 BC
when it was patronized by the rulers of the Satvahana dynasty.
In the 16th century during the reign of King Kona Reddy,
a ruler of the Vijayanagar Empire, a Telugu manuscript entitled
Ramayana Ranganathana was composed specifically for the
shadow theatre. Besides providing a dramatic text of the
famous epic story, the manuscript includes instructions
for the constructions and decoration of SHADOW PUPPETS.
Families of puppeteers even today jealously guard copies
of the manuscripts from outside study.
Puppets are cut from various types of hide and processed
in a special manner. Most puppets, including humans and
saints, are made of goat skin. Demons are carved of buffalo
hide, and gods and heroes of deerskin. Puppets are large,
translucent and multi coloured. The puppets from Madanapally
District are 4ft tall and those from Kakinada are as tall
The leather puppet is wedged into a split bamboo
strip and tied along the length of the strip from the head
to the crotch to provide support. Different emotional streets
of a character are depicted by separate puppets. For example
to show a scenic environment a tree puppet is shown. Many
puppets have movable hands and legs and some, movable heads
and necks. Puppets are dyed black, red and green: For females
and sages the dominant colour is yellow. The colourful shadows
are cast on a wide white screen made of sturdy cotton cloths
The chief manipulator stands behind the screen manipulating
the puppets using strings tied to them. For big puppets
two people manipulate each puppet.
A typical troupe of between six and ten people is composed
of manipulators, singers, dancers and instrumentalist. Women
speak the female part and stage manager manipulates the
shadows during dance numbers.
Musicians play mridangam drum, bell metal cymbals,
and sometimes harmonium and mukavina, and oboe-like wind
instrument special effects delight the audience. for example
when a character is shot with an arrow during a battle,
a whizzing noise is produced by a small whistle as a leather
arrow, on a rod is whisked across the screen. When it strikes
the victim, severing his head, the puppet head is detached
quickly by a string and made to roll across the screen.
Drummers accentuate the action with loud thuds.
The stage manager introduces the subject of the play
and the preliminaries and the introduction of characters
is given. When the play starts and ends after a minimum
of two hours.