Tholpavakoothu is the shadow puppetry of Kerala. In Malayalam, Thol means leather; Pava means puppet and Koothu, the play. This is performed as a ritual at the Bhadrakali temples in and around the district of Palakkad in the state.
Tholpavakoothu is based on Kamba Ramayana, the Tamil version of the Indian epic Ramayana. Kamba Ramayana was authored by the great Tamil scholar and poet Kambar who lived in the 12th century. Based on this classic text, Chinnathampi Vadhyar a scholar composed the script for Tholpavakoothu plays. Poems and narrations accompany the play. The entire story of Ramayana is composed as 21 parts and is presented taking 21 nights. Around 300 puppets are required for a full performance.
Several Bhadrakali temples in Palakkad have Koothumadams, permanent structures for staging the puppetry. The stage is curtained-off with a white cloth and leather puppets are held up with sticks, behind the screen. Earthen lamps are placed behind the puppets to create shadows on the screen.
This excerpt is taken from a performance made by the Krishnan Kutty Pulavar Smaraka Tholpavakoothu and Puppet Centre, a troupe founded by the descendants of the late Krishnan Kutty Pulavar, a doyen of this art form.